x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

More modest swimsuit catches the world's eye

A swimming costume designed to protect the modesty of a pregnant Saudi princess is proving a surprise success around the world.

Marina Alfaro arranges a MyCozzie swimsuit on a mannequin at the Jenny Rose store in Dubai.
Marina Alfaro arranges a MyCozzie swimsuit on a mannequin at the Jenny Rose store in Dubai.

ABU DHABI // A swimming costume designed to protect the modesty of a pregnant Saudi princess who wanted to continue exercising in the water is proving a surprise success around the world. The full-length polyester and Lycra bodysuit, known as the MyCozzie, was initially tailored towards conservative Muslim women, and even has a detachable hijab. But orders are coming in from customers of all faiths and nationalities keen to shield themselves from the sun as well as stares.

Jenny Rose, 42, the Dubai-based designer who created the costume in 2007, said its design was intended to allow Muslim women more freedom to enjoy the beach or public swimming pool, but has proved increasingly popular with western tourists and expatriates, not least because it provides effective protection against harmful ultraviolet rays. Stocks at Go Sports stores in Dubai are selling well, and the newly opened Atlantis hotel is carrying the company's latest line. But it is the demand online that was unexpected, with orders pouring in from countries as varied as Britain, Australia, the US, Austria, Nigeria, Italy, Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Samantha Williamson, a banker from Britain, is a fan. While not a Muslim, she bought her swimsuit last year primarily to counter unwelcome gazes on public beaches. But after a skin cancer scare in the family, its practicality added to its appeal. "I first bought one because I noticed the dramatic difference in terms of just the amount of attention that non-Muslim or non-Middle Eastern women can get on the beaches, and quite frankly it made me uncomfortable," she said.

"But then I had issues in my family with my mum having potential skin cancer and lesions, and then we were doubly concerned about protection in the sun." Mrs Williamson, 36, bought a suit for her mother last year. "She loves the water but she was told to stay out of the sun," she said. "This was a way to cover herself instead of reapplying 100 sunscreen." Mrs Williamson said her MyCozzie was "surprisingly comfortable" considering the amount of material, and lighter than a diving suit, as well as quick to dry.

Mrs Rose, an Australian, said the costume started off as maternity wear for a Saudi princess. "We designed it for her because she was pregnant and she wanted a swimsuit that she could exercise in, but it evolved from there." At an Islamic exhibition last year in the capital, a woman from Washington asked if she could take samples of the costume home for her Muslim friends, and word began to spread.

Full-coverage swimsuits had a big impact on international markets two years ago, with the launch of the "Burqini" in Australia by the Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti. The MyCozzie sets itself apart by appealing to women across cultures, said Mrs Rose. While the suits feature a hijab stitched from swimsuit fabric, the hood is detachable. "I'm not the first to do it, but I'm the first to make it westernised," she said. "It's not religious by any stretch and we never said it's for a Muslim woman but if you want to wear a headpiece, it's there for you."

Rowan Nicholls, the vice-president of retail for the Atlantis hotel, said most of the people buying the suits at its shop were GCC nationals, but "certainly we do get a number of Europeans who are buying and are very interested". "For our European guests, there are some areas of the body maybe they don't want others to see - maybe due to surgery," he said. For other customers, sun protection is the priority. "If they're planning to spend the whole day in and out of the water, they know that they have 50-plus UV protection because it's long-sleeve and long-length and they don't have to reapply sunscreen throughout the day."

The swimsuits, which sell for between Dh249 (US$68) and Dh500, come in a range of designs and feature children's sizes. The line is expected to be available in Abu Dhabi soon. Bhavna Desai, who ordered the MyCozzie for Go Sports, said the stores were nearly out of stock, adding that the costume filled "a missing category" in water sports fashion. Mrs Rose agrees. "Before, a woman wouldn't have been in the water because what do you wear? You could wear your abaya, which happened in the past," she said. "I have been at Wild Wadi [water park] and seen people in their abayas and long T-shirts and everything drags down. Now there's another option."

mkwong@thenational.ae