These flattering structured bikinis and one-piece swimsuits from Arabella London make the case for dressy swimwear
If fashion decades were animals — stay with us, now — most previous ones would probably be vertebrates, and the current one... A spineless, writhing mollusc. Which is to say, fashun these days is fabulously unstructured; fancy sweatshirts and tracksuit bottoms are now objects of desire, while even couture ballgowns (shoutout to Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino) are increasingly formless and flowy.
Swimwear creator Arabella MacRitchie — who founded Arabella London in 2016 and has won champions in the form of Harrods and Luisa via Roma — is one of the few designers going against the grain of this shift, with her sculpting and supportive swimwear. As summer reaches its peak, we spoke to MacRitchie about the virtues of super-structured swimsuits, beachside reading materials, and 'bikini bodies' in 2019.
What’s most distinctive about Arabella’s DNA?
Arabella MacRitchie (AM): Our luxury swimwear is sleek and sculpting, and champions the perfect fit. Structural components that are more often found in lingerie distinguish us from the unstructured, pared-back swimsuits that currently predominate in the industry.
Your swimwear is meant to be worn beyond the beach and pool. How did this idea come about?
AM: At sunset, when women leave the water for dinner and drinks, swimwear gets covered up and becomes little more than an uncomfortable underpinning of one’s outfit. I wanted to reimagine swimwear as a multifunctional garment, at once integral to and divorced from its original context. I was determined to create a line of flattering and fashion-forward separates that were both transitional and trans-seasonal. The pieces are crafted with versatility in mind; tailored styles can be worn as elegant bodysuits, whilst relaxed styles can be worn as ‘swimtimates’ on a lazy day.
The fabrics you use purportedly "combine swimwear, active-wear and ready-to-wear properties”. Can you elaborate?
AM: The perfect balance of microfibre and Lycra in our fabric ensures that all of our pieces are as functional as they are beautiful. The fabrics are first and foremost quick-drying, chlorine-resistant, and woven from super-opaque microfibres to protect you from harmful ultraviolet rays. However, these fabrics can also be used for activewear and ready-to-wear purposes thanks to the unique structure of the knit. They are ultra-light, allow for total freedom of movement, retain their shape and feel incredible against the skin. We double-line our pieces with the same technical fabric of the garment’s exterior, doing away with the scratchy inner linings found in most swimwear for impeccable wearability.
Structure and composition aside, what else makes an Arabella London piece particularly suited for use off the beach?
AM: Aesthetic design details also help to make our pieces versatile. The scallop-edge detail on our Contour swimsuit is ultra-glamorous and fit for eveningwear, as is the Modern Bustier which looks striking peeking out from a suit jacket. Everything has been crafted with a dual purpose in mind.
Designs like the Modern Bustier are very timeless. How did you arrive at this aesthetic?
AM: I wanted to create a collection of core silhouettes that were not trend-led, nor age-, shape- or size-specific. I drew inspiration from the swimwear of the 1950s, which remains relevant to this day. I also borrowed details inspired by the ready-to-wear of the era; the gently ruched, shoulder-skimming straps on the Modern Bustier are a nod to elegant evening gowns, and the detailing on the back of the 9.2.9 Swimsuit echoes traditional corsetry. Whether it’s as simple as a deep scoop neckline or an intricate scallop edge, each piece has a defining detail that slots seamlessly into a woman’s wardrobe.
Tell us about your latest collection.
AM: The collection was inspired, as ever, by the glamour of late ‘50s and early ‘60s fashion. The monochrome houndstooth print evokes Brigitte Bardot on the Riviera, while bright pops of colour — think sunset shades of rose and mandarin — speak to the vibrancy of summer. This season’s broad palette encourages women to coordinate tonally or confidently clash. There is no wrong answer.
When you think of ‘the beach’, which comes to mind?
AM: Laurito, Positano.
Why is this beach special to you?
AM: This tiny, wild pebble beach is only accessible by foot or boat. It’s peaceful and gorgeous, with truly spectacular views of the Amalfi coast. I can think of nothing better than a sun-drenched afternoon spent with good friends there, Aperol Spritz in hand and Da Adolfo a mere stone’s throw away when hunger strikes.
Are you into water sports?
AM: As long as I’m just spectating from a sun lounger, yes [laughs].
What essentials do you bring to the beach besides swimwear?
AM: I always take a wide-brimmed hat by Australian designer Sarah Curtis and Piz Buin’s Instant Glow, a great sunscreen with light-reflecting pearls that give your skin a golden glow while protecting it from the sun.
Do you read often by the water?
AM: If I’m spending the day luxuriating by the water, I like to bring a stack of glossies with me.
What’s your first memory of water?
AM: My earliest memories of water are Saturday night swimming lessons with my dad.
What was the experience of learning to swim like for you?
AM: Despite my profession, I tend to belly flop far more often than dive elegantly [laughs]. I was quite young when I learned to swim, but the most exciting part for me was always the fish and chips that followed lessons.
Is the concept of a ‘bikini body’ still relevant? How do you think this concept has evolved over time?
AM: These days, having a ‘bikini body’ is more about being comfortable and confident in the skin you’re in, than about a prescriptive view of how women should look. I am so thrilled that this shift is finally happening.
What’s the one thing swimwear designers are doing wrong with swimwear?
AM: Larger cup and body sizes are often neglected, and are left with unappealing prints and shapes. For us, consistency throughout our size range is key! At the moment, our pieces run from UK 6 to 14, and from a small B cup to a DD/E cup, but it’s always growing!
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