In most parts of the world, fashion and its associated industries have developed a number of categories that have served to compartmentalise and address the needs and interests of manufacturers and end-users. Over the last few decades, consumers have grown accustomed to a fashion vocabulary that includes words such as menswear, womenswear, footwear, sportswear, swimwear and accessories, to name the most common, that share an understanding of specialised functions that is virtually global. However, beachwear is a classification that has eluded this compendium of categories.
As a collective noun used to define clothes and accessories generally worn on casual occasions (normally holidays) by the swimming pool and the beach or on a boat or yacht at sea, beachwear is normally (and naturally) a more popular concept in seaside resorts that benefit from frequent warm weather. It follows, then, that the nebulous identity of beachwear as a category within the fashion industry is directly related to the geographical location and weather of the places where most fashion is created: consumers of designs originating from cities like London, Paris, Milan or New York (where cold seasons can be prolonged) may not see the need to purchase many items of beachwear; instead, they may only buy one or two swimsuits a year. As a consequence, very few designers tend to focus exclusively on beachwear and, therefore, it is not unusual for the majority of fashion weeks not to include collections devoted entirely to beachwear.
However, markets such as Latin America, Australia and parts of the USA (namely Florida) have witnessed a significant growth in this area, with prolific designers showcasing their beachwear collections during Miami and Rio de Janeiro fashion weeks. In Brazil, where beachwear is a sartorial force to reckon with and an individual consumer can purchase large quantities of different swimsuits and bikinis per season, many designers have focussed their collections on this fashion specialism. However, very few have attained the popularity and esteemed reputation for creativity achieved by Lenny Niemeyer.
Niemeyer started her career as a designer of bikinis and swimsuits for other brands in 1993. Ten years later, she founded her eponymous label and opened her first store in the affluent neighbourhood of Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, she has developed a network of stockists that comprise 18 freestanding Lenny Niemeyer stores in Brazil and influential international retailers such as Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Au Bon Marche, Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. She started showing her collections on the runway of Fashion Rio in 1997, and has been a regular (and much anticipated) participant ever since.
For her Spring/Summer 2014 collection, shown during Fashion Rio in April 2013, Niemeyer found inspiration in the visual effects that light creates when it reflects on different textures. In addition to single-toned garments where white, black and caramel predominated, the collection featured prints with ombré effects and layers of colours and textures in Lycra fabrics worked across original asymmetric shapes. The result was a highly accomplished range of beachwear pieces with distinctive details such as ruffles on skirts and bikini tops, high collars and voluminous sleeves in swimsuits and dresses. Even though the most common opinion that followed the show was that the pieces displayed had been produced exclusively for the runway and not for her stores, there was no doubt that Lenny Niemeyer’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection went beyond having an advertorial purpose to ultimately confirm her most gifted creative talent as a fashion designer.