Let’s be real for a second: Who doesn’t want an excuse to go to Miami, ever? Each year, fashion folks invade the city for a few days at a time—most notably for Art Basel in December, which has become one of the premiere destinations for brands to throw events and position themselves as tastemakers. But, there’s another yearly Miami fashion event that is rapidly growing in scale and in industry cred, and that’s IMG Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim, which officially kicks off on Friday.
Of all of the domestic and international Fashion Weeks, Swim Week has never been met with much fanfare from the fashion media. Despite how fun and laid-back the atmosphere of the event is, it's generally been reserved for the few editors whose market is swim and for the apparel category's buyers. But, in recent seasons, the tide seems to have shifted: Not only are swim labels throwing bigger shows and more parties than ever before, a new generation of youthful brands — Beach Riot, Beth Richards, Minimale Animale and more — are helping to build a new buzz around the world of swimwear, drawing in showgoers from all over the world.
"Historically, the [swimwear] category has been geared towards function—like, what works best for your body type, but what’s changing is that it’s becoming a fashion occasion in its own right,” explains Sabra Krock, the creative director of top swim retailer Everything But Water. “The show has grown over the years driven by a lot of new entrants designer-wise, both brand new upstart designers and ready-to-wear designers entering into the swim market.”
Swim Week is unique in that it’s a mix of fashion brands — Chloé, Proenza Schouler and Kate Spade are among the labels that will bring collections to Miami — and more commercial brands, and the schedule is becoming so jam-packed that it’s nearly impossible to attend every show, not unlike New York Fashion Week. The swim shows are a lively precursor to the Cabana Tradeshow, which is essentially a one-stop-shop for the resortwear and swim market, and where smaller labels present their collections.
Amanda Delduca, a Miami-based blogger, stylist and owner of the e-commerce site Slasher Girl, has attended Swim Week for five seasons, and said that the events scale has grown significantly—especially among a younger generation of designers and consumers. "There's a very youthful vibe—there are new collections that are more trend-driven and streetwear-inspired than in years past," she explains. "The hot-ticket shows this season are from new, buzzy brands, many of which have never shown at Swim Week before."
One of such brands is Mikoh, a label started by two California-raised sisters, Oleema and Kalani Miller, who have a huge following among the fashion-blogging crowd and have amassed tens of thousands of fans on social media—including the likes of Kendall and Kylie Jenner. "We are so excited to launch our sixth season at this year's Miami Swim Week," the designers told us in an email just days before their first runway show. "We wanted our debut in Miami to be the complete vision of the Mikoh label, and we are thrilled to see this vision come to life."
Angela Chittenden, the founder of Beach Bunny swimwear, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this season, puts on one of the most talked-about shows each Swim Week. (Kate Upton walked the Beach Bunny runway just before she hit supermodel status.) She estimates that the upbeat, playful energy is what brings more attention down to Miami season after season, as well as what has attracted a younger generation of designers. "It's a really fun industry. We definitely follow trends, but not so closely that you can't design in a style that you really believe in as well," she says.
The designer, who is collaborating with The Blonds on her upcoming collection, also uses her Swim Week show as her one annual opportunity to not only showcase her product to buyers, but to celebrate the Beach Bunny fans, customers and the girl the brand embodies — something that designers at other Fashion Weeks get to do twice (sometimes four times) a year.
Prince Chenoa and Jacob Dekat, the editors of Galore magazine who are casting the Beach Bunny runway show, say that Miami Swim Week has a positive impact on the modeling industry as well. "It’s all about bringing the bombshell back," Chenoa tells us. "Galore is about bringing the voluptuous, curvy girl to fashion, and we’re happy to be a part of the casting process." Swim Week runway shows are much more lighthearted than your typical Fashion Week show, and the party vibe definitely plays a role in attracting new people to the event every year, including top-tier fashion bloggers and editors from the likes of Harper's Bazaar, Elle and Marie Claire. "The shows just have this really sexy energy, people are ready to party and have a good time," Chittenden says. "Who doesn't smile when they see a beautiful girl walking down the runway in a bikini?"
Each season, more blue-chip models fly in for Swim Week, which features girls that have both a sexy yet approachable appeal (think the Sports Illustrated models and Victoria’s Secret Angels) and high fashion caliber. Recent Galore cover girl Hailey Clauson, who will be walking during Swim Week, is the perfect example. Chenoa believes that this trend will continue to grow in the future, as it's a great place for commercial models to get discovered — not to mention, it's a pretty good pay day.
"A lot more people from New York are coming in—more events are being thrown and brands are now becoming more aware that this is its own, really unique market," Chenoa says. "It's taken a lot more seriously now, I give it two or three more years and it will really blow up. Plus the clients love it — it's really fun."
While there are seemingly endless Fashion Weeks on our radar every year that stretch the globe from Sydney to Singapore to Stockholm, it turns out that the real one to watch is just a quick plane ride to Florida away.