Weekly Q&A


Designer Kathleen Bruening on Kate Upton, ‘Sports Illustrated’ and itsy-bitsy bikinis

The Henderson designer get real about high-fashion models and what makes small clothing so expense

Kathleen Bruening’s Suit Yourself Bikinis will soon be Kate Swimwear, with expansion into other apparel on the way.
Photo: Leila Navidi

The Details

Kathleen Bruening lives in Henderson, but answers the phone with a cheerful “aloha!” She’s an island girl who started her own business designing bathing suits before she could legally drink at the dayclubs where women wear them. This year, the 23-year-old scored a fashion jackpot after an itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie red bikini she designed covered some of model Kate Upton on the cover of the 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Are you going to submit designs for next year’s Swimsuit Issue cover?

It’s going to be their 50th anniversary, so it’s going to be one of the largest editions they have. They started [in the spring], and I just shipped off 33 bathing suits for their shoots. I’m very, very thankful they’ve been very supportive of me resubmitting.

How does the process work?

They pretty much send me what they want, I create what I think they’re going to want, then they do a few different returns. I’ll send them 33 pieces, and of that 33, maybe they’ll keep all of them, maybe they keep three of them to begin with because that fits in with where they’re going, what girls they’re shooting. All those questions.

Do they keep the details a mystery?

They keep everything as mysterious as humanly possible. They don’t tell us the girls we’re going to be working with, they don’t tell us the locations. A lot of secrecy. Until the issue comes out I have no idea.

Have you met Kate Upton?

I have not.

What did you think of the backlash over Upton being on the cover?

People said she didn’t look like a high-end fashion model. OH, SCREW THEM! You can put that in big, bold letters. If anyone, anywhere has seen a natural human being at any point, they realize that to look that good takes a lot of hard work. I think she looks fantastic. Look how confident she looks. Look at that face.

Did you get hate mail about how tiny the suit was?

I get a lot of “Where’s the bathing suit?” or “Where is the design?” It’s Sports Illustrated; it’s a men’s magazine. Every year things get a little more risqué, a little more sexy. This, to me, is really tame for a men’s magazine. She’s covered.

Could you honestly swim in that?

Yes, you can. Just very carefully. (laughs)

The bikinis cost a couple hundred dollars each. Why so expensive?

Because of the quality, the time, the effort and the energy. It takes six to 12 hours easily.

How do you start a design?

What my client wants and the fabric. The fabric is my big thing; I think it talks to me. I take piles and piles and piles of anything I think they will like and then I sit down and pull different things. As soon as I start seeing different colors with different colors and different patterns and textures, it just kind of all develops in my brain and it goes, “I need to be this suit, I have to be this suit.”

Tell me about the transition from Hawaii to Las Vegas. Sounds like it was a little more relaxed on the island.

Now I work and work and work. Because I have orders, because I have Sports Illustrated, because I have the new line launching. Actually being in the water, I haven’t done in forever, because I’ve been so busy. When I see my parents we have to go diving, because it’s like Finding Nemo out there.

What do you wear diving?

I actually wear one of my little samples. I haven’t made myself a bathing suit since I first started when I was 17. Everyone says I would have millions of bathing suits. I do, they’re just not mine; they’re my samples. (laughs)

Do you have any pool parties lined up?

Encore Beach Club on June 22, there’s going to be a few thousand people there to view my designs. Then my birthday is June 24. For my birthday we’re going to get a cabana.

Any plans to design other types of clothing?

We’re in the process of changing the name right now. We’re no longer going to be Suit Yourself Bikinis. Now it’s going to be Kate Swimwear by Kathleen Bruening. My mom used to call me Kate when I was younger. ... Everything, global domination. I would like to do a ready-to-wear line. I would like to do heels. I would love to do sunglasses, perfumes. We want to be a lifestyle brand.

Do you have one celebrity you’d love to put in a bathing suit?

One? No, I need like 12 or 13, or maybe even more. I would love to actually sit down and make something custom for Kate Upton. I think that would be amazing. Yeah, Kate—call me! Holly Madison, I would love to dress her. I just did one where the breasts were completely covered in rosettes, and I just thought of her when I was making the suit the whole time.

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