fashion magazine
A Swimming Success
by LISA WONG
Photography by CHRIS HAYLETT @ www.chrishaylett.com
Styling: DEANNA PALKOWSKY @ Lizbell Agency
Hair and Makeup: SONIA LEAL-SERAFIM @ THEY Rep
Model: EMMA HANSEN @ Lizbell Agency
Not many designers have mechanical engineering degrees, but then again not many designers are like Vancouver-based swim and resort wear guru Anna Kosturova. She speaks articulately and with astonishing directness. Ask her what she thinks about something-the fashion industry's foibles and frustrations, Vancouver, her birthplace Czechoslovakia-and she'll give you an honest answer. "I'll give it a try, see how it goes," she says of her initial decision to work in fashion. Then she jokes, "Worst case scenario, there's always [a job at] McDonald's." See what I mean about astonishing honesty?

Kosturova's potent mix of intelligence, sincerity, passion and talent has achieved a level of notoriety that few homegrown fashion designers can boast. Her signature crochet bikinis have been featured in Sports Illustrated online and in print every year since 2006, even making the cover of the swimsuit edition in 2008. Most recently her white `Marisa' tennis dress had a cameo in Just Go With It, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler. (Aniston wears the `Marisa' dress in the film's posters and promotional materials.) She explains with pride that the movie was shooting in Maui when the costume designer walked into a local boutique and bought the dress randomly; the filmmakers and Aniston were never sent a dress as a promotional sample.

Indeed, she relies on her designs to sell themselves because of their unique nature. "I like my products to have a handmade quality: hand-crocheted, hand-tie-dyed." It's the uniqueness of her designs that has garnered all those Sports Illustrated features, not heavy-handed publicity campaigns. Her label doesn't have a full-time publicist or in-house marketing team. She tweets for herself and follows a mix of fashion bloggers, magazines and comedians. PR, she explains, is hard work but worth doing for herself. "I have to fight for my designing time because so much of my time is spent running the business," she admits when pressed for details of what her new line will look like.

Not to worry though: she isn't necessarily behind in getting the next collection done. Unlike the rest of the fashion world which shows ready-to-wear and haute couture collections in spring, the swim and resort wear industry gears up for Miami Swim Week in July. After that all the fall/winter cruise collections hit stores in September and the designers show their spring/summer lines in October. The difference in show schedules is just one of many between the swimwear and ready-to-wear worlds.

Another difference lies in how consumers view bathing suit purchases. The economic downturn led to underwhelming sales for most clothing categories, but surprisingly swimwear spending remained unscathed. Kosturova theory is that consumers view swimsuit shopping as vacation spending rather than part of the everyday clothes budget. Even in a recession, people still need to go on vacations and unwind. And if you're going to treat yourself to a tropical cruise, why not spend a little more on a new bikini or wrap to wear on it?

As the interview draws to a close, Kosturova offers this advice for aspiring designers: "Just stick with it. It's not about how smart you are. Sometimes it's about how persistent you are." Wise words indeed.

For more information go to www.annakosturova.com.