Back Issue__ Bathing With Beth Richards
Dive on in with swimwear designer Beth RichardsPhotos and words by: Kate Brown
Remember summer? The temperature kicks up and then something else starts to boil: beach season--the onset of those few short, sandy months, when interest peaks in less clothes and more skin. But bathing suit shopping can be more stressful than the bikini wax to go with it. For this reason, swimwear designer Beth Richards sees her work as a kind of problem-solving. And as far as problems go, tackling the female body and swim culture these days makes for a bold project.
"I built this collection so that all women could feel really confident about what I was making them," she says, thumbing through her newest collection for spring/summer 2013 which just launched last month. "I was really stumped by the fact I was making things that brought out women’s insecurities."
Beth has an acute appreciation for the empowered female. She bases her line around timeless bold and beautiful women. There's Brigitte (Bardot) and Jolene (an homage to Dolly Parton, who wore a similar half-top in one of her performances). Then you have Maud (the Swedish vixen from 1983's Octopussy) and Faye (no other than Faye Dunaway). "Women would be like 'Oh it’s just me. I’m all legs. I’m all torso--don’t worry about it.' But I do worry about those things, a lot."
Despite the inherent challenges designing swimwear, Beth Richards has had no trouble getting recognition for her more-is-more tailored designs. Even in a highly competitive market, where swimsuits are a quick commodity, the line had industry nods from the likes of French Vogue within its first season. And almost immediately after the launch, you could click on Beth Richards on online luxury shop Net-A-Porter, a few names above Mara Hoffman and Pucci. Not bad for a burgeoning designer who lives and works most of the year from Vancouver, miles and miles from New York and Paris fashion hubs.
"Since the brand's inception, it has been my goal to present my work at a high level where it would be taken seriously," she explains. "It was and still is a huge compliment to be regarded as being a brand that could sit beside established houses."
But Beth also credits Vancouver for much of her creative motivation. "When I got here I had no idea what to do, I would search vintage shops and find a cut that I like but it would have an insane tropical print," she recalls. "Usually plans evolve at the beach. The next thing you know you're all on bikes and you're going to a barbeque somewhere... Having a largely black collection makes it easy to merge in with your existing wardrobe."
For both seasons, black has played a heavy role in her designs, but it doesn't exist alone. "I love the duality of having contrast, and that's black and white. It's very important to the line itself, so having more of the white involved was an easy thing to bring in." In the same vein of thinking, s/s '13 incorporates hard lines with lace, and adds some more gentleness to her chunky collection with a crop top or flowy mesh skirt, which doubles as a more playful functional rash guard.
Looking around her beautiful downtown Vancouver apartment, it's clear that Beth's line is a total honest manifestation of herself. A minimalist at heart, her home is incredibly modern with elements of the old--black furniture and fresh white accents, with small touches of feminine. A vintage surfboard on the balcony, and by her samples, a canvas that says "locals only.'
"I’m a huge fan of skate culture. Nick Fensom who does SNEEZE magazine shot our last two seasons and campaigns. Having a level of authenticity really matters to me," she says. "It's always an amalgamation of a lot of subtleties that really make a line what it is: locals only, Z boys, Brigitte Bardot, crosses, icons."
Originally hailing from the much colder city of Toronto, Beth has been designing clothes and accessories for thirteen years (swimwear was always the long-term dream). A ballerina through her youth, she seemed destined for a career in dance. She was accepted to dance full-time in school, but the passion for it just wasn't there anymore. Maybe by chance or fate, she opted for an elective course in clothing design. Almost instantly, her energy for dance transformed into a passion for designing, and, with one look at her line, a devotion to movement and the body is clear in her work. Full pieces, bodysuits and last season's Cross legging shows an understated tribute to her past.
Ever evolving but holding true to herself and what she loves is a promising way to continue growing in the design world. But creating beautiful swimsuits (with Italian fabric no less) that make women feel good will be an unchanging theme. "Not that we’re going to solve all the world’s body issues right here with this line, but if we can minimize them a little bit and make everyone feel a bit better and cooler at the same time, then that’s a good thing."