The designer, CEO and figurehead of a highly successful, eponymous international swimwear label, with a jet-set lifestyle to suit, deftly balances being a wife and mother with criss-crossing the globe, pool-side appearances and keeping her A-list clientele happy. MELISSA ODABASH takes time out of her hectic schedule to chat with Adrian Gibson about her modelling career, what inspires her designs and collaborating with Julien Macdonald.
When did you realise that you wanted to design swimwear?My passion to design my own line of swimwear came about when I was modelling. At the time, almost twenty years ago, the cuts and prints were not really reflecting the demand in the market. I thought I could deliver something new by designing my own pieces which showcased everything I loved and learnt about the industry.
Tell us about your career as a catwalk model?For much of my modelling career I lived in Italy and worked with a range of different fashion houses, including Valentino and Fendi. I was also a fit model for Prada and several other designer brands. It was from modelling that I learnt all about different fabrics and their quality, and how the smallest details could add so much to a garment.
How do you think being a model helps with the design process?As a catwalk and fit model, I was often in meetings when buyers selected their pieces. This taught me much about what was in demand and also what was lacking in the industry. More importantly, I also learned how to sell to some of the biggest retailers in the world!
How would you describe your brand’s ethos?I strive to empower women to feel beautiful and confident in my swimwear, when they are essentially at their most vulnerable. It is much harder than you think – to create a garment out of little material that needs to make a lady look and feel her best. I also design for many women with different body shapes and aim to offer something for all of them.
What inspires you to design a new collection?Throughout my life I have always had the opportunity to travel a great deal, and I am constantly inspired by different things whilst on my travels. I really enjoy being immersed in different cultures and visiting local markets. Watching vintage movies also sometimes inspire me.
Describe the typical Melissa Odabash customer?My clients come from all over the world and many of them travel everywhere – from beach resorts to tropical islands and even far flung destinations. They all want good quality swim and beachwear that is going to last longer than just one summer, so that’s what I try to provide.
How do you design for different body types?Growing up with four sisters I always noticed that we wore different things and had individual styles. I also have an office full of girls who have different body shapes, and I make them try on samples so I can understand what suits them. This, in turn, helps me to come up with designs for everyone. A designer will always have his or her own vision, but what has helped my brand to evolve is listening to feedback from my team, clients and even my sisters.
What are the key swimwear trends this summer?From our sales this year we can see that cut-out one pieces are really popular and when one is designed properly they can be so flattering – they help create an hourglass appearance to your body shape which people love. I know that most ladies may shy away from this style, but with the right cuts they can actually help accentuate your assets rather than look completely awkward. Bright colours are now also a must – yellow and apricot are our go-to colours this summer, since they help accentuate a tan.
What are your favourite pieces from your S/S 2018 collection?Because of my body type I love smaller bikini designs, since I find that too much fabric just doesn’t suit me. My favourite swimwear styles from our SS18 collection are the Montenegro and the Indonesia, although this year I have to say that my Apres Beach collection is currently my ‘go-to’ for pretty much everything! I find myself walking around town, going to parties, hanging out on a boat or having dinner in these pieces. I enjoy clothes which are versatile and après beach wear is very much the direction my brand is going in.
Do you have a muse?Every woman who wears my collection is my muse and I enjoy seeing my designs on different people. This inspires me to continue designing and doing what I love. Many women inspire me, but my biggest inspiration and constant source of support is my mother. Elle MacPherson and Cindy Crawford are also hugely inspiring and have been close friends for years.
You have won awards for your retail stores. How would you describe the environment you create for customers?I have an incredibly hard-working team supporting me and, thanks to them, have been lucky to win retailer of the year for three consecutive years now. My team is dedicated to the brand, knows all of our clients and has learnt everything there is to know about the collections, and so can offer considered, bespoke recommendations for individuals. My team is undoubtedly the secret to the success of our retail outlets.
You have been working with British fashion designer Julien Macdonald for a number of years. How did this collaboration come about?Julien and I met 15 years ago, have become close friends and produced seven collaborations together. We have many of the same inspirations and collectively strive to empower women and make them feel amazing in our clothing, so working together is a great fit.
Please talk us through the creative process of working with Julien.It is quite simple really, we both come up with the silhouettes – I love elegant, simple shapes and Julien loves the bling. So, I usually design the kaftan and then Julien adds his magical embroidery and embellishments to create a unique statement piece that is truly covetable.
Do you have any other exciting collaborations in the pipeline?I am always working on a collaboration with a designer or an individual who inspires me in some special way. My brand’s twentieth anniversary is coming up soon, and I have designed a special collection to mark the occasion which I am very excited about.
If you could work with any designer, alive or dead, who would it be?I would have to say Tunisian-born couturier and designer Azzedine Alaïa. I always admired his work, loved his designs and found his brand incredibly inspiring. His death last year was a huge loss to the fashion industry (www.alaia.fr).
Where is home for you, and the best and worst things about living there?My home is London. The British capital has so much to offer and I love the eclectic mix of people and the vast amount of creativity that happens here. Whether it be fashion, food, theatre or music, there is always something amazing going on in London. But whilst I love London, a little more sunshine would make it so much better!
How do you juggle being the designer, CEO and figurehead of a highly successful international swimwear label, with being a wife and mother of two daughters?My family always comes first, for instance I will always stop a meeting if my kids call. I have tried to never miss a school event and I never read e-mails on weekends. My husband and I also try do some sport together as a family, where the kids can’t be distracted by their phones, so we enjoy more one-on-one time.
Your work for various worthwhile charitable causes is truly admirable. What charity is currently important to you and why?I love being able to give back to people, work with a number of charities and strive to support good causes wherever I can. I feel like you’re only as good as what you give back. I recently designed a mastectomy swimwear line for the charity Future Dreams, to help raise money to open a centre for women touched by breast cancer. I really wanted affected women to feel like nothing had changed in their lives and they could still look incredible on holiday (futuredreams.org.uk).
Where was your favourite travel destination last year?Earlier this year I visited Copenhagen for the first time and I truly fell in love with the Danish capital. It really is the epitome of Scandinavian cool! I especially loved the excellent restaurants and markets to rummage through, not to mention Copenhagen’s beautiful historic centre. (www.visitcopenhagen.com)
What four items can you not do without in your beach bag?Dr Rita Rakus Protect Moisturiser SPF 45, my ‘phone, sketch pad and lip balm. I simply cannot go to the beach without these basics!
If you had to name your favourite hotel on the planet what would it be and why?There are many hotels I love, and because I get to travel so much for work and with my family I have been lucky enough to stay in some incredible places. However, the best (so far!) is the One&Only Reethi Rah resort in the Maldives. Arriving there is quite literally like being dropped off in paradise – this is really the only way I can explain it (www.oneandonlyresorts.com). Recently I stayed at the Capri Palace in Anacapri which was an amazing find. The food was some of the best I had ever tasted and the hotel’s location, in the heart of delightful, laidback Anacapri town evokes a truly authentic Italian island feel (www.capripalace.com).
Do you have any in-flight tips for our readers?Always take a long scarf so you have something tactile to snuggle up with, and 111SKIN’s hydrogel eye masks work miracles on a long-haul flight. When I sleep on a ‘plane I wear them under a silk eye mask and land with great-looking hydrated skin! (www.111skin.com)
What travel plans do you have for the rest of 2018?My next stop is Ibiza to host a fashion show, followed by Sardinia and Greece to open new stores.
How do you kick-back and relax?When I’m feeling stressed I enjoy getting massages or facials at a good spa. I also love just hanging out with family and friends. If I really need to chill out I fly to my house in Florida and spend all day playing sport – the beach and sea are really the best detox for me!
Your favourite place to party?I have had a lot of fun in Miami with my party partner in crime Julian Macdonald. South Beach especially has some fantastic hotels, fun bars and superb restaurants, all with the best atmosphere.
What’s next for Melissa Odabash?I am launching a much larger ready-to-wear range and more accessories to grow Odabash into a proper lifestyle brand. I am also planning to open more retail stores, including a shop in Russia.