RIO DE JANEIRO -- Just how complicated can the Brazilian bikini, among the skimpiest iterations of the simple spandex triangle and string design, possibly get?
Judging from the innovative, inventive and some downright strange beachwear options that hit the runways during Fashion Rio, the seaside metropolis' five-daylong fashion showcase, the sky's the limit. The spring-summer 2013-14 edition, featuring collections by about two dozen designers, wrapped up late Friday night.
At Blue Man, there were bikinis in see-through mesh, made legal in this country where skinny dipping is permitted only on a handful of beaches by strategically placed lozenges of fabric in Technicolor tropical prints. And in case hitting the beach in what essentially amounted to psychedelic censor bars doesn't appeal, the label had many a fuller-coverage offering on display, including a few all-enveloping, long-sleeve unitards whose sexiest features were zippers running all the way up the models' prominent spinal columns.
For those looking for more of a happy medium, there were a host of bikinis – with string or bandeau tops, low- or high-rise bottoms – in colonial watercolor and tropical hothouse prints.
Among the few shows held outside the special tents set up at a marina on the city's picture postcard Guanabara Bay, the Blue Man display took place at the former residence of the Portuguese ambassador, a sumptuous colonial mansion with sprawling tropical gardens.
A monkey in a nearby tree took in the show with a look of nonplussed nonchalance, as if to say he'd seen better. The homo sapien guests, however, were duly impressed, applauding and hooting with gusto.
Lenny Niemeyer opened her show with a long-sleeve one-piece that looked like the lovechild of a swimsuit and a sweatshirt. Made from a thick material that held its sculptural shape, the suit had puffy sleeves that appeared as if they'd been grafted from a schlumpy sweatshirt onto a racy leotard. Not necessarily the most weather-appropriate design for the tropics, but certainly an eye-grabber.
Other unmissable looks from Neimeyer, whose bold lines and use of subtle earthy hues have catapulted her to international fame, included turtleneck one-pieces kitted out with flippy little skirts and skimpy bikinis that looked like they'd been made out of scuba suits.
Triya delivered a rigid metal bandeau top that look like it had been made from a cast of the model's chest. But it was the kaftan printed with a photo from Helmut Newton's "Big Nudes" series that really had the spectators doing a double-take.
Salinas, the well-heeled teens' label of choice, eased off the saccharine and toned down the screaming pinks, delivering an unusually sophisticated collection dominated by black and white polka dots. The theme was "La Dolce Vita," and competing snippets from the soundtracks of classic Italian movies from the 1960s blared over the loudspeakers as the models strutted the polka-dotted catwalk in vertiginous heels. The label blurred the usually well-defined line between one pieces and bikinis, sending out spotted bandeau tops with high-rise granny pants bottoms or itsy-bitsy bottoms with a maxi-top that nearly reached the models' navels. Both looks left only the thinnest strip of exposed skin between top and bottom.
While the swimwear shows are always the highlight of Rio's summer lineup, most of the labels field daywear. Top daywear displays included Oh, Boy!, which fielded a collection of denim shorts and tops so abbreviated and so laden with tassels, studs, rhinestones, patches and other embellishments they hit the sweet spot where tacky becomes fabulous.
Reserva lived up to its reputation as Rio's answer to the intellectual Belgian label Martin Margiela with a performance-influenced show that was heavy on concept, light on actual clothes. The show, among the week's sole menswear displays, saw a parade of hipster-looking male models from whose backs emerged clothes racks, each hung with a costume that dangled a meter (yard) in front of them, as if to suggest the remarkable character they had lurking inside – a pirate, Superman, Fred Flintstone – beneath the unremarkable streetwear.