Curve Appeal

When designer Jessica Petersen decided to launch the first luxury swimwear line made exclusively for curvy women, she knew that having the right fit would be her key to success.

“It was critical to me that she [the customer] feel supported,” Petersen said.

But Petersen didn’t want ample support to mean discomfort. “I wanted everything to be soft against her body and non-abrasive, so she could be comfortable for a long time. I really wanted her to feel pampered in the swimwear—not like ’I can’t wait to take this off.’”

The Pasadena, Calif.–based designer launched Sorella Swim at this year’s Salon Allure trade show in Miami and said she felt that full-figured women are starting to be accepted in the fashion industry and recognized in a better market for the first time.

“It was really nice; we were the only line to get applause from the spectators [at the Salon Allure fashion show],” she said.

As a former children’s apparel designer who specialized in childrenswear at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Petersen never planned to design clothing for fullfigured women, but, after falling into a position at plus-size retailer Torrid, she found the positive feedback from the customers so rewarding she decided to change paths.

“The more I started designing for these women, I found they had a voice. When they said, ’We like this’ and they were so grateful, I felt like it opened up my eyes. I felt like I was making a difference for the first time in my career, and it wasn’t just a job.”

Part of Petersen’s inspiration for launching her own swim line for curvier women was to challenge the notion of altering the full-size figure, which, she says, has been adopted by the swimwear industry.

“There was nothing of quality that was young or luxurious, and everything was trying to change or alter the figure, and I wanted to flatter the figure.”

Petersen says the key to a slim fit is creating a piece that hugs the body rather than hides it.

“All of the fuller-figured swimwear that’s out there right now sits away from the body and tents the body. The goal with that swimwear is to make them look straight and not show the curves, but I think that tends to make the women look bigger and like a box. If it can fit snuggly and it’s a flattering cut, she’s going to look thinner than she ever has.”

All of the suits in Petersen’s line feature fully molded cups with soft elastic under-bust support rather than hard underwires to hold a larger chest.

“’It needs to have underwire’—I’d hear that a lot because that’s what the industry said, but I knew it didn’t have to be that way,” she said.

Using a model with a size double- D cup, Petersen worked for a year on creating ample support with molded cutand- sew cups in each suit.

Additionally, all of the Sorella Swim styles use a more-forgiving circular spandex knit to fit a range of sizes, she said.

“We range in size from 10 to 24, but it’s 10/12, 14/16, so it gives that woman who doesn’t really know what size she is the time to pick within the brand and feel a little bit better.”

Each item has branded hardware—a gold Sorella Swim medallion—and is designed and manufactured in Southern California. There are a total of 10 pieces in the line, which consists of full suits, tankinis, coverups, a bikini top and three bottoms. Colors include iris, simply black, gray and iris jungle, with wholesale prices for the collection ranging from $36.20 for a plain bottom to $99.20 for a one-piece.

Petersen says that attention had primarily spread by word-of-mouth among plus-sized boutiques after the Salon Allure show, but, after a recent spot on “Entertainment Tonight,” “everything has skyrocketed,” and now she’s attracting interest from traditional retailers, which was part of her goal.

“I think there’s a lot of education that needs to be done about the plussize industry in general. It’s a $47 billion industry, and the retailers are really open to hearing it.”