Spring into Power

...swimwear steps up for Summer 2012

by Priyanka Pandit
Summer is just around the corner and the idea of stripping down and baring it all in a bikini has two possible, opposite effects. We are empowered by the unique beauty of our body. Or, more likely, it leaves us feeling exposed and vulnerable to judgment. And though lingerie is intended to inspire confidence in its wearer, it too can pose the opposite effect. Perhaps in response this summer, bodywear designers are using the theme of "strength" in its many forms. Last summer's innocent sensuality, pastel palettes, and androgynous cuts are traded in for bolder, unapologetic designs

Despite the previous seasons' love affair with the nineties, this year swimwear takes a departure with a nod to the eighties. Healthy, active women are this trend’s muses. Aerobics class garb – loose, layered tanks and leotards over racer-back sports bras- bring to mind a classic 80s workout video à la Jane Fonda, but this summer's suits steer away from kitsch by avoiding the literal. Designers are choosing and reinterpreting a few precise aspects of the era’s sportswear, whether it be layering, a duo-tone pop-color palette, or high-cut silhouettes, to pay homage. Barcelona-based Angela Bang's 2012 "Miami Cruise" collection finds inspiration in 80s youth culture and accordingly her line emphasizes "freedom of movement." As a swimwear solution, she layers a strapless black bikini top under a high-cut fuchsia leotard with an exaggerated neckline and arm holes.

The high-cut one-piece suit of the eighties shortens the torso and elongates the leg, but for those daunted by the amount of exposure, designers are offering alternative solutions. The Holly maillot from OYE ("open your eyes") is a one-shoulder black suit with cut-out panels of sheer elastane wrapping around the body. Cut-outs are used to emphasize the curves of the female form, and to offer glimpses of skin, a trend we also saw in dresses and pantsuits during New York and London Fashion Week. We're therefore not surprised by the prevalence of the monokini, that archetypal representation of the original cut-out look.

OYE's "Miranda" monokini has a plunging neckline, and cut-outs are supported by symmetrical white bars that follow the contours of the body. The architectural geometry of this suit recalls the Art Deco movement and acts as a visually stable and solid framework around the body. Art Deco graphics seen this summer contrast the ethereal fluidity that marked 2011.

On the runway, physical structure is added to the hips with peplum and the comeback of the 18th century pannier. This summer, all eyes are focused on the hips. Lingerie designers are using fringe, chiffon, and frills to inject a make-believe innocence into the womanly hourglass figure. As an example, red Kitty suspenders by Lascivious have triple ruffle tulle along the sides that accentuates the hips’ feminine sway, and are accompanied by red panties with a ruffled "bustle" across the back.

The hourglass figure was also prized in the 1930s with the sexually-confident Betty Grable and the coquettish pin-up girl illustrations of World War II. However, in 2012 the pin-up "grows up" by ditching flirtatiousness, and assuming a womanly elegance instead. Toronto based Fortnight presents "Jolene," a lace-paneled bustier and high-waisted bottom with white straps that suggest romance rather than retro. Making an appearance in numerous swimwear and lingerie collections, the high-waisted bottom is no longer granny attire. 

Perhaps the most intriguing concept explored this season is the duality of power and vulnerability, embodied by cinematic icon and misanthropic Goth Lisabeth Salander, who is influencing mass-market brands (like H&M) and independent labels alike. In bodywear, chains, exposed zips and straps, the use of leather, and the dominance of black suggest that designers haven't yet had enough of this subculture. Far from a literal interpretation of Goth, Mexico City-based Marika Vera juxtaposes textures of seamed of silk and chiffon with removable leather attachments. The silk Avigail culotte from her most recent collection "Venus in Furs," is high-waisted with sheer side panels, a snap fastened crotch, and styled with a thin chain.

Lascivious's fetish-inspired spring lingerie collection looked to Japan for inspiration. Its influence is derived from Kinbaku, the intricate rope tying method that literally means "the beauty of tight binding," a type of Japanese bondage with extremely specific aesthetic rules. Their collection presents a series of designs that incorporate multiple straps, rope and chain accents. Tosca Delfino shows us this trend isn't limited to the bedroom. The swimwear designer showed a tribal-print bikini top with multiple straps criss-crossed above the waist and on the shoulders at Toronto Fashion Week.

Whether through references to fetish, an unhesitating color palette, or more subtly through graphics and silhouette, this season evokes concepts of female strength and power. Amidst the largely varying trends in swimwear and intimates for the summer, the one message designers seem to be telling us is this: Strong is beautiful.