Call it a backlash to all those neon thongs on Love Island, or blame Kim Kardashian for posting one too many gratuitous bikini selfies, but we have arrived at a pivotal moment in the world of swimwear; a summer where the one-piece is, above anything else, a symbol of your style credentials.
Finding a one-piece that boasts a unique design, perhaps a quirky pattern, and that cuts a perfect silhouette, is now the goal. Ruffled shoulders, halter necks, wrap fronts, belts and ties are now all valid in pool-ready fabrications.
A wave of exotic lesser-known labels like Marysia (Californian), Haight (Brazilian) and Matteau (Australian) are thriving thanks to their high fashion approach to swimwear design, while on the high street, brands like Oysho and & Other Stories have developed dozens of fun prints to peruse. From £10 (Dh49) to £1,000, there is design innovation happening at every price point, and perhaps the best bit of all is that there isn’t a silly cheese-grater cut-out in sight. Designers need the largest possible fabric base to make their creative statement on, meaning, for the first time in years, the most on-trend swimsuit is also the most figure-friendly.
“The one-piece is now the most popular swimwear shape, overtaking the bikini this year,” attests Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at Net-a-Porter. “Ultimately, we’ve found that the customer wants something that looks chic but is also flattering and supportive.”
Sounds simple, but in a world previously dominated by itsy bitsy bikinis, it’s a revelation.
A new report from fashion analysts at Lyst cites model Ashley Graham, Nicki Minaj and Bella Hadid among this year’s greatest “swimfluencers”, that is the women whose poolside selfies we see a lot of, and who now boast an ability to influence buying behaviour.
Instagram has definitely broadened aesthetic horizons, giving us an understanding of what photographs (or at least, filters) well, what new brands exist, and what might suit a fuller figure.
Equally, we are now all taking more and more pictures when we go on holiday and those images are ending up in more public places (social media). We are as likely to be influenced by a friend or a colleague as anyone else and our swimwear is, like any other area of our wardrobes, frighteningly visible. Why wouldn’t we treat shopping for it the same way?
Brands have suddenly woken up, en mass, to the potential market for grown-up, fashion-forward swimwear. As well as the swim-specialist labels that have launched, established names are expanding into the previously untapped category. Morye, which means “the sea” in Russian, is the new resortwear label from designer Olga Vilshenko (who does a pretty line in patterned, prairie-esque frocks), and opened recently with a capsule line of tapestry floral print suits. Even Chanel is re-launching its swimwear as “Coco Beach de Chanel”. It’s only available in a selection of beachside resort stores (Palm Beach, Santa Fe, Honolulu, Dubai, et al) affording you the ultimate bragging rights. “I had to fly somewhere to get it.”
Von der Goltz says that Net-a-Porter has seen its high-summer sales grow by more than 30 per cent in the last two years, as customers are going on holiday more and need the wardrobe to match their destinations.
As such, the e-tailer launched its corresponding Jet-a-Porter shop recently, duly stocking it with an exclusive collection from a different designer each week. “Our customers are travelling, on average, up to 11 times a year,” she reveals. “We have seen a huge shift [in the demand for swimsuits].”
I call the one-piece a previously untapped opportunity because, let’s face it, there were really only two kinds of one-piece before. A basic black suit that served to simply cover up a bit of a tummy, or the aforementioned stringed thing, which holds no body and creates doily-like tan lines with its cut-outs.
“I had begun to feel discouraged by both the teeny weeny bikinis designed for teenage bodies and the poorly made things that only lasted one or two wears before fading or disintegrating,” Kelly Townsend says bluntly.
The designer behind contemporary British brand Paper London, she launched its corresponding swimwear line Plage last year. “I wanted to make something that’s interesting and a statement to look at, but I also wanted to make sure they were very well made so that you felt great in them. We use a super strong lining that truly holds you in.”
Brazilian swimwear designer Adriana Degreas agrees that flattering the customer’s form is essential. Her label’s reputation is built around its “confidence boosting” suits that look unique and exclusive. She’s got a collaboration with the shoe designer Charlotte Olympia, to serve fans demanding even more limited edition styles. “It is all about making a statement and being distinctive,” she explains, citing her “tropical-themed swimsuits, and anything with my favourite toucan print” as best sellers because of their quirky but timeless designs. “I want people to see someone wear one of my pieces and know it was designed by me.”
Degreas invented the term “Bain Couture” to describe her line, prices for which start at £189 and reach up to £1,479 for embellished show-stoppers. Why are people willing to pay so much for their swimmers? Because they don’t want to look like anyone else on the beach, but also that you do get what you pay for when it comes to costumes. Trying on a Plage by Paper London one-shouldered swimsuit was a lightbulb moment for me. Who knew that you could get a costume with smoothing, double lined support, offering an excellent hold for curves?
Ward Whillas plays a similar trick with its double-faced Italian compression fabric, a trick that also makes every suit reversible.
Elsewhere, Hunza G’s (these come in one size, which they claim fits a six to a 14) seersucker fabrics are flattering because of their thickness, texture and elasticity – they won’t dig in. Eres is still the best for supportive, block colour classics, and Lisa Marie Fernandez presents her statement silhouettes in the most digestible way. It’s like buying a dress – do you prefer belted waists, or wrap styles?
As well as all the aesthetic creativity, a lot of technical advancements are happening across the market. New Australian label Une Piece has a signature design – “The Original Sexie Rashie” – that is a firm, zip-fronted bombshell of a one-piece that boasts all the spec you’d expect from a rash vest (four and a half times chlorine resistance and UPF 50+ sun protection) but it looks great. Launching soon on Net-a-Porter is Cover, which claims to be “climate adjustable” and UPF 50+, promising to block 98 per cent of UV rays.
If you spend more, generally, you will get the fit and the quality that you have paid for. That said, the high street isn’t only a place for flimsy triangle tops these days. I just bought a candy striped one-piece from Marks and Spencer that looked a lot like a designer one, but which had the cup moulding and invisible stomach support that the pounds 185 version didn’t.
H&M and Cos both do good colour combinations, in fabrics that wash well, and a fit that works best for a smaller bust. & Other Stories is best for suits at all sizes with fashion details – a bit of a ruffle or a wrap, perhaps – and its reasonably priced.
Oysho, which is owned by Zara’s parent company Inditex, has an exhaustive variety of original one-piece designs on the high street. That’s a lot of potential changing room time, sure, but when the designs are as fun as they are this year, the entire experience of shopping for swimwear will be far less painful than usual.’
Our look at some of the best...
New Look, Dh129
& Other Stories, Dh299