Lenny's rise from garage to Brazil's bikini queen
Models wear creations from the Lenny summer collection during Fashion Rio in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. Known for her use of muted earth tones and the clean, almost architectural lines of her swimwear, Lenny Niemeyer sells some 350,000 pieces a year, mostly at her 26 boutiques throughout the country, but also at multi-mark shops in Britain, France, the Bahamas and in 23 U.S. states. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Before she became Brazil's bikini queen, with an empire of chic boutiques and legions of VIP fans that include Hollywood A-listers and pop royalty, Lenny Niemeyer was locked away in her garage, making swimwear out of old pareos and sliced cow bones.
Sitting before this perfectly coiffed blond businesswoman in a sun-lit corner office in her Rio de Janeiro headquarters, it's hard to picture her hacking though bovine femurs with a surgical saw to make ornamental loops for her first bikini bottoms. But steely determination that propelled Niemeyer from her garage atelier to the summit of the Brazilian fashion industry still glints in her grey eyes.
"It was all improvised. I had no idea what I was doing and one thing just led to another," said Niemeyer, seated at a desk littered with sketches, heavy art books and a rainbow of spandex swatches — the inspiration for the spring-summer 2013 collection that hits the runway on Wednesday at Fashion Rio, the city's five-day-long fashion extravaganza that began on Monday.
A model wears a creation from the Lenny summer collection during Fashion Rio in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. The brand of choice for well-heeled Brazilians for more than two decades, Lenny leaped to international fame in 2007, when Nicole Kidman wore one of her swimsuits in a racy "Vanity Fair" spread, then ordered several Lenny suits of her own. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Known for her use of muted earth tones and the clean, almost architectural lines of her swimwear, Niemeyer sells some 350,000 pieces a year, mostly at her 26 boutiques throughout the country, but also at multi-mark shops in Britain, France, the Bahamas and in 23 U.S. states. Recent signature pieces include a bikini in slate gray, an asymmetrical one-piece with a wavy metallic stripe down one side and a cage-like long-sleeve one-piece made from a mesh of 1 centimeter-wide strips of spandex.
While still almost alarmingly itsy-bitsy by American standards, Lenny's bikinis are less revealing than most bikinis here, and less flashy and cutesy than the bubblegum pink offerings of many swimwear labels here. Though Lenny's customers run the age gamut from adolescent gamines to sexy seniors, her devotees are widely regarded as mature and self-assured. Lenny emphatically doesn't count the teenyboppers - fans of things shiny who are bent on showing a maximum of skin - that constitute the core customer base for so many other Brazilian swimwear brands.