Malia Mills On Swimsuit-Shopping Advice & Her New Los Altos Shop

Whether you're heading on a Fogust-timed vacation in a warm locale or waiting it out in good ol' S.F. until our Indian Summer arrives (it's right around the corner, folks!), it's apparent that swimsuit-shopping season is in full swing. And we totally hear you if baring it (pretty much) all when you've been blanketed in fleece for several months is somewhat daunting, which is why we tapped swimsuit-designer extraordinaire Malia Mills to give us some tips on shopping for the perfect suit ... no matter your body type!
Plus — major bonus — to celebrate the opening of Mills' latest Bay Area shop in Los Altos, the pretty lady is giving Refinery29 readers $50 off any in-store purchases of $300 or more when you mention Refinery29. And you can score the same discount on online merch when you enter the code R29LOS50. Want to see some of the goodies you can peruse? Just peep our slideshow of the new space after the jump ... words of wisdom from Miss Mills, included!
Photo: Courtesy of Malia Mills
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Why did you decide to open in Los Altos?
"We open our stores in vibrant neighborhoods with a strong sense of community and history. They're all interesting places where we like to spend time. We always visit our brother, Peter Mills, who has lived in Los Altos for over 20 years. When we met Amanda and the rest of the Passerelle Group, who had plans to bring new and unusual retailers and restaurants to Los Altos, we jumped at the chance to be a part of this beautiful, dynamic town."

What can visitors expect from the store, design-wise?
"Our fabulous store on State Street is an inviting open space with time-worn wooden beams and sun-filled skylights. Guests can slip into one of our roomy cabanas with billowy curtains and soft sheepskin rugs and let us fit, style, and take care of them!" 

Photo: Courtesy of Malia Mills
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What can visitors expect product-wise?
"We started with swimwear and now we have so much more! We're best known for our signature swimwear separates — bra-sized tops and tankinis for AA to E cups, and bottoms and maillots sizes 2 to 16. We've taken our signature feminine city style and applied it to our very own Malia Mills ready to wear and accessories. We've got super-versatile dresses, tunics, tanks, jackets, shorts, pants, and more, all designed to be layered and worn multiple ways, all year long. We've also got shoes, sweaters, scarves, and bags from Malia Mills and from some of our favorite designers like Inhabit, Kain, Demy Lee, Loup Charmant, Helen Kaminski, Epice, and many more!"

Photo: Courtesy of Malia Mills
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I hear that the store is somewhat of a family business. How involved are your sisters?
"I am the baby of six kids. My sister Carol and I run the business from our studio located in the heart of the Garment District in NYC. My sister Sue, a teacher in Portland, helps us in our stores during the summers, my sister Betsy hosts swim salons in her home in Tacoma, and both of their daughters have worked for us during summer break! My brother Jay, a lawyer in Tacoma, provides legal expertise. And for all business-related matters — from private-label opportunities to return on equity analysis — my brother Peter is our go-to guy. Our dad ran his own perfume and suntan-lotion business for 20 years in Honolulu, so dinnertime talk always involved design, marketing, selling ideas, and more. Our mom actually came up with Wicked Wahine, the name of his best-selling perfume that he was always proud to say 'put six kids through college!'"

Photo: Courtesy of Malia Mills
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When you come to the Bay Area, what are your must-hit spots?
"When we visit the Peninsula we always stay at Peter's in Los Altos. Mornings start early with a walk to town for an iced latte and a warm scone from Bumble. Cielo is also one of our very favorite stores, both in Palo Alto and San Francisco. It's our go-to spot for Ann Demeulemeester! No day is complete without homemade yogurt and fresh fruit at Fraiche in Palo Alto. A.G. Ferrari in Los Altos makes the best salami sandwich and we don't miss Akane for a Japanese supper. The pedicure and hot-rock massage at Forever Nails is ideal after a long days work! And we are big fans of shopping on Hayes Street in the city, with a stop at Bar Jules for farm-to-table treats and cool rose wine. Also, don't forget the Marin Country Mart in Larkspur for tees at James Perse, slips at Erica Tanov, and crispy chocolate-chip cookies at Rustic Bakery. Over the bridge, the roast chicken with walnuts, dried fruit, and frisee is to die for at Paisan Pizzeria in Berkeley, as is the coconut cake!"

Photo: Courtesy of Malia Mills
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What do you think the keys are to finding a swimsuit that fits correctly?
"Toss out body-shape rules and experiment! it's just so hard to tell what a style or color on a hanger will look like on you. Forget the size on the tag and be sure to loosen or tighten straps as well as adjust leglines. A simple adjustment can make the difference from meh to meow. Don't settle for anything less than a suit that makes you feel like the rockstar you are!

What do most women do wrong when it comes to shopping for bathing suits?
"Most gals limit their options to those dictated by body shape rules. For sure there is way more than just one perfect suit! Think of how many different cuts of jeans you have in your closet — the same should hold true for swimwear. Collect some that are sleek and chic, some more casual, others all-out fashion fun. Think of all the places you wear a swimsuit: the one you choose for the company picnic will be different than the one for your honeymoon."

Photo: Courtesy of Malia Mills
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What's your mission when it comes to designing bathing suits?
"Love thy differences is our mantra, our mission, our driving force! To feel warm sun and cool water on our skin is an experience to be loved and enjoyed by all. There is no need to shape up, tan, or otherwise change to feel like a million bucks in a swimsuit and to stand and stride to the water."

Photo: Courtesy of Malia Mills