This Lingerie Brand Now Designs Swimsuits…To Wear Everywhere

Photo: Courtesy of Fleur du Mal.
We love our swimwear. So, it’s quite unfortunate that we only end up donning our suits in the summertime or when we're on vacation (a.k.a. nowhere near as often as we’d like). Jennifer Zuccarini, founder and designer of New York-based lingerie brand Fleur du Mal, knows this, and is hoping to expand the scope of her brand — and our relationship to swim gear — for resort ’15.

Soon, Fleur will be celebrating a big milestone in its brief three-year history: It’s the brand’s very first swimwear collection. The line consists of one-pieces, cover-up blouses, and separates meant to be mixed and matched. (Prices range from $98 to $365.) Fans of Fleur du Mal will find many signature touches from its lingerie carry over to swim — playful lace-up details, mesh eyelets, and vintage-inspired silhouettes, all tied together by a retro sensibility. For the brand's first big splash (c’mon, we had to), Zuccarini told Refinery29 she was inspired by photographs of model Marie Helvin from the ’70s, shot by Helmut Newton and then-husband David Bailey, as well as the fabrics and materials she was getting to know through the process of designing swim.

Zuccarini is a veteran of the skivvies industry: She co-founded Kiki de Montparnasse in 2005, moving on to become design director of Victoria’s Secret, eventually leaving to go out on her own (again). In 2012, exactly one year after decamping from the lingerie giant, Fleur du Mal — an indie lingerie brand that’s much more than pretty bras and panties — was born. Fleur’s credo is to not save your prettiest undergarments just for a special occasion.
Despite her impressive resume and extensive experience in the lingerie space, Zuccarini had never worked on swimwear before. It’s something she’d been thinking about for a decade or so, she explains. However, she didn’t get the ball rolling until her sales director announced to clients that Fleur du Mal would be selling swim for resort in 2015, thus giving her a definitive deadline.

There were a lot of firsts involved in Zuccarini’s swimwear foray; she worked with new fabrics, production processes, and suppliers. But working on Fleur du Mal’s inaugural swim collection gave Zuccarini one satisfaction she doesn’t always get from creating lingerie: She’ll be able to see her designs out and about. “Even if someone you love is wearing your product, if it’s lingerie, they might not ever show that to you,” she says.

You will, indeed, be able to actually spot Fleur du Mal on the beach, especially if it’s worn as Zuccarini intends: “When I travel, I love being able to wear swimsuits and cover-ups out.” This sort of dual purpose informed many pieces in the collection that can be worn to the beach or to a party — or both. “I feel like there’s a gap in the market that kind of brings those two things together,” she says. “I wanted to create a collection that was chic enough to wear to a party, but playful enough that you could still wear it at the beach.”

Ahead, Zuccarini tells us more about navigating these new waters (seriously, we can’t stop) and how her time at Kiki de Montparnasse and Victoria’s Secret prepared her for her latest venture. Plus, get intimate with Fleur du Mal’s dreamy resort ’15 collection.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fleur du Mal.
With this line, Zuccarini hopes to close that gap between underwear and outerwear — a mission that also informs how she designs lingerie. “In the ’80s, there was definitely a visible lingerie moment, [with] sheer tops with a bra showing underneath, bodysuits, etc.” That changed with the invention of the T-shirt bra, when it became all about the invisible and seamless, about hiding. “Suddenly, it was considered inappropriate to have a nipple or a bit of lace show through anything,” she explains. Zuccarini is trying to flip conventions about underpinnings on its head, thinking of underwear as more than just utilitarian.

She’s not alone: Over the last decade (and the past few years especially), we’ve seen the rise of small lingerie brands, many of which have grown thanks to social media and the accessibility of e-commerce. Zuccarini’s goal with Fleur du Mal — in its swim, lingerie, and beyond — is “to hopefully tell women that you can wear something that’s beautiful and chic and sexy, but you can still wear it every day and make it a part of your wardrobe.” This is what she describes as “a fashion approach to lingerie,” which means making your bra and knickers “a part of your everyday look.”

Fleur du Mal Lace Up One Piece Swimsuit, $365, available at Fleur du Mal.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fleur du Mal.
Swimwear is a pretty natural step in the evolution of a lingerie brand, since there’s “a lot of crossover in terms of construction, fit, and silhouette,” Zuccarini says. Not only that, but a lingerie background can also be an advantage when entering the swim space, especially in terms of fit. Zuccarini utilizes her knowledge of bra construction to design swim tops that are not only pretty, but also supportive.

Fleur du Mal Lace Up High Waist Bikini Bottom, $178, available at Fleur du Mal.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fleur du Mal.
A lingerie-inspired approach to swim also eliminates a common issue often encountered when shopping for suits: “One thing that we do — some brands do this, some don’t — we sell everything as separates,” she says. While this is a normal thing in lingerie, it’s not as commonplace in the swim market. “A lot of women, they’re not the same size in the top as they are in the bottom,” so they’ll find themselves buying two suits in different sizes, Zuccarini says. With Fleur du Mal, “we already have proven styles that’ve worked, so we’re using the same [silhouettes] for swim.”

Fleur du Mal One Piece Swimsuit With Side Cut Out, $275, available at Fleur du Mal.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fleur du Mal.
Zuccarini founded Fleur du Mal a year after she left her job at Victoria’s Secret. “It took a while for me to get back to that,” referring to the day-to-day of helming an indie brand. “When you’re starting a company and you’re on your own, it’s scrappy,” she says. “All those little jobs you’d stopped doing because you had a whole team to do them? You do them all over again.” While it wasn’t easy to walk away from the support and resources that come from a big company, Zuccarini says she “learned a lot from [Victoria’s Secret] that I was able to bring with me to Fleur.”

Fleur du Mal Lace Up One Piece Swimsuit, $365, available at Fleur du Mal.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fleur du Mal.
Zuccarini’s career trajectory began at a small brand, followed by a stint at a multi-million-dollar enterprise, and then back to a more intimately-scaled business. Designing for different scales (and different audiences) has influenced Fleur du Mal in various ways. “With Kiki, starting a brand from scratch and figuring [out] the identity [and] the look and feel was so inspiring for me,” she recalls. “I realized that’s what I love to do, and I had the chance to do that again with Fleur.”

On the other end of the spectrum, at Victoria’s Secret, Zuccarini was able to observe and participate in the creation of a million-dollar brand, “and really understand how real women in the U.S. are shopping, which is very different from how things were approached at Kiki.”

Fleur du Mal Long Sleeve One Piece Swimsuit, $265, available at Fleur du Mal.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fleur du Mal.
This new step in the business wasn’t without its challenges. For Zuccarini, the big shift was in production. “Any time you make more than one of something, it starts getting complicated!” she says. “Smaller brands have a hard time finding suppliers and factories to work with them, to produce the smaller quantities needed to launch.”

The timeline wasn’t all that different from putting out a new lingerie collection, though. “Some things took longer, and some things were faster,” she explains. “When you’re doing something that has adjustment with a cup and an underwire — whether it’s lingerie or swim — it always takes longer, because of the fit process,” which Zuccarini estimates takes four or five times to get right for any given piece.

Another part of the process: getting familiar with new fabrics and reimagining designs with certain swim-specific restrictions, like working with chlorine-resistant materials. Zuccarini enlisted new partners and collaborators for this latest brand extension, from specialty fabric mills in Italy to a new sample-maker in New York.

Fleur du Mal Lace Up High Waist Bikini Bottom, $178, available at Fleur du Mal.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fleur du Mal.
“I take a lot of inspiration from photography, from vintage garments, and from fabrics,” Zuccarini relays. “I also looked at certain details. When we decided to try different lacing details, that also inspired the designs.”

Fleur du Mal Lace Up High Waist Bikini Bottom, $178, available at Fleur du Mal.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fleur du Mal.
Which beach — any place in the world, at any point in time — does Zuccarini envision a Fleur du Mal suit? “Saint-Tropez in the ’70s.” Alternative locations include Formentera, Spain or Sayulita, Mexico — “anywhere chic and beautiful where there might be a fun party to go to later.”

Fleur du Mal One Piece Swimsuit With Side Cut Out, $275, available at Fleur du Mal.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fleur du Mal.
Once the samples were done, the brand showed its resort collection in Paris for the first time. There, Zuccarini was able to see what buyers “were gravitating towards, and ultimately choosing for their buys,” so she was able to edit down the collection based on the feedback. Notable things that didn’t make the cut? Some colorblocked numbers, as well as “a one-piece that was high-cut leg, cutout on the side, halter back, open back — it was a whole thing.”

She keeps the resort pieces in her open studio space, and watches what visitors — customers, press, friends — pick up. “I love to see what people react to and pull out,” Zuccarini says.
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