Say ‘holiday wardrobe’ to most British women and traditionally they’d show you a couple of M&S bikinis and a few ancient sundresses that get trotted out for their annual week in the sun.
But things are changing – women are travelling more frequently, both for business and pleasure. We don’t have to be chained to a desk any more to work – 4.6 million Brits are now self-employed (the highest figure since ONS records began in the 1970s) and for many of these flexible freelancers, it’s a case of have laptop, will travel. If you can run your business from an Ibizan beach bar during the summer, then why not?
We’ve also seen the rise of the ‘event’ holiday: the destination wedding, the overseas big birthday bash or the foreign music festival jaunt. And all that poolside frolicking is invariably captured for eternity in social media snaps. The result? Women are hunting out flattering and stylish brands making pieces that look as good in the sun as they do on Instagram.
‘The global demand for beachwear is predicted to reach $28bn by 2020, up from $21bn in 2014,’ says Claire Spencer-Churchill, co-founder of resortwear trade show, Splash. ‘This is the fastest growing sector within the luxury fashion category, with high-end swimwear brands now catering for a head-to-toe holiday look.’
Need inspiration? We look at the best emerging British brands on the block (or should that be beach?)…
FOR MODERN MINIMALISM
Label lowdown: Former model and style editor Anna Laub launched her eyewear line in 2009 (first glasses, then sunglasses) before broadening out to swimwear, cover-ups and beachwear in 2012. She won Emerging Accessory Designer at British Fashion Awards in 2014.
Who wears it? People who love high street minimalist hotspot Cos. Women from age 20 to 70 (‘my mum and her friends all have my swimwear – older women are much more confident about wearing bikinis now,’ she notes). Kate Moss and Beyoncé like Prism sunglasses, Rihanna the swimsuits.
Personal touch? The 40-year-old Londoner instinctively understands that most British women don’t have a style and personality transplant the minute they step on to a plane. ‘I’m not someone who suddenly wants to wear an orange tie-dye beaded kaftan on holiday. I want a dark green bikini or a black sundress, the kind of things I’d wear at home. I felt there was a gap in the market for functional but stylish beachwear.’
Secrets of her success? Anna applies the same rigour to her pieces that lingerie designers do. ‘The underwear industry spends so much money on techniques to make the body look good, but that wasn’t happening in swimwear. Yet on the beach, you’re the most naked you’ll ever be in public so you need as much help as possible.’ She ensures all straps are detachable (to avoid tan lines), back straps are adjustable and her thick, double-lined white fabrics don’t become transparent when wet. There are also a variety of cuts to suit different body shapes.
Key piece: The black velvet bikinis – which you think won’t dry after a dip but actually do – are a big hit. Laub likes to experiment with unexpected fabrics and textures; silver lurex is another current favourite.
Price? A swimsuit or bikini set is around £170.
What’s next? Beachwear for kids – Laub has a three-year-old son.
FOR PRINT PERFECTION
Label lowdown: ‘I spent so much time in a swimsuit growing up in Athens and was obsessed with finding the most colourful ones I could,’ says Anna Paola, 35, the daughter of a Mexican/American mother and Greek father. After cutting her teeth at Alexander McQueen line McQ and Hussein Chalayan, she founded resortwear brand Paolita in 2010. She painstakingly designs all her own intricate, unusual prints, and offers mix and match bikinis, swimsuits, dresses, jumpsuits, kaftans, shorts, trousers and tops.
Who wears it? Ellie Goulding, Millie Mackintosh, Halle Berry and Kourtney Kardashian.
Secrets of her success? Paolita’s peppy prints work brilliantly when influencers put them on Instagram: ‘You can spot them a mile away,’ says Anna. She also listens hard to her customers: ‘Hundreds of women come into the shop every year and I see them in the swimwear and hear their comments. Women with larger busts said that a halterneck tie on one swimsuit was putting too much pressure on their necks, so I changed the design to use shoulder straps that better distribute the weight. I have a smaller bust so that wasn’t something I’d considered.’ She travels extensively to sultry climes – Mexico, the States, Greece, plus Oman and Lebanon to visit her partner’s family, and every trip is a fact-finding mission: ‘On the beach, it’s sunglasses on and then I peek at what women are wearing.’
Key pieces: The elegant maxi-dresses (with prints that match the swimwear) are a nod to the fact that many sunshine holidays have a big occasion attached to them these days, such as a birthday party or destination wedding.
Price? Swimsuits are around £180, maxi dresses £230.
What’s next? Anna has a store in London’s Marylebone but has her sights set on opening another in the US, in a hotspot such as South California or Florida. She’s keen to ensure her beachwear has a life and purpose beyond the beach, increasingly designing pieces that can be worn in everyday life too – her shirt cover-ups, for example. ‘I think resortwear will start meshing with ready-to-wear. Women want pieces that cover both bases.’
FOR SLINKY SILKS
Label lowdown: Co-founders Ariana Stein, 27 (who previously worked for Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein) and Charlotte Lewis, 26 (Tom Ford’s former PA) met in Ibiza, when they were both on the same group-holiday. They bonded over their love of trawling the island’s hippy market for vintage kaftans – and their mutual belief that the kind of retro-glam, floaty beachwear they craved was impossible to find on the high street. Launched in 2014, Paloma Blue specialises in digitally-printed silk dresses, shorts, jumpsuits and camis.
Who wears it? Instagram’s globe-trotting, hard-bodied stars such as Kendall Jenner, various Victoria’s Secret models and former Made In Chelsea stars Rosie Fortescue and Millie Mackintosh.
Personal touch? Both women work flexibly and remotely. ‘I was on my laptop in Israel last week and Ariana lives between London and LA. People travel all year round and you can book a flight with one click,’ says Charlotte. As such, they understand that nomadic modern women want to travel light. ‘People are often amazed that we turn up to meetings with one suitcase with 100 pieces in it. But silk is amazing to travel with – it’s so lightweight and it doesn’t crease if you roll it when you pack it.’
Secrets of their success? The millennial duo know how to best use social media influencers. While a Hollywood A-lister such as Kate Hudson wearing the label increases brand awareness, it’s the patronage of more accessible Brit girls, who will tag Paloma Blue in their Instagram posts, that translates into sales. ‘Millie Mackintosh wore our wrap dress and posted it and it sold out within a day,’ says Charlotte.
Key piece: The versatile wafty silk trousers that work on holiday with a white T-shirt, or back home with a cashmere jumper and trainers.
Price? From £110 for a pair of shorts.
What’s next? Childrenswear to cater to for the mother and daughter ‘mini-me’ market, and a focus on more sophisticated silhouettes, so expect more midi-length hems. ‘Our customer is growing up with us,’ says Charlotte.
FOR KAFTAN GLAMOUR
Label lowdown: The 52-year-old Moroccan glamour-puss has enjoyed an insanely varied career – from high-flying Parisian financier to flamenco dancer to author of two books about spirituality and meditation. Then in 2016, she launched a lifestyle brand, which majors on vibrant silk kaftans and handmade gold-plated brass super-statement jewellery.
Who wears it? Actress Eva Longoria and sun-chasing, boho jetsetters like Karen herself. (She divides her time between London, her Marrakesh villa, LA and Arizona – ‘I love the wilderness and the desert there.’)
Personal touch? The designs are inspired by her childhood in Casablanca in the ‘60s. ‘I remember women dancing at parties wearing these kaftans in amazing colours. They flow and dance with you as you move your body. They’re very feminine.’
Secrets of her success? Kaftans, she says, appeal to all women: “My daughter who is 17 wears the shorter designs. Young girls will wear them open over a bikini top and denim shorts, while an older lady will close it up, put a belt over it and layer jewellery over the top. You can play with the styling.’ She’s noticed that British women are starting to prioritise leisure travel over work burnout and the culture of busy-ness. ‘And with that they’re getting very excited about resortwear. They’re embracing more bright colour and prints – they understand that these things make us happy. The holiday wardrobe has gone from being an afterthought to a way of life.’
Key piece: The new season’s bold banana leaf print comes in three colourways, and crops up on kaftans, trousers, sundresses, skirts and tops.
Price? From £250 to £650 for a kaftan. Best not smear sun lotion on it, then.
What’s next? Karen’s beauty line – bath oils, shower gels and candles – is imminent, with sunglasses and a line of Grecian-inspired sandals to follow.
The Swimwear Svengali
Salt, in London’s well-heeled Belgravia, is an Aladdin’s cave of all things bright, beautiful and beachy. There’s exquisitely embellished kaftans, headphones with vibrantly wrapped wires and raffia bags, plus a liberal smattering of pineapple and toucan motifs. The multi-brand resortwear boutique’s climate is equally tropical, with the heating ramped up – it makes you more likely to strip off to try on a £260 scallop-edge Marysia bikini when it’s nippy outside.
Founder Stephanie Alameida, a statuesque 43-year-old Thai/American who doubtless looks fabulous in a swimsuit, is seeing a boom in business. ‘Social media plays a huge role in the rise of resortwear. Let’s face it, you don’t see travel bloggers skiing much! They’re always on beaches, where you can show off some skin.’ Her globe-trotting customers (Pippa Middleton, Janet Jackson and the late Carrie Fisher among them) will buy ‘a whole holiday wardrobe at once – eight dresses, three swimsuits, sandals. They want barefoot-chic pieces for Ibiza, demure dresses for Marrakesh, casual shorts and T-shirts for Croatian boat-trips and flashier pieces for St Tropez.’
Alameida’s father was a diplomat, so jumping on a plane at the start of every school holiday was her norm and, having grown up in steamy Bangkok (where she still has a house), she’s spent a large chunk of her life in skimpy sundresses. She set up shop in 2012, having grown frustrated by having to scout around numerous retailers to find all the different elements of her summer wardrobe. The result is a one-stop-shop, with brands ranging from well-known names such as Philosophy Di Lorenzo and Zimmermann to tiny artisans she spots ‘a mile off’ on street markets during her travels to, say, India or Argentina. ‘I will buy up as much of their stock as I can squeeze into my suitcase, bring it home, see if it sells and then order more.’ Such is her eye for brilliant beachwear, buyers from major department stores and big-name online retailers watch her like a hawk. The holiday wardrobe Yoda? You better believe it.
Beachwear Labels To Watch
Step away from the sarong rail until you’re fully informed about these other British buzz brands…
Just launched by sisters Hannah and Melissa Collett, this bijou collection of kimonos, shorts, dresses and loose trousers, all rendered in floaty block colour silk, work as well in the city as they do in a beach bar.
Created in 2013 by friends Poppy Sexton-Wainwright and Lauren Leask as a sleepwear brand, Asceno now does minimal, chic resortwear too. Their trademark silk PJs major on stripes and their bikinis and cover-up dresses have followed suit.
Flattering but sexy, this block-colour, pared-down swimwear line launched last year. Miro previously worked for La Perla and Stella McCartney lingerie (and her mother is London art dealer Victoria Miro).
Created by Nina Deckers, Lazul has a glam, peacock-y ‘70s feel with its vibrant prints and zingy block-colours – their va-va-voom bronze plunge-front one-piece would’ve got you to the front of the queue at Studio 54. They also do dresses, kaftans and playsuits.
Feather’s beach basket bags come monogrammed with the owner’s initials making them Instagram catnip come summertime and a fashion editors’ favourite. The Oxon-based designer does sandals, kaftans and straw hats too.
This Central St Martins grad favours Art Deco prints, striking geometric monochrome designs and zingy primary colours. She knows exactly what women want from a bikini, having previously worked as a swimwear buyer for Selfridges and Net-a-Porter.
The cult ‘80s bodycon brand (Julia Roberts wore a Hunza G cut-out dress in Pretty Woman) has been rebooted as millennial Instagrammers’ swimwear label of choice. The Hadid sisters and Suki Waterhouse are among the body beautifuls who can’t get enough of the crinkled-fabric bikinis.
Arabella MacRitchie is all about flattering, comfortable fits – her contouring swimwear is all double-lined and she promises wedgie-free briefs (hurray!). There’s a range of mix and match tops and bottoms, all in un-showy, simple shades.
Three Graces London
Sophisticated sleepwear, ethereal beach dresses and chic, simple swimwear in an unusual palette of sunshine yellow and cool mint have made Catherine Johnson’s label, launched 2016, a cult favourite with fashion editors.
Diana Auria is passionate about sustainability and makes her swimwear with Econyl, a fabric created from recycled fishing nets and carpets. The designs are low-key and sporty (think crop-top/big pants bikinis). Basically swimwear you can actually swim in.
Feature by Kerry Potter