The glorious weather of the past few weeks has kick-started an early summer, complete with picnics, patio parties, and beach days. Finding the right swimsuit for such sunny pursuits shouldn’t be as hard as getting in shape to wear it in the first place. And while the stores are full to bursting with bikinis, maillots, tankinis, and monokinis, why not dive into the hot local swimwear scene with four designers making waves this year?
Anna Kosturova was always fascinated by the sea, especially as a child in the landlocked former Czechoslovakia. Just over a decade ago, she created her first crocheted bikini—to wear on a grand oceanic vacation to Australia. “I had to do it myself,” Kosturova says at her new Gastown studio on Water Street. “No one was doing anything close to what I wanted.”
Since launching her namesake line in 2004, the grande dame of Vancouver swimwear has seen her designs appear in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue nine consecutive times and snag what she calls “the Holy Grail of swimwear”, the SI cover, in 2008. Her crocheted creations have been worn on the silver screen by Paris Hilton (2008’s The Hottie and the Nottie) and Jennifer Aniston (2011’s Just Go With It), and she’s developed a strong celebrity following.
Her creations, more often noted for what isn’t there than what is, aren’t for shrinking violets. With items festooned with sequins and shells and utilizing virtually every colour in the spectrum, Kosturova describes her model customer as an “adventurous and fearless surfer chick”, much like the designer herself. For her, design is a process that’s only finished when she has nothing left to add to it: “Like the period at the end of a sentence.”
Anna Kosturova is available on the company website and by appointment.
Man on a misson
Around the time that Kosturova was dipping her toe into the swimwear marketplace, Eden Rausch—newly arrived from Medicine Hat, Alberta—was building Cuchè Bikinis from the ground up. On the phone from a vacation in Majorca, Spain, the designer says he made his first bikinis in the late 1990s for a girl he was dating who didn’t want to wear the microstring suits popular at the time. Inspired by the form-flattering cuts of Old Hollywood and the French Riviera, Rausch also looks to the styles of the 1970s—“along the lines of the bikinis my mother wore”, he says. “In fact, we used to come here [to Majorca] when I was a kid. I look at old pictures, and I get new ideas.”
Cuchè Bikinis’ classic and coquettish designs are handmade in Vancouver and sold locally at stores including Dream Apparel (356 Water Street) and Oliver & Lilly’s (1575 West 6th Avenue).
Beth Richards may have launched her namesake swimwear line only three years ago, but you’d think she’d been at it longer, if only because of the sheer volume of international press she’s received, from Paris Vogue to dressing singer Kelly Rowland in a signature rashguard for Shape Magazine’s October 2013 cover. The former journeywoman designer, originally from Toronto, worked for several Canadian brands—including Roots, Aritzia, and John Fluevog—before taking the plunge into swimwear in 2011. “I didn’t feel people were doing swimwear justice,” she says on the phone from her downtown studio. “Turns out there were lots of women who felt the same way.
“I wanted to bring culture back,” she says of her designs, which incorporate men’s sportswear motifs and show less skin than many other lines. “Sometimes less isn’t more,” she states. “Sometimes more is more. Beachwear, at least in North America, has lost a lot of its sophistication. I want to bring back the Brigitte Bardot–era European beach culture with suits made by a woman for women.”
The Beth Richards collection is available online and at Gravity Pope (2205 West 4th Avenue).
For the boys
Richard Bao is sunning himself on Kits Beach and trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to shield his phone from the wind. At 23, the SFU business graduate will be publicly launching his first venture in just a few weeks: a made-in-Vancouver men’s beachwear line called VOVO. As far as Bao knows, it’s the only men’s swim line designed and produced locally.
“I was going to do a women’s line, but I realized I just didn’t know what women were looking for in beachwear,” he says.
“People ask me what the name stands for, and I tell them it’s short for ‘Vancouver Original’. But really, I just liked the way ‘VOVO’ sounded.”
Although VOVO’s website is still just a landing page and the e-commerce site still a twinkle in his web team’s eyes, Bao feels that his label’s “classic beachwear silhouettes that accentuate male physiques” will take off in Vancouver, thanks to his hometown’s diverse population and inclusive culture. Then there are his international inspirations, with references in the inaugural collection ranging from the Mediterranean to the shores of Southeast Asia and the Amazon to Haida Gwaii.
VOVO will be available online by the end of June.