FEATURE: Rumble in the Jungle

You may know of the booming swimwear market in Brazil, a country that recently overtook the UK to become the sixth largest economy in the world, but are you aware of all that the lush and vibrant continent of South America has to offer? LI speaks to a selection of swimwear labels from the region to discover what new innovations they are bringing to the UK market, this year.

When most people talk of a ‘Brazilian,’ they are not referencing a type of swimwear.

Yet, this – quite literally – brief style was the original source of that controversial idiom, made famous through American TV programs such as Sex in the City. It gave birth to that other, more risque interpretation and is arguably, along with coffee, nuts and soy, one of the country’s greatest contributions towards global culture.

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Not only has it become a permanent addition to the world’s swimwear terminology, but it is representative of an adapted, modern culture, a new society that is relaxed in its sexuality.

However, Brazil and, indeed, the entire South American continent is far more than just a cut – of any description. While South America may be best known for the brevity of its swimwear and its propensity to produce Victoria’s Secret models, the design talent and growing sophistication of its swimwear sector is increasingly beginning to attract attention from a series of key players in the industry.

ViX Swimwear is a prime example of a swimwear brand that has fought hard to establish itself in the Western swimwear market… and succeeded. It has twenty retailers in the UK alone, including the likes of Biondi Couture, Harvey Nichols UK, ASOS and Net-A-Porter.

“We plan on nurturing relationships with our current partners, as well as expanding distribution within the UK and European market overall,” reveals media co-ordinator Grace Yco.

And, one thing that ViX Swimwear definitely isn’t is ‘cheap’. One of ViX designer and founder Paula Hermanny’s signature styles, her BIA bikini, features 24K gold plated sliding hardware, making the product customizable for a wide range of body types.

For SS13, Hermanny has been inspired by Africa and the continent’s many, multi-faceted cultures. Rich tribal history, artisan legacy and the ‘raw nature of the wild’ all bring strength and boldness to the line. There will be daring prints in red and black & off-white, accented with silhouettes that are designed to be both understated and sexy.

Yco predicts that the season’s most popular style will be ViX’s Senegal bikini. “Senegal is an elegant bandeau style with unexpected embroidery,” she says. “With details reminiscent of a statement necklace, this style will have that unique, handcrafted spark that consumers are aching for.”

Handcrafting appears to possess an important status within the South American culture. Columbian label Agua Bendita certainly emphasizes its significance, in terms of providing a strong USP. Co-designer Catalina Alvarez says: “Our greatest unique selling point is all the hand crafted work that almost all our clothes have. This is made by single mums here in Medellín. A single piece can take one or two days of hand made work to be done.”

Founded in 2003, Agua Bendita is currently stocked in just five locations in the UK: the Channel Islands, Cheshire, Bath, London and Chester. Over the coming year, the label is determined to attract its first high profile stockiest in the country.

“Our main goal is to have our brand in the top high end retailers in the UK," says Alvarez. “And, maybe, someday to open a couple of flagship stores in the country.”

For SS13, Agua Bendita has been inspired by three love stories. The first takes place in the ancient Wild West, the second takes place in the age of military chic and the third takes place during a period when sailors still ‘tattooed pin up girls on their arms’. The brand has also introduced a series of neon colors for the season.

Colombian label Agua Bendita currently operates flagships stores in Mexico, Barbados, Barcelona and Australia. It also recently expanded into the Russian market. “That is one of the hardest markets to get into,” reveals Alvarez.

In five years time, co-founders Alvarez and Mariana Hinestroza hope that Agua Bendita will be recognised as one of the top swimwear and apparel brands in the world. The pair plan to sell their products in the top boutiques and retailers, and to be the favorite brand of ‘all the celebrities, royals and every fashion enthusiast.’

Agua Bendita is not the only South American brand to possess an impressive degree of ambition. Aguaclara is currently stocked by 40 retailers in the UK, including big names Daniel Windsor and Brown Thomas. And, it plans to add a further 10 retailers to its existing, national portfolio over the coming year.

UK agent Jaqui Copley says: “These will consist of exclusive department stores, carefully selected websites and first class independent lingerie and swimwear stores. We have developed our cover-ups this season specifically for the UK swimwear market and are using the finest fabrics and embellishments to enhance the fully styled look on the beach.”

For SS13, Aguaclara take its inspiration from nature. The Amazon jungle, Andes mountains and Peruvian beaches are all key to the brand’s choice of fabrics, embellishments and hand-finished pieces.

In five years time, the label aims to have a presence on major catwalks around the world and to be stocked by the ‘most important’ high end stores. It will also look to open its own stores in a series of key cities.

Not every South American brand is quite so advanced in its scheme to dominate the western market. Sweet Cacau, which was founded just six years ago, is currently selling in some ‘very small shops’ in the UK and is now seeking new, high profile clients in the country.

Sweet Cacau’s Renata de Lucca says: “We do have lots of calls from the UK. Our products have a unique design, from Brazil, and I am certain that it is going to surprise the English market. We are starting to negotiate with bigger enterprises and will not only sell in small shops.

It always starts like that but, since there is a lot of talk about Brazilian swimwear, it is going to spread out all over the UK."

For SS13, Sweet Caucau is focusing on prints, combining graphic art with butterflies and flowers. “Fashion today is a great piece of art,” says de Lucca. “You can make a picture over a print. We are very free with digital prints, we can make it all.”

Like Aguaclara, Sweet Cacau aims to enter the ‘most important’ European stores, as well as opening its own outlets on the continent.

“Brazil is having such a great economic moment,” says de Lucca, “but Europe is a very important market to us, since we have a seasonal product. When it is winter in here, it´s summer out there. Since Europe has been facing this tough moment, it is also affecting us here, but I can see that it is slightly moving up again.”

It is by no means a one way street. Though there are a myriad of South American brands looking to conquer Europe, there are also some European based labels seeking to travel in the other direction. Paolita is the brainchild of Anna Paola, a designer of mixed Greek and

Mexican American heritage. Founded in 2010, the London-based label has already made impressive inroads into the European market and is currently stocked by UK retailers ASOS, Anthropologie, Dolci Follie and Kings Road Sports Club. Present in 15 countries, including the US, Australia and the Middle East, it is now looking to expand even further abroad.

“We would love to introduce the brand to Mexico and Latin America, as well as grow the brand further in the countries we are already stocked in,” says commercial director Joseph Bachman.

Paolita’s SS13 collection incorporates a wide range of influences, from the Art Deco of Miami and nights out in South Beach to Mexico’s Day of the Dead and Africa’s Masaii tribes.

Paola’s Mexican heritage also recently inspired a range of t-shirt designs, based on the nation’s annual Day of the Dead celebrations. The products, which formed part of a collaboration with Maison Twenty, went on sale in Harvey Nichols in mid-May, 2012.

The passion for South American colour and love of life is only increasing in the western world. The sexy cuts have already had an impact, but it could be South America’s sophisticated and joyful designs that are set to create the greatest stir.

The continent may celebrate death with a festival, each year, but South America’s vibrant culture and native talent are likely to generate a long lasting life for the region’s swimwear brands.

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