Thursday, May 19, 2005

Miss Hawaii Teen USA 2004 Sonya Balmores, above, wears an Erika Ireland Full Halter in Tropical Mint, about $38, and Kahala Yellow Hipster bottom, about $32, available at By the Beach in Waikiki, Cosmopolitan Swimwear in Hawaii Kai, Lanikai Beachwear in Kailua, and Bikini Bubbles in Lahaina, plus boutiques across the mainland.

Suit up!

As summer approaches,
prepare to hit the beach

Two very different reasons led two individuals to trade in their old careers for new ones. One left her full-time job as an attorney after her hobby started taking up more and more of her free time. The other, a native New Yorker, decided to switch careers and locations after reevaluating his life after 9/11.

Both, however, chose careers in swimwear: one as a designer, the other as a seller, and summer's sun worshippers are the beneficiaries of their decisions.

Erika Ireland, designer of the Hawaiian Hula Girl line attracts a young, sporty crowd, while Christopher Schwart, owner of Sundance at Aloha Tower Marketplace, gears his contemporary styles toward 25- to-54-year-olds. Both aim to satisfy the need for stylish swimwear that can also withstand the rigors of Hawaii's punishing sun and salt water.

Ireland, who still practices law part-time in Kahala, grew up on the beaches of San Diego and Maui. The attorney and former model began designing women's suits to satisfy her creative urge. "I want suits that look great in and out of the water," she said.

Her line debuted in October 2001, with pretty, sporty beachwear in soft colors and simple cuts.

The mint greens, raspberry reds and coral colors are feminine, she said, and the cuts, forgiving.

"While it appeals to juniors because of the bright, happy colors, you don't have to be 13 to wear them," she said. "The suits will look good on anyone. The colors are great and the prints are fun."

Mialisa Muneno wears a reversible bikini by Aaron Chang (top $45, bottom $33) and, at left, a Vix bikini by Paula Hermany (top $52, bottom $52). Both are from Sundance at Aloha Tower Marketplace.

The "Kahala Mint" triangle bikini, the "Tropical Mint Corset" and the blue-and-white polka dot "Groovy Dot Halter" from the 2005 swimwear collection have been extremely popular.

The entire collection of mix 'n' match styles, corset-laced tops and halter bikinis can be found at such stores as Cosmopolitan, Lanikai Beachwear and By the Beach.

Halters are especially hot this summer as women have discovered the bust-enhancing properties of the tops, which also offer more coverage than skimpy string tops, making wearers feel more secure in tumbling surf.

The suits also made their way onto prime time via "North Shore," before the WB series folded, after one of Ireland's models, an extra on the show, sold the costume designer on Ireland's water wear.

"When I heard the show was going off the air, I thought 'No!'" Ireland laughed. "Please show all the suits first!"

Items in Ireland's current line run in sizes small, medium and large and sell for $30 to $40 per piece. A second, more upscale line, will debut next year.

OVER AT Schwart's Sundance shop, he offers mix 'n' match wear, tankinis, bandeau tops and skirted and Rio-style bottoms.

His 2005 swimsuits, ranging from moderate to attention-getting, feature lots of crystal embellishments and sequins, a la Paris Hilton. Subtle flowered patterns in pink and green combinations are also popular.

Schwart offers suits in extra-small to extra-large sizes, with an average price of $80.

"Some girls have 200 suits," he said, "(but) because people use their suits here more, they want practicality. They have been through suits and know what they like. It's not about just hanging out in suits. People really use them here."

Swimsuit designer Ericka Ireland keeps samples of her creations in her home in Kailua.

Boxes of new swimwear arrive almost daily at Sundance, which Schwart and his wife, Barbara, opened two years ago. Sundance recently switched locations at the marketplace and is now in Foot Locker's more visible former stomping grounds.

"It was good that our first store was in a much smaller place," said Schwart. "It gave us a chance to learn more about the business. Being a male buyer, there are so many different styles and fits. There was a lot I didn't know."

Before 9/11, Schwart worked in the World Trade Center, on the 74th floor of Tower 2. Born and raised in Westchester County, he thought his future lay in offering financial advice.

During that time, he and Barbara were frequent Hawaii visitors. "We were always so sad to leave and go back, he said.

"In Westchester, people were born and raised to work on Wall Street. But when I came out here to live with Barbara, we wanted something else."

Ireland agreed with Schwart's outlook. She pointed to Kailua Beach, visible from her living room. "What better place to design swimwear than here?"

Sundance, in the Aloha Tower Marketplace, is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Call 566-0005 or visit sundance-hawaii.com. Visit the Hawaiian Hula Girl Web site at hawaiianhulagirl.com.

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