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A new wave of L.A. swimwear designers

Southern California swimsuit designers are emphasizing form and function with shapely lines and smart fabrics.

May 22, 2011|By Melissa Magsaysay | Los Angeles Times
  • Swimsuits designed by sisters Kalani, left, and Oleema Miller, right, have been featured in recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. Model Danica Solomon wears one of their suits.
Swimsuits designed by sisters Kalani, left, and Oleema Miller, right,… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

At first glance there doesn't seem to be much to a swimsuit — a little bit of fabric that the wearer hopes will cover the necessary areas in the most flattering way and that will stay put in pool or surf.

But swimwear style changes by the year, however subtly. Pay close attention and you notice that some modern designers are eschewing embellishments, hardware and potentially uncomfortable details in favor of streamlined, seamless and versatile suits. And quite a few women seem to be paying attention. Sales of women's swimsuits grew 8.1% during 2010, with sales in the U.S. market totaling just over $2.6 billion, compared with $2.4 billion in 2009, according to NPD Group, a market research firm.

In the vanguard is a fresh crop of swimsuit designers based in, and inspired by, Southern California. They approach designing swimwear in the same way others approach designing a ready-to-wear collection — with a strong focus, signature fit and comfortable fabrics that make each suit feel as if it is barely there. Forget digging and indentation marks, cumbersome hardware, underwires and all the bells and whistles so popular five years ago. Today's swim designers love a functional suit that works as well for surfing as it does for sunning, and they design accordingly.

Southern California's exciting new group of swimwear designers includes models and surf enthusiasts, an artist and a fashion buyer who claim to take into account everything from a good-looking backside to the functional aspect of neoprene when creating their collections. Here are a few who are making a splash.

Mikoh Swimwear

Sisters and San Clemente natives Oleema and Kalani Miller know firsthand what makes a practical swimsuit, having grown up surfing and eventually competing as part of the Roxy surf team through their teens. Taking into account a flattering fit, durability and ability to withstand a fairly strong wave or two, the sisters set out to create a functional line of swimwear that might also make the wearer stand out in a surf competition lineup, thanks to the vivid colors, seascape-inspired prints and sexy details.

"Growing up in a surfing environment and always wearing swimsuits had most to do with creating this swim collection," says Oleema, at 22 a self-proclaimed free spirit with a penchant for world travel, a passion her 24-year-old sister shares. The two spend about half the year bouncing among Australia, Hawaii, Orange County, Santa Barbara and Bali — the latter where they produce their swimsuit line.

Their brand, which launched its first collection in 2010, combines a carefree athletic and colorful aesthetic with seamless, hardware-free suits whose prints and colors are inspired mostly by the sisters' travels abroad. Suits are named for exotic settings (the Bora Bora and the Lanai, for instance). Prints include graphics that echo the jagged lines waves create when hitting the beach and an abstract interpretation of sea kelp.

Though the Mikoh line is relatively new, it made a splash early on when the suits were featured in the photo spreads in last year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Three more of their suits made it into this year's issue, due in no small part to the pops of color, such as citron yellow and bold teal, in their current season's swimsuits and coverups.

"We want to wear something that you can surf in, but still looks good, makes your butt look good," Oleema says. "It's a good thing if you're able to paddle out representing women surfers and look good while doing it."

Mikoh swimsuits retail for about $200. Silk coverups are $100 to $200; rayon coverups are $100. Available at Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and

Cali Dreaming

Forget overly embellished, splashy printed swimwear. Fine artist Carrie Jardine and fashion buyer-turned designer Lisa Priolo find beauty in simple, understated and mostly earthy neutral hues. For their first collection in 2009, the duo debuted a line in which all 10 styles were in a shade of nude or a glimmery gold-beige. "We're very inspired by the natural look of the 1970s," Priolo says. "And everything is also hardware-free. We're not attracted to hardware at all."

Comfort was a motivating factor for these friends who met while living in Toronto and moved to Los Angeles six years ago, when they started the line. They despised the way bikini bottoms would dig into the hip area, leaving unsightly indentations. To keep this from happening, their suits are double-lined, with seamless construction and hidden elastic to alleviate any pressure on the hips and mid-section. Bikini tops feature multiple closures to provide more options on fit. Jardine, 38, and Priolo, 34, are the fit models for the line and road test each piece to ensure comfort.

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