Swimwear la­bels Rye and Camp Cove Swim are tak­ing their mem­o­ries of Aus­tralian beach­side hol­i­days to the world, adding mod­ern tech­niques to nos­tal­gic de­sign, writes Alyx Gor­man.

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page - ALYX GOR­MAN is The Satur­day Paper’s fash­ion ed­i­tor.

When un­box­ing an or­der from Rye swimwear, cus­tomers will go through all the rit­u­als they’ve come to ex­pect from a lux­ury on­line shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence. Sold through Net-a-Porter, Match­es­fash­ and Moda Operandi, the pur­chase will come in an el­e­gant, heavy gauge box. It will be sur­rounded by tis­sue paper and neatly folded. When try­ing on their pur­chase, they’ll no­tice the hy­giene sticker on the swim­suit’s gus­set and, if the la­bel’s de­signer Alyssa Carter has her way, they’ll let out a lit­tle laugh. “Don’t put your box on the bits un­til you know the bits aren’t go­ing back in the box,” it de­clares, an­nounc­ing the brand’s coun­try of ori­gin in a way no “de­signed in Bondi” tag could com­pete with. “Aus­tralians love that bit of crass hu­mour, which is a part of that laid-back im­age that we’ve got,” Carter says.

Founded in 2015, Rye whole­sales in 11 coun­tries, and stock­ists in­clude ma­jor in­ter­na­tional depart­ment stores such as Sel­fridges, in ad­di­tion to the e-com­merce gi­ants. Rye’s suc­cess stems from its abil­ity to create swim­mers that seem cheery, oc­ca­sion­ally whim­si­cal, while re­tain­ing an al­most steely ground­ing in broader fash­ion in­dus­try trends. One of their most suc­cess­ful styles last sea­son was a deep olive green bikini, with a baby pink trim. It’s a colour com­bi­na­tion that has also been pop­u­lar on In­sta­gram lately – stylists pair pow­der pink trousers with khaki boots, while thou­sands of peo­ple fol­low the In­sta­gram ac­count “plantson­pink”. “It just feels a bit more pre­mium and up-mar­ket if you’re wear­ing colours that aren’t tra­di­tion­ally seen on swim,” says Carter. If pop­u­lar now, it’s a throw­back colour com­bi­na­tion that might have been seen in a Di­ane von Fursten­berg pho­to­shoot in 1976.

In Rye’s cur­rent re­sort col­lec­tion, such nos­tal­gia is pushed fur­ther. The stand­out style for the sea­son uses one 1970s trend to beget another. Orig­i­nally, rick­rack trim was a pop­u­lar dress em­bel­lish­ment for prairie-style back-to-the-lan­ders, but Rye’s “Rick­Rack” swim­suits in­crease the fin­ish­ing’s size and use smooth, bonded neo­prene rather than tightly braided cot­ton. Carter has cre­ated un­du­lat­ing laser-cut lay­ers in con­trast­ing colours, one stacked on top of the other in psy­che­delic waves that are more cos­mic than downto-earth.

Rec­ol­lec­tions of school hol­i­days at Carter’s grand­par­ents’ house in Port Mac­quarie shim­mer through the col­lec­tion. “It’s all that sense of free­dom and nos­tal­gia…” she says. “I named the col­lec­tion around the sights and smells of all those mem­o­ries. There’s a bikini called ‘Balmy’ and it’s that feel­ing of sleep­ing with the fan on. There’s another one called ‘Chi Chi Chi’ and it’s the sound of ci­cadas at night ... All those kind of things that are mem­o­ries of sum­mers gone by – Aus­tralian sum­mers gone by.”

Carter is not alone in find­ing in­spi­ra­tion in the Aus­tralian ache for Christ­mas breaks spent by the beach. Kather­ine Hamp­ton, founder and de­signer of Camp Cove Swim, a Syd­ney-based swimwear brand started in 2013, feels sim­i­larly. A for­mer ac­ces­sories buyer, Hamp­ton was al­ways drawn to swim­ming. “I grew up in New­cas­tle, so it’s very much beach cul­ture and the cool kids at school are the ones that surf, and if you don’t surf then you’re not the cool kid. I grew up in swim­mers and I used to swim com­pet­i­tively,” she says. “I’d do swim­ming train­ing four times a week at 5.30 in the morn­ing when I was 13.” Her mother had a part to play, too. “She would sew me and my lit­tle sis­ter lit­tle sparkly swim­suits and stuff like that.”

In con­trast to Rye’s clean stripes, block colours and sim­ple polka dots, Camp Cove Swim leans un­self­con­sciously to­wards kitsch. Hamp­ton is a self-taught print de­signer. “I didn’t even know how to open a new file on Il­lus­tra­tor,” she says. “My first print took three weeks for ev­ery step.” Now those prints are what grant her brand its par­tic­u­lar sense of place. There’s the very ’80s “I Love Oz” print with navy and pink stripes and lines of colour­ful, re­peat­ing Opera House, kan­ga­roo, Uluru and Aus­tralian map mo­tifs. And the “Aussie Wat­tle”, a bum­ble­bee yel­low and brown flo­ral print that’s been par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with over­seas cus­tomers. “I don’t know whether that’s be­cause they’ve been here and it’s like a nos­tal­gia thing, or it’s just gen­uinely that they like the print. I can un­der­stand if some­one would buy [the wat­tle] and not know what it is. It’s al­most like you or me buy­ing a trop­i­cal print, we don’t re­ally know where those plants are from, but [we think], ‘That looks good, I’ll have that... I haven’t seen that be­fore.’”

Hamp­ton thinks a long­ing for child­hood is part of what is driv­ing a re­newed em­brace of Aus­traliana among younger cus­tomers. “At the time you might have been a bit like, Oh my god, my mum’s such a dag, why is she wear­ing a knit­ted jumper with a koala on it? But now it’s a mem­ory, it’s some­thing that peo­ple think of fondly … Peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate how unique it is.”

Camp Cove’s cuts are also a blend of retro and mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties. Hamp­ton’s swim­suits tend to sit rel­a­tively high across the but­tock cheek, but they’re far from skimpy. Many of her bikini bot­toms fully cover the wearer’s navel, while her bikini straps are thick enough to pro­vide se­cu­rity to women with fuller cup sizes. Though many styles are la­belled small, medium and large, Camp Cove swimwear ac­com­mo­dates women up to a size 16. This is non-stan­dard for pre­mium swimwear, and at odds with some old-fash­ioned opin­ions about who does and doesn’t be­long in a bikini.

“You see it in fash­ion as well, brands that only go up to a size 12. I just don’t un­der­stand that,” Hamp­ton says. She re­calls a con­ver­sa­tion she had with an older woman on a train who was watch­ing her work. “She was like, ‘Oh, yes, I don’t think that big­ger girls – they just shouldn’t wear swim­mers, they just should not go on the beach.’ That’s the at­ti­tude … If you’ve got that frame of mind – that only skinny girls wear biki­nis – then you make biki­nis for skinny girls. Then you’re ex­clud­ing so many peo­ple. But also, you’re los­ing money.”

At first, women’s swimwear may seem to have sig­nif­i­cant con­straints on in­no­va­tion. Af­ter all, there are only two ba­sic styles ac­cepted: the one- or two-piece. Ide­ally de­signs must be fit-for-pur­pose: ob­vi­ously they shouldn’t come off in the waves, or break down from chlo­rine. A style con­form­ity is the re­sult, and when a layer of nos­tal­gia is in­tro­duced as well, nov­elty seems even less likely. How­ever, brands such as Rye and Camp Cove Swim are break­ing new ground in some as­pects.

For Camp Cove, that ground is so­cial, due to their ex­panded siz­ing range, but also tech­no­log­i­cal. All of the la­bel’s lin­ing is made from re­cy­cled fab­ric – some of it from old fish­ing lines – and some of their swim­suits are 100 per cent re­cy­cled.

Tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion has also en­abled

Rye to rein­ter­pret the past. “When you’re look­ing at swimwear back then, there wasn’t the in­no­va­tion around stretch fab­rics or polyesters we have now. Every­thing was made in these non-stretch, heavy fab­rics. I don’t even know how peo­ple swam in those – it would be so un­com­fort­able,” says Carter. “When you’re look­ing back at those el­e­ments, you’re not look­ing specif­i­cally at swimwear. You’re look­ing at fash­ion and cul­ture as a whole. When I was look­ing for ref­er­ences back in the ’50s and ’60s… it was a lot of global fash­ion ref­er­ences that can be brought for­ward and then trans­lated into swim.” Thanks to laser cut­ting and tech­ni­cal im­prove­ments in elas­tics “it’s so much eas­ier to do now”.

Aus­tralian brands are well placed to tackle swimwear be­cause the coun­try’s beach­go­ers are en­thu­si­as­tic and con­stantly in the mar­ket. But a beachy life­style has im­printed deeper on our de­sign­ers than mere mar­ket de­mand. Long, hot sum­mers have left lo­cal de­sign­ers with a bank of idyl­lic wa­ter-based mem­o­ries to draw on – some of them per­sonal and some col­lec­tive. As chang­ing so­cial mores and tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments are ex­pand­ing the bound­aries of what swimwear can and should look like, those who al­ready have a firm grasp of where it’s been be­fore may be best placed to lead the charge.

A bikini from Rye’s “Rick­Rack” range, left, and one­pieces by Camp Cove, right.

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