This Thing's Everywhere: Melissa Simone's Sultry, '90s-Inspired Swimwear

·10 min read

Founded in 2018 by the designer of the same name, the L.A.-based brand peddles swimwear for main characters — including Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner.

Do you ever recognize a product before you know — or even can name — the brand that makes it? In "This Thing's Everywhere," we delve deep into these ubiquitous pieces and the impact they have on the businesses of their creators. 

Escapism has been such a huge part of 2022's biggest fashion trends, usually manifesting in pieces that aim to transport you to some far-off locale on paid time off. (See: vacationcore.) What conveys that better than an image of you on a boat, a beach or a pool lounger, sipping a colorful beverage, wearing a sexy, striking swimsuit?

That's pretty much Melissa Simone's bread and butter. Founded in 2018 by the designer of the same name, the Los Angeles-based brand peddles swimwear for main characters — bikinis and one-pieces in eye-grabbing prints, dramatic cutouts and '90s-referential silhouettes. It really blew up in late 2019 when, within a matter of weeks, Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid wore its suits (in the case of the latter, three different styles in the span of a few days.)

"I feel like a lot of people recognized our swim before they knew who we were," says Simone. "A lot of times people would see our swim over and over; so many started to DM like, 'Is this you?' The swim blew up before the brand itself did."

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The Elysian collection, launched in October 2019, changed the course of the brand. Not only did it garner its first big celebrity placements, but it also introduced some of the silhouettes Melissa Simone would become most recognized for — namely, the Elle Cut-Out One-Piece, the Christine Ruched Bikini and the Linda String Bikini. She'd been a one-woman show at that point, having quit her career in PR and moved to L.A. to start the business with six suits; the success of her first-ever collaboration, in May 2019, allowed her to fund Elysian.

"I had a Depop and Poshmark obsession — I still do," Simone says. "I don't care what size it is. I literally will buy anything that says ''90 swimsuit' if I love the cuts or anything like that. We have bins on bins in the office. I buy them, stare at them, love them for the day; when I design, I pull all my inspo out. They're like my babies."

This passionate market research has resulted in key details that differentiate a Melissa Simone swimsuit from others in a category that can feel repetitive. "For the string bikinis, there are little things — like how thick of a string you decide to use, the type of stitching that you use," Simone says, noting that her designs feature zigzag stitching and lining, which were big in the '90s but are more rare nowadays. "Those are details that, because I actually have a thing with ordering these '90s swimsuits, I notice and help set it apart."

The '90s influence goes beyond the high cuts of its swimsuits, the vibrant colors of its floral prints or even the construction of the pieces themselves: The "About Us" section on the brand's website describes Melissa Simone as a "1990's inspired swimsuit line dedicated to the women of today," citing Christie Brinkley, Tyra Banks and Elle Macpherson as muses.

"What made me decide to start [designing] swim was that I would see the swimsuits on these supermodels from the '90s — not even supermodels, just timeless images," Simone says. "I couldn't find them anywhere, whenever I wanted to go somewhere or even just go to the pool."

Every collection starts with a one-piece, which Simone will then build every other suit around. "It becomes a family," she says. She'll start by simplifying the silhouette and then adding the print.

With the Elle Cutout One-Piece, Simone remembers "[spending] a long time with our pattern maker trying to perfect the cutout, where it hit on the body in all aspects, how much of the bust showed, how much of it was covered. It was really important to me to make sure that it still offered coverage." Once that was done, she sought out a print that hit on all the notes of the brand — colorful, bold, unique.

"Everybody loves the statement pieces that they can wear all the time," she says. "I really wanted something that made people feel good and that popped on the beach. I was thinking to myself, 'On a beach, what will go crazy?' I remember seeing articles where people thought it was fire. But it's not — it's florals. It gives a rush of so many different colors in one. You can call it orange, but there are really purples, deep colors, yellows, reds… Then we added the cheetah strings, and people loved that."

For its most recent collection, Melissa Simone created its own prints: "Now that we're growing, we have to make sure that this can't be found anywhere else."

Melissa Simone had already gotten magazine and influencer placements, but those didn't compare to when Jenner posted a series of pictures of herself in the Elle Cut-Out One-Piece on Instagram in November 2019.

"At that point, no one really knew what she was wearing," Simone says. "Knowing the PR little bits, I started reaching out to people when I saw articles, like, 'Hi, this is Melissa Simone, x, y, and z.' I went to all the Kylie pages and would say, 'She's in Melissa Simone swim.'"

The brand saw a huge spike in sales when, a few weeks later, Hadid wore three Elysian suits back-to-back while on vacation. "Kylie put us on the map, and then Bella shifted everything, because [people] knew where to find it at that point," Simone says. "We've definitely made five figures in a couple of days after Bella. That was absolutely insane."

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Before she posted, Simone had heard through the grapevine that Hadid had one of the brand's suits and loved it. "I said, 'You know what? I'm going to go for it' — I packed the collection up and I sent it to her, with no idea [if] she would wear [it]," she says. "Then, Kylie's stylist reached out and asked for every suit except the one-piece. I knew, in my mind, that she would kill this one-piece, so I threw it in there. She ended up wearing it… I shot my shot. I don't know these people… Then, Bella wore all, Kylie wore one. From there, sales went crazy, and they continue [to]."

Cindy Bruna, Imaan Hammam, Winnie Harlow and Karrueche Tran have all since worn Melissa Simone — "and those are dreams, right? Because when I'm designing, I'm like, 'I'm designing for you,'" Simone says of the models.

The pandemic didn't slow down Melissa Simone's meteoric rise.

"During lockdown, our sales were crazy," Simone says. "The pictures that they were tagging, it was literally like they were having the time of their lives, inside their house. People were doing it up. Melissa Simone does that — it makes you feel that way."

In addition to its own e-commerce, the brand's also sold at Revolve, Fwrd and Kith; the latter stocks it in stores in L.A., New York City and Miami.

You can buy Melissa Simone at Revolve, FWRD and Kith.<p>Photo: Revolve</p>
You can buy Melissa Simone at Revolve, FWRD and Kith.

Photo: Revolve

"I'm from Toronto. As a shopper, there's things that you pay for in terms of taxes and that type of stuff that make it hard to buy from a company in another country. It's really helped being stocked at Revolve and Fwrd, because they cover that," Simone says. "Being in Kith is very, very special to us because that's the only place that people can try a swimsuit on in person; our sales there always go great." (Originally, Melissa Simone wanted to open up its L.A. showroom so customers could come in and try on the product, but the Covid-19 pandemic put a wrench in those plans.)

Retailers like Revolve and Fwrd (which are owned by the same company, Revolve Group, Inc.) have also helped the still-small team with things like influencer marketing and branding.

"Revolve is in another league," Simone says. "We have a zoom in on certain influencers, and they've really helped to expand us out to this world that we didn't even know." In the case of Fwrd, "it's just luxury, and that's helped to take our brand to another level — like on their website, they styled us with a Bottega bag. That helps elevate a brand."

Swimwear is one of its fastest-growing categories at Fwrd and Melissa Simone, which it started carrying last year, hits on many notes the customer loves. "[They have] always gravitated towards more sexy, body-conscious styles, so we knew they would love this collection," April Koza, Fwrd vice president, writes in an e-mail.

"Because the pieces are so visually striking, they really stand apart from the rest," she continues, noting that the products that perform the best on Fwrd are those "that can be worn in multiple ways," such as the mesh coverups and bikinis. "Melissa Simone is super in tune with her customers' wants and is tapping into the 90's swimwear trend that's so popular right now."

Simone says she doesn't "really feel like we're a swim brand," explaining: "We use the same fashion calendar [for our] drops. I design as though I'm designing a collection of clothing — I don't just pick up a swimsuit and then say, 'Oh, make that in another color.'" She's taken a slow and steady approach to introducing new silhouettes and styles, working towards building Melissa Simone out "into a full resort hub" — but not all at once.

"I'd rather move slow, give people what they love and grow into that, as opposed to just forcing ourselves to [expand.] Even something simple as towels: We've added one towel onto our site, which did great, but I want to create more of a buyer experience." The brand's Spring 2022 collection illustrates a step forward in this direction, introducing a dress, shorts, a sarong and swim tops, in key prints for the season.

"We really take our time. And it's hard to make something unique to yourself in a market that I feel like is oversaturated. But we just don't pay any attention," she says. "I don't follow any other swim brands. I wear Melissa Simone — that way, I don't get caught up in remaking the same things. If I make a halter bikini top, I'm making it from scratch. It's going to fit different. It's going to be very different."

Melissa Simone's Spring 2022 collection introduces a dress, shorts, a sarong and swim tops to the collection. <p>Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Simone</p>
Melissa Simone's Spring 2022 collection introduces a dress, shorts, a sarong and swim tops to the collection.

Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Simone

Simone designs for longevity. Her dream is for someone to seek out Melissa Simone pieces decades from now, much like she does for '90s swimwear on resale apps.

"[Growing up,] I would ask my mom for old pictures, and I used to love her hair and what she was wearing, and wish she had saved that for me. My goal for Melissa Simone is that little girls will go into their mom's old stuff, and the quality is good enough where she can save it [for her kids,]" she says. "Even simple things, like the Melissa Simone tag — I always think to myself, 'What happens if her daughter finds it in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years?' I want that tag to be vintage and say Melissa Simone."

Simone hopes the brand's celebrity placements will also help it stand the test of time: "Bella Hadid wore this suit with denim on Miami Beach. The picture is literally viral — I really feel like one day, years from now, a girl is going to see it, love it and be like, 'Damn, I wish I had that swimsuit.'"

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