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Swimwear, once oblivious to fashion trends, now changes styles as rapidly as the tides.

This season swimsuits have new shapes, new silhouettes and new fabric treatments--many inspired by what's happening on the fashion runways. No longer is swimwear just a sea of floral bikinis.

Most major fashion trends of the season have turned up in bikini or tank form. Borrowing from the sheer looks that have sprung up all over spring collections, swimwear designers are adding sheer insets to swimsuits to draw the eye to a bared midriff or neckline.

Inspired by the '70s revival in fashion, they're making crocheted suits of shredded Lycra. There are even Western wear-inspired denim swimsuits that resemble popular jeans jackets complete with zippers and front pockets.

Anaheim-based Mossimo turned out plaid suits made of a textured Lycra that feels like flannel--an imitation of the plaid flannels that have been the rage in sportswear.

"We've sold out of the plaid three times," says Pat Oz, spokeswoman for Mossimo.

"Swimwear is now inspired by fashion," Oz says. "People want newness. How many flowers can they stand?"

After women began wearing menswear, Mossimo designed a line of swimsuits with sheer pin-stripe prints. The proliferation of animal prints led to a black two-piece suit with faux leopard fur trim on the top.

Mossimo suits ($44 to $70) are carried at Becker Surf & Sport in Mission Viejo and Lake Forest, Nordstrom and Molly Brown's in Balboa and Newport Beach.

The biggest change in swimwear has to do with the suits' very foundations. There's a renewed emphasis on the bust--an off-shoot of street wear's popular bustiers and bra tops. Many swimsuits now come endowed with under-wires, hard cups and push-up pads to give the wearer that added oomph. Probably not since the '40s have suits seen this much padding.

"Four years ago tops were smaller, but now that fewer people are having surgery for breast enlargements, they want the pads and the push-ups," says Cindy McKay, manager of Splash & Flash at the City Mall in Orange.

Splash & Flash carries mix-and-match bikinis by Sunsets with tops available in bra sizes up to 40E. They come in tropical and geometric prints as well as solids such as fuchsia, periwinkle, purple and green ($26 for bottoms, $32 for tops).

With the constructed tops come suit bottoms that are more modest. While skimpy thong backs can still be found, the current has moved toward more covered, classic suit bottoms. Some suits even cut across the legs like hot pants or come with short skirts.

"I'm real surprised. Even teen-agers are coming in and liking the suits with the longer ruffle," McKay says.

New fabrics have given designers the freedom to dream up novelty suits sure to catch the eye on a crowded beach, according to Julie McMackin, owner of Molly Brown's.

One tank suit from Shok comes in a Lycra-blend cotton textured to look like tooled leather, available in black or tan with a blanket stitch ($70).

"It almost looks like a saddle," McMackin says.

Other conversational suits include a Harley-Davidson black tank with the trademark silver and gold logo embroidered on front ($83) and a Western-style swimsuit by Radio Fiji in a blue or red bandanna print ($54 for the tank, $72 for the two-piece with under-wire bra top).

"We even have a suit that looks like a tennis shoe," McMackin says.

That would be Mossimo's one- and two-piece suits that have actual shoe laces strung through eyelets around the tops and a rubber patch in back--available in solid red, blue or black (about $60).

In keeping with the overall fashion trend toward pared-down elegance, suits have less piled-on glitz than in recent years.

"People are tiring of the busy stuff," says Miriam Ruzow, president of Gottex swimwear in New York City.

This season Gottex left off some jewels and beading in favor of cleaner looks, but a little glamour remains. One Gottex line of tanks and two-pieces comes in solid colors with gold lace trim ($60 to $80 at Nordstrom and other department stores).

"The suits are still elegant," Ruzow says.

Fancy fabrics that can tread water, including velveteens and metallics, are going into suits that recall the glamorous pool-side look of Hollywood swim queen Esther Williams.

Molly Brown's has a purple velveteen suit with sheer insets ($67 for the one piece, $73 for the two-piece with a push-up bra), tanks with Chanel-inspired gold chain straps ($63), andan itsy-bitsy black bikini with silver Mylar sequins ($77).

Some suits are so glamorous they can go directly from the beach to a night club, says Judy Gregorios, manager of Everything But Water at Crystal Court, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and Brea Mall.

"People want anything embellished," Gregorios says. A favorite with Star Search and beauty contestants: the one- or two-piece Egyptian-style suit by Bodacious Bodies in black with sold gold beading down the front or white with multicolored beading ($127 to $160).

"You can definitely wear them out on the town," she says.

Suits that shine like coins on sand in solid gold or silver Lycra blends are also hot. A big seller: the silver pretzel suit seen on the cover of Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue. The suit, by Darling Rio, which wraps around the key parts of the body, also comes in gold and black ($62) at Everything But Water and Molly Brown's.

"Everyone tries it on--but not everyone buys it," Gregorios says. "Not everyone looks like that model."

Finally, for the really daring, there's always Molly Brown's clear plastic bikini.

"It's not your typical bathing suit," McMackin says. "I bought it for people to talk about."

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