Just yards from the iconic pool at The Raleigh, there they stood with their sleek, sexy curves decked out in hothouse florals, Art Deco stripes or vivid graphics. If you’re envisioning bikini-clad models, think again. This particular “runway” was teeming with 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-classes, one each to represent the 10 years Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim has rolled out under the tents at The Raleigh hotel, with each wrapped in a custom print by a designer who’s been integral to the event over the past decade.
“I was thrilled to be asked,” said Red Carter amid a flurry of interviews while standing next to his C-class, which was wrapped in a bold black-and-white graphic from one of his early collections. Carter had kicked off his career as a swim designer in Miami in 2003, just a year before the launch of The Raleigh shows, so his choice of an inspirational print was an easy one. “Art Deco prints played a big role in my early designs, because I was so inspired by all the beauty of South Beach, and I still am, actually,” he explained. “I wanted to honor that as we celebrate 10 great years of swim shows.”
The shows at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim kick off tonight at 5:00 p.m. with Brazil-based Poko Pano, by designer Paola Robba, and run through Monday evening. Designers range from Mara Hoffman and L*Space by Monica Wise to Gottex, New York-based Caitlin Kelly and Los Angeles-based Clover Canyon. Also among the most-anticipated shows: Los Angeles-based Beach Bunny, notable not only as one of the week’s most scintillating presentations, but also because you never know who might turn up on the runway. It was just three years ago that an up-and-coming model caused a stir at Beach Bunny, a night you might say helped catapult her career. Her name? Kate Upton.
Of course, plenty of commerce occurs behind the scenes of these sultry shows. While Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim hosts these nighttime presentations, big business is taking place all over South Beach during the day, particularly at the Miami Beach Convention Center, where the Swimwear Association of Florida’s annual SwimShow offers press and buyers a look at more than 2,500 lines from around the globe. Fold in the smaller events taking place at the W South Beach, The Setai and other hotels, and the result has become something of a juggernaut for the swim industry, which as of 2012 was estimated at $13.25 billion worldwide.
Thursday night’s event, meanwhile, was rooted in celebration, as Carter mingled with fellow designers Hoffman and Wise. The frenzy around the cars was followed up by a runway presentation of those same prints, this time as limited-edition cover-ups on models who walked the perimeter of The Raleigh’s famed pool. Around midnight, party-goers began to trickle out, in search of other South Beach adventures, even as designers were thinking about appointments with buyers early in the morning. Said Carter as he stood next to the pool, “It takes a lot of work to have this much fun.”