Not so long ago Miami Swim was set alight by the most popular names in swim wear around, while Kat Popiel was making the there we thought we should capture the latest.
Sun-kissed, Brette Sandler is just back from a weekend at Sunset Beach on Shelter Island, New York. A native to the city, she attended Parsons School of Design, interning at Michael Kors throughout her four year degree, honing her talents into the American aesthetic of classic design. During her junior year she already knew what to submit for her senior thesis, ‘It sounds crazy but I had this vision. I was finding inspiration looking through old Vogues when something grabbed me. I wanted do jewel toned bikinis with little gold chain straps. Sexy and really retro.’ Her bon voyage from the comforts of education lead her to the scary prospect of full time employment giving Brette no choice but to jump off the deep end and work with her current talents, ‘I found a sample maker at the back of Womenswear Daily, gave her my sketches. I had pictures taken, sent it out to buyers and suddenly they started buying the collection. I was clueless but I wasn’t scared, I just went for it. It’s almost like the less you know, the easier it is.’
Now, at the age of 25, in her third year as a swimwear designer, she has impressively completed six collections to date. Her debut range consisted of seven bikinis. All were snapped up by Calypso – a brand considered the leading signifier of resort wear, who requested 250 suits on the spot but needed colour palettes of pastels, yellows, corals and teals. This harnessed Brette into one of her first lessons in market sales – responding to market demand. ‘One person lead me to the next. I found a manufacturer; I had to beg them to make me 250 shits but I made a little more so I could send it out and see what happens. From there it was a chain reaction.’ With such a stepping stone into retail was all that was necessary to credibly bring forward her own interpretations of swimwear. ‘Now I have 26 styles’, she gushes, almost amazed.
Referencing fashions from TV show Three’s Company, the Woodstock movement and everything vintage from the ‘70s, Brette considers nostalgia as the prime essence of the inspirations for her designs, ‘My mom had this box of old bikinis at the back of her closet which I used to try on. That you could put on a bathing suit and feel like you were on the beach in St. Tropez in 1979…’ she smiles. ‘It’s great when you have clothing that evokes feeling.’ Appealing to the edgy and fashion conscious girl, the Brette Sandler bikini ‘still reflects a girl’s own style so that the bathing suit is going to wear her.’ For her the bikini is the ‘ultimate body construction’ meaning her bikinis are merely an extention of the wearer and their lifestyle. ‘She’s in the Hamptons or she goes to Miami and LA. She tries to go to the beach whenever she can or she’s just laying on her roof in the city.’ Wearing a Brette Sandler means they are getting a young, fashion designer who wants to give you tradition but with her unique touch, ‘There will always be a triangle bikini but its what you do to it. I think people like my signature touches – the girls who buy my pieces get it. I’m not just trying to sell a bathing suit – I’m trying to sell that feeling.’
Weeks after Miami Swim, Brette Sandler is reaping the benefits of the tradeshow, having lured in buyers from new markets, most especially the United Kingdom, ‘It’s really important to me that we speak to that customer. I feel like those girls are the closest to the New York customer, they’re modest yet quirky’. Having shown a presence at Miami Swim early on in her career, Brette values the relevancy of tradeshow as an opportunity to make a statement to the industry, ‘The first time I went it was me, a little table and my bikinis on a rolling rack. I felt I was literally a small fish in a big ocean. It takes a minute for buyers to trust you and know you because they go with name recognition and it’s hard for them to make the switch. Yet the buyers want the little independents. It makes you feel like that you can be taken seriously, that it’s not just a cop-out that you’re designing ‘only bikinis’.
Designers go to Miami Swim with samples of their collection, directed by what buyers respond to, proving that even fashion designers need to determine their market injection according to the experts, ‘A lot of the time my favourites get edited. It’s really weird’, explains Brette. Europe, during the month of August, shuts for the summer and with most of her fabric mills there, Brette is currently layering her responsibilities to include preparing her orders for when the mills resume, then shipping her fabrics to her allocated slots at the production house. Before summer draws to a full halt, it is also the period to decide on the upcoming Resort collection due to launch December 2008, ‘I go to LA this week for market and I wanted to do some vintage shopping and get my creative juices flowing, hopefully coming back to design. It has to hit you, whether it’s the colour, body or print or a detail that you’ve seen somewhere that you think will look great on a bikini. But I’ve also become smarter because I know what sells for me. I know what my customer is buying from me so I ask myself what I can change or update that. So I still stick with my aesthetic.’ There’s a sense that Brette is still squinting from the stark sunlight of her young career, making it up as she goes along yet somehow possessing a smart confidence that she knows how not to get burned. Brette Sandler’s timid nature does not do her forward thinking initiative justice. A bright young star, it’s clear her consistent presence in the industry so far will be part of the classic contenders of tomorrow.