New Bay Area Swimsuit Lines Make a Splash

As seen in the San Francisco Chronicle July 24, 2011

Saga Swimwear's bright Boston one-piece ($155) makes for a stark contrast in design. Photo by Haggai Cohen Milo

Nerissa Pacio Itchon, Special to The Chronicle

In San Francisco, beach attire usually calls for wetsuits, not swimsuits. Women are more likely to build a scarf collection than a bikini wardrobe.

That’s just fine with Michelle Byrnes, designer and founder of Saga Swimwear, and Lynn Werner, CEO and founder of Lynnina, two Bay Area entrepreneurs who recently launched their own swimwear lines with the jet-setting urbanite in mind.

For 29-year-old Byrnes, a San Francisco City College fashion design graduate, running her boutique brand of sexy one- and two-piece suits out of her Noe Valley home was a no-brainer.

Byrnes, who was born in Hawaii but grew up in the Mission District, has had a longtime obsession with swimsuits. Limited to finding swimwear only in the summertime in a smattering of boutiques and department stores, Byrnes wanted to provide “city girls” with a local outlet to find modern, well-made swimsuits year round.

Nearly as passionate about collecting shoes and coats, Byrnes finally decided to plunge into swimsuits in 2008 when she partnered up with former roommate Alex McCauley, 25, to launch Saga because of their shared fascination with swimwear and the playful connotations bathing suits brought to mind.

Michelle Byrnes' sexy one- and two-piece Saga Swimwear line was inspired by her travels to Tokyo. The Narita suit (NRT) is $175. Photo by Haggai Cohen Milo

“Coats are for winter when everyone’s depressed,” says Byrnes, an avid traveler. “Shoes seem difficult to produce. But bathing suits? You think of vacation, travel and going on an adventure somewhere hot and fun.”

Debuting with four styles in black, white and vivid color-blocking, a hot fashion trend for the season, the diverse silhouettes target girls in their late teens to women in their early 30s and were inspired by Byrnes’ travels to Tokyo.

Each style is named after an international airport: The bandeau-top Miami mono-kini ($135); the LAX two-piece bandeau side-tie bikini ($140); the Narita, a plunging V-neck one-piece with an architectural hardware centerpiece and geometric cutouts ($175); and the Boston one-piece backless halter ($155), which Byrnes says can be paired with shorts or a skirt for an easy transition into an outfit.

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for consumer research firm the NPD Group, Inc. notes that swimwear that can “multitask” as streetwear will be big in coming seasons. “Product that offers the consumer the ability to use it for more than just one thing resonates well these days,” Cohen says. “Look for swimwear to play up on the streetwear application.”

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