Sabra Style: Sizzling summer swimwear

Choosing the right bathing suit for your build can be time-consuming, wallet-emptying and anxiety-provoking. Here are Some pointers.

black bikini 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
black bikini 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's that time of year again. The season one either loves or hates when beach weather means it's back to baring all - or at least most of it. And since not everyone looks like Bar Refaeli, choosing the right bathing suit for your build can be time-consuming, wallet-emptying and anxiety-provoking. Luckily, local swimwear designers are up to their usual dramatic, trendsetting tendencies and they've created lines that cater to every size and shape. Over the last 10 years, high levels of creativity and development have put the world of Israeli fashion on the international map, but many of the our swimsuit design giants have decades of experience to draw upon. Ever since Mrs. Hirschthal of Diva went from making brassieres to her first bikini in 1947, and Leah and Ermine Gottlieb established the internationally known Gottex brand in 1956, local bathing suit designers have been among the world's top brands. At the time of its inception, the Gottex innovation was to create a brand that focused entirely on swimwear and also included matching cover-ups so that women could wear the suit and then keep it on for outings in the evening. Today, that trend is everywhere, and you can find matching apparel to go with your suit in almost every store. In fact, Gideon Oberson, who broke onto the international scene with his artistically inspired suits, sells what he calls a "trikini," which is a two-piece suit but looks like a tank top that can be worn with a skirt or a pair of shorts. "People today are coming home from the beach and slipping on a pair of jeans with it," says Oberson of the trikini. "It's a sexy top that has built-in cups and tummy control. It's been a big success in the United States and Europe, especially with younger women." Some people claim that it's the hot weather. Others say it's the fact that the entire coast, from Nahariya to Ashkelon, is lined with golden sandy beaches. But one thing is certain: Made-in-Israel summer 2008 swimwear has enough colors, patterns, cuts and styles to satisfy even the most persnickety bathing-suit buyer. This year's suits range from elegant to exotic. They incorporate everything from slim and sexy to mature and conservative. One-pieces come in strapless styles, deep V-cuts that accentuate the bosom or low-cut necks and open backs. Some of the bikinis this year at Diva have higher waistlines for those with slim hips. The trikini, which you can find at Oberson, Gottex and Pilpel, gives your waist a slimmer line and your chest a lift, and goes well with either a bathing-suit bottom or a pair of jeans. This year's suits have plenty of vivid, solid colors as well as sober earth tones. One of the most popular prints this year is floral. From black-and-white flowers to soft pastels, you'll find a plethora of blossoms. Of course, if you still can't find exactly what you're looking for on the rack, there's always the option of having a suit custom made and tailored to you. THE FAMILY-OWNED Diva is headed by Rachel Pappo, the daughter of the original owners who oversees the swimsuit design team. This year, the Diva swimsuits were inspired by the senses, especially the sense of smell. Thus, a collection of floral prints in red, white, black and light pastels is mixed in with the more sober, single-colored suits in black, chestnut and gray. According to Ahuva Lipshitz, the export manager for Diva who has been with the company for more than 20 years, there are two types of buyers in the swimwear industry: the "solid colors" lady, who likes minimalist, classic styles, and the colorful lady, who is attracted to brighter swimsuits with vivid patterns and more frills. "How a woman chooses a bathing suit all depends on how she looks at her own sense of fashion," says Lipshitz. "But getting undressed, like when you put on a bathing suit, makes designing them much more complicated than other articles of clothing." Indeed, Lipshitz points out that Diva's original expertise in making brassieres still serves the company well. To meet the goal of making the body look better with a suit on than without it, Diva uses different types of materials that hug the body tighter or looser to provide instant tummy tucks and lifts inside of the suit and it sells suits with cup sizes from B to E. "Every woman has her weaknesses, and our job is to make them invisible," Lipshitz says. Each year, Diva produces a new line of patterns inspired by the international fashion world and continues to sell a few of their most popular cuts with new materials and colors. "Whatever sells the best is going to continue, so that women who like a certain style or fit can purchase it in a new color or with a new pattern," she says. Known for its elegance, comfortable fit and innovative designs that integrate details from fashion runways, such as rhinestone studs and small belts, this year's collection has one- and two-piece suits. Like Mrs. Hirschthal, Hagit Berna started designing brassieres before she went into bathing suits. In the late 1980s, after studying at Shenkar, she opened a store with custom jewelry. In the mid 1990s, she realized that there were no proper push-up bras in Israel and decided to make her own. This led her to swimwear, and she has been custom-fitting clients with swimsuits in her Dizengoff Center store ever since. "Bathing suits are all about the hips and the boobs," she says matter-of-factly. "It doesn't matter whether you are fat or thin, short or tall, you can look good and beautiful in a bathing suit." Berna says that designing bathing suits is a mixture of fashion and psychology, and it's critical to build self-esteem and make a woman feel like she looks her best. She buys her material in Europe and has basic cuts that she customizes for each client. "A lot of times a woman with big breasts has smaller hips and it's hard for her to find a suit like that in the stores," she says. "For me, the whole picture is to make a woman look younger and sexier than she is. Bathing suits are all about illusion." INDEED, THE internationally acclaimed designer Gideon Oberson, who was born in Italy but has lived and worked here for many years, says that creating a bathing suit is one of the hardest jobs in fashion. "It's fashion design, but when you buy fashion you get dressed, and when you buy a bathing suit you get undressed," he says. "Not every woman feels comfortable with her body, so the prints and the structure need to complement her figure and hide the imperfections." Oberson's 2008 line of suits can be broken down into three different groups. The first category includes suits with bright oranges and reds with frilly edges and funky cuts, while the second focuses on African shades of black and brown. The third set is a skimpier line with smaller strings and floral "rose" bikini tops that have a soft, feminine edge but are designed for women who need less support in a suit. "The novelty this year is the naïve prints on white backgrounds, but you also have the bicolor and tricolor suits," says Oberson. As always, his designs this year include a wide range of different fabrics from soft florals and solids to chic and futuristic. The Gottex Models Silver collection in 2008, which Oberson also designs, offers a wide range of unusual, artistic patterns and cuts, including one-piece aquamarine suits with collar necks that have a classy, sophisticated flair and are extremely flattering on the body. In a similar style, Oberson has created a suit with one shoulder strap that uses an inner layer of more elastic Lycra to provide support on the inside with an outer, transparent layer that adds a soft, feminine look. "It's a contradiction to have an open back and no bra, and it's a challenge to create suits that are beautiful on the body and comfortable," says Oberson, who adds that the structure is far more important than the actual design, because the tricks to improving the way the body looks are all inside the suit so that they cannot be seen. Pilpel has stores across the country and caters to younger women, and Silvian Imberg's swimwear designs were chosen by the young Russian pop group Reflex last year for its cover spread on a fashion magazine there. So, the question now boils down to the budget. How much do these bathing suits cost? At Oberson, you'll pay between NIS 350 and NIS 900 for a suit. Gottex suits average around NIS 500, and Berna charges NIS 550 to NIS 850 to custom fit a swimsuit for you, depending upon the fabric. At Diva, expect to pay between NIS 400 and NIS 600. For some great deals on top Israeli designer swimsuits, head to the Beit Romano store in South Tel Aviv. They've got a basement full of bargains on top brand names. On King George Street near the Carmel Market, you can also find some great deals on Israeli-made summer wear and bathing suits. Of course, the best thing to do is to buy a suit for next year in the off season once the swimwear hits the sale rack. The most important thing to remember is that a bathing suit should make you feel comfortable and beautiful. Don't be afraid to ask the assistants for advice about what looks best on your body type, and if the suit doesn't improve the way you look, it's not worth buying.