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Maria Dobrzanska Reeves, left alongside her Maui strapless maillot. Images courtesy of Marysia SWIM.
Who knows swimwear better than someone who's spent almost her entire life in a swimsuit? Designer Maria Dobrzanska Reeves started lifeguarding in high school, and worked as a lifeguard on the beach in Delaware during college. Reeves even met her husband at a surf shop in Dewey Beach when she went to buy her first surfboard. "I really wanted to be a surfer girl when I was 17. I went into a surf shop in Delaware in Dewey Beach and he said I needed a lesson. That's how I met him, and he taught me how to surf," she said.
So when Reeves decided to launch her own line, swimwear seemed like the logical choice. "It seemed to make sense for me, since I was always in a leotard, or a swimsuit, or a wetsuit," Reeves said. Today, her Marysia SWIM collection is carried by stores like Neiman Marcus, Intermix, Bloomingdale's, Shopbop, Moda Operandi, and Revolve. The brand has more than 22,000 Instagram followers, and counts fashion It girls like Rachel Bilson and blogstars like Man Repeller, Gary Pepper Girl, and Song of Style as fans.
Marysia suits are instantly recognizable, thanks to their girly but sophisticated scallop and zig zag details. "I wanted to make a swimsuit that was sexy, but not vulgar. I think my line is very feminine," she said. "And as a former ballerina, I am aware of movement, and as a mom, I'm aware of what can happen when you're chasing kids and moving a lot of different directions."
Reeves didn't always think she would be a designer. By age 10, she was studying ballet at a professional school. And she was on her way to grad school for physical therapy when she decided to go for fashion school instead. "So I thought maybe try it, if it's not for me, I can always go back to the physical therapy. When I did go to school for a year, it felt like the right thing for me to continue with," she said.
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles and then interning with Milly in New York, Reeves settled with her husband in Charleston, where she started Marysia SWIM. She showed her second collection at Charleston Fashion Week and won the 2009 Emerging Designer Competition: Southeast. "I won, and Cynthia Rowley was there to give my prize, and also Anne Slowey from Elle magazine. There were a lot of important fashion people there. Fern Mallis was there. I felt like it really boosted my confidence, like I can do this for real."
After business started booming, Reeves packed up her family and moved to New York in 2010. The success of her swimwear's signature scallop shape caught her by surprise. "I really was just doodling around, drawing, and I just drew a scallop that looks pretty, so I went with it. I sent it to my factory and said how can we make this work? Is this possible to sew?" she said. "I heard Diane Von Furstenberg in some interview saying, 'You don't really know when you start what your fame is going to be,' but it seems like my fame is the scallop. At least for now. People keep want to buy it and I can't not put it in the line anymore. They just want more and more scallops, so I gotta keep giving them scallops," Reeves said.
Every bikini's scallop shape is cut by hand. "When you cut it with a laser, it kind of burns the fabric and makes it a hard edge. And if the fabric is white and you cut it with a laser, it leaves a yellowish burn mark at the edge," Reeves explained.
This year, celebs have made a big splash wearing Marysia SWIM's scalloped bikinis. Both Rachel Bilson and Lupita Nyong'o were papped on the beach in the line. "They did the whole "Who wore it best?" with the two of them. And [Rachel Bilson's] in the black scallop and Lupita is in the white scalloped one," Reeves said. "It's always nice when customers wear your things, but when it's such a huge fashion girl like Lupita, it's a bonus. It's very exciting. All my friends keep texting me when they see it."
In addition to swimwear for women, children, and expectant and new moms with her recent collaboration with maternity line HATCH, Reeves is planning to add more resort pieces to her line. "Over the last couple years, I've thrown in little cover-up pieces that you can wear to the pool or out to dinner when you're vacationing," she said. "Actually this season for Resort 2015, I added a whole fall ready-to-wear for Resort. I think there's a lot there that you can expand on as far as the lifestyle."
More time at the beach is in Reeves' own future. The Reeves family recently moved from New York to Los Angeles, where they love going to Malibu. The whole Reeves clan wears Marysia SWIM. "All my family was just in town. My cousins, my brothers' children came and they're all wearing all my swimsuits," she said. "There's 10 of us on the beach, everyone in the swimsuits."
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