An expanded swim program at fashion week? Suits us

Kristian Chase wants the world to appreciate that a good swimsuit can do the same things for a woman's confidence as a ballgown.

And he would know, having worked for the likes of Dior, Chanel and Louis Vuitton before taking the reins as creative director of swimwear brand Aqua Blu.

Models wearing Aqua Blu (left and right) and Bondi Born (centre), two brands that are putting the focus on swimwear at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia.Credit:Nic Walker

In fact, Chase designs his swimsuits in a similar fashion to couture, by draping fabric on the body, as opposed to working solely from patterns.

"When people think of swimwear, they think it’s an easy task to design," Chase says. "Like it’s getting a fabric and cutting out, but it’s not like that at all."

Chase's suits, which are all original prints, include printing and stitching techniques that enable them to withstand fading and stretching in the toughest conditions.

He says the swimwear market has become more "woke" to size diversity, after spending decades catering to narrow segments or creating "plus size" suits designed to mask – and, often, shame – the wearer.

"I believe in showing the best version of you rather than a 'hide this or that' scenario," he says. "I don't endorse any of that. [I believe in] wear this, be bold, be confident and turn heads."

Aqua Blu is among several brands showing at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia hoping to capitalise on the $29 billion-plus global swimwear market, a segment that continues to grow despite challenging conditions in the fashion industry more broadly, according to forecasters Euromonitor.

Chase said that despite the tough retail market, sales of Aqua Blu are growing at 25 per cent a year, including accounts with international department stores Harvey Nichols, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.

MATCHESFASHION.COM buyer Chelsea Power said the appeal of Australian swimwear is "its mixture of function and great design. Given their climate, Australian designers know about sun all year round and the lifestyle around swimwear which creates a really strong product."

Power said her favourite Aussie swim brands include Ephemera, Zimmermann and Matteau, whose show on Monday afternoon included an expanded apparel line of sumptuous linens in clove, saffron and a subtle hibiscus print.

Other swimwear brands showing at fashion week included Tigerlily, which returned on Monday after 17 years, and debutants Azzo and Bondi Born.

Dale McCarthy of Bondi Born left the corporate world four years ago for a stab at fashion success. She said Australians know how to make swimwear better than anyone in the world, thanks to our coastal lifestyle.

"There’s a massive brand equity of being an Australian swimwear brand. There’s a massive opportunity for Aussies to own this category," she said.

McCarthy launched Bondi Born in Europe, where people are comfortable spending upwards of $300 on a swimsuit, a fact that has been challenging in the Australian retail market.

"We found it hard to get into swim specialty stores … they couldn't understand our product and why people would pay so much for it," she said. "They would ask, 'Where are the bright patterns, the $60 pants?'

"Off that [feedback] we made the decision to go direct to consumer via an e-commerce play. We knew from Europe women loved the brand and product. Even talking to my friends, they felt ripped off they didn't have the opportunity to buy luxury swimwear in Australia."

She said the timing was right this year for the brand to make its fashion week debut.

"The brand wasn't ready until this year. It’s an ideal platform .. for this one week you have the world’s elite fashion buyers and media in our home town seeing what Australian designers are doing for resort. I couldn't replicate that by getting on a plane."

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia runs until May 18. The writer travelled as a guest of IMG.

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