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Exclusive: How Melissa Odabash Became Everyone’s Favourite Swimwear Designer

For many women, the bikini can pose one of life’s biggest sartorial struggles. Blame it on expectations – especially your own – you are never skinny/pretty/ready enough to rock the two-piece ensemble.

Fashion model Melissa Odabash found herself in the same situation. But instead of despairing, she decided to turn the need into a business opportunity. In a tiny workshop manned by a mother-and-son sewing team in Italy, her first bikini was made and subsequently launched in 1999. Comprising a strapless top with a bow in the front, and bottoms with bows on the sides, it was donned by Tyra Banks for a Sports Illustrated shoot.

Soon, UK department store Harvey Nichols started stocking her pieces. Astute shoppers, who recognised the quality make and materials, couldn’t get enough of Melissa Odabash bikinis. “Buy one high-quality bikini that fits and flatters you perfectly, and you can wear it for 10 years,” the 45-year-old mother of two said in an interview. “I use really high-end fabrics and they are all lined with the same material too. There is no skimping on anything.”

Now based in London, Melissa seeks inspiration from her travels, a favourite destination being Florida. It is just over an hour and half by plane from New Jersey, where she was born and raised. “When you live in Europe, you appreciate the easy, laid-back lifestyle the Floridians lead. Rollerblading with my girls, walking around barefoot, the beach on my doorstep – all these make my escape there so special.”

Like the women she designs for, Melissa is an avid shopper. She makes it a point to visit the local markets in wherever she is because she loves vintage shopping so much. Once back home, however, shopping is mostly done online.

But she is not complaining: “The greatest advantage of online shopping is being able to try on all your items in the comfort of your own home. You can immediately see if the pieces you have purchased complement the rest of your wardrobe!”

And fans will agree, as everyone’s digging into her limited-edition collection for The Outnet, which launched recently. As you wait for your package to arrive, read on for these professional takeaways from the Queen of the Sea.

#1 Have a vision. 
“I wanted to buy a simple, well-cut bikini in an elegant, classic colour. It was near-impossible, but that was what drove me into the industry initially. All the styles I tried were just so high-cut that I thought there was a niche [I could fill] in the swimwear market.”

#2 Look, listen and learn.
“Modelling helped me understand what to avoid and what to consider more when designing clothes. I used my time as a model to learn as much as I could from the best. As a fit model to the top designers, I had insight into how quality garments should fit. I spent afternoons in Valentino’s design studio, listening to what I should look out for, what didn’t work, and how to improve the fit. I listened to buyers’ comments to understand the market and trends. And travelling to different parts of the world allowed me to quickly understand what different people wore to the beach and on holiday.”

#3 Identify with your clients.
“I design for women who want to look sexy but elegant. My goal is to make them feel their best when they are at their most vulnerable. It has taken years to understand what women want – fabric and fit are so important to swimwear! Cuts and styles are re-worked year on year and we offer something for everyone. My collection is sold in 55 countries so I must know what different markets want.”

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New York

#4 Know your products well.
“I’m increasingly into one-piece designs. They make me feel amazing yet cover up my vulnerabilities. My exclusive collection for The Outnet offers the New York, a one-piece with cut-outs that draw the eye to your curves, and create the illusion of an-hourglass silhouette. I do a lot of outdoor sports so I feel more comfortable in this, than a string bikini! If you have a pear-shaped body, consider the Liberty, as it highlights the upper body.”

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#5 Offer value-add – like confidence.
“Buying bikinis always seem a little scary so it’s most important to feel confident in whatever you’re wearing and to buy for your body type. When shopping for swimwear, understand what colours suit your skin tone. Steer clear of large bikini bottoms as smaller fabrics help create the illusion of a smaller silhouette. You can also apply some self-tanner before trying on swimwear – it makes you look slimmer instantly.”

#6 Be open to feedback.
“Everything is trial-and-error when you are starting from scratch. I keep up with my emails on the go with my iPhone. I love to keep up with Instagram and share what I’m up to. I often get a lot of feedback and insights through social media.”

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A kaftan from her limited-edition collection for The Outnet

#7 Prepare to work hard.
“Don’t give up! Focus on where your skills are strongest and stick to that for at least five years. To put it simply: Be known for doing one thing well, identify your audience and slowly add on.”

View more of Melissa Odabash’s limited-edition collection for The Outnet here.

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