Ten of the Best Swimwear Moments on Film

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Dr. No (1962)(Film still)

From geometric one-pieces to floral cover-ups, we take a look at some of the filmic moments inspiring swimwear looks for S/S17

Swimwear is a perennial summer subject. Romantic and evocative, such suits transcend the spring/summer catwalks each season, integrating themselves into the haziest of our happy memories. While trends abound for S/S17, from sports-luxe geometric one-pieces to floral cover-ups and teeny tiny bikinis, themes inevitably hark back to the iconic poolside moments of our technicolour fantasies. Here we take a look at some of the silver screen’s sexiest swimwear scenes, and the lasting impressions they’ve left. 

1. Dr. No

Who could forget the impeccable Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder emerging from the sea in Dr. No? The iconic Bond girl’s bikini was custom made for her and designed by costume designer Tessa Prendergast on-set in Jamaica. Made from ivory cotton, with feminine ruched detailing in the bodice offset by a practical utility belt and dagger, there’s an inimitable appeal about these mixed messages.

2. Bonjour Tristesse

Adapted from the popular 1954 French novel by Françoise SaganBonjour Tristesse was released just four years later, directed by Otto Preminger. The tale was set in a villa on the French Riviera, and follows the young Cécile (played by the gorgeous Jean Seberg) as she dares to base her life on her philandering father’s favourite Oscar Wilde quote: “Sin is the only note of vivid colour that persists in the modern world”. The costume designers certainly gave Wilde a run for his money in technicolour, dressing Seberg in an assortment of brightly coloured swimwear throughout the film. Vivid yellows and brick-red one-pieces dominate the screen, and are simplistic but sensual.

3. A Bigger Splash

Sexual tensions in the Mediterranean sunshine lead to some dramatic costuming in Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash. Based loosely on the 1969 french film La Piscine, the Milanese director enlisted the help of Dior’s former creative director Raf Simons and Giulia Piersanti, formerly of Fendi and Balenciaga, to transport the tale to the Sardinian coast. With old-school resortwear influences and strong references to Ingrid Bergman in Rosselini’s Journey to Italy, Tilda Swindon’s swimsuit for the film was created by Laura Urbinati and paired with Charvet, Hermès and Fendi accessories. Contrasted with Dakota Johnson’s cut-off denim shorts and stringy patterned bikinis, Swinton’s rock star character remains largely mute throughout the film; her flattering one-piece, elevated shirt dresses, and mirrored Dior sunglasses do most of the talking for her.

4. Swimming Pool

This 2003 French-British erotic thriller directed by François Ozon follows Charlotte Rampling as crime novelist Sarah Morton, who travels to her publisher’s summer house in the heat of southern France to seek peace and quiet in order to write. When her solitude is disturbed by the daughter of her publisher, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), Morton finds herself confronted with a seductive and destructive youth who lounges by the pool day and night in everything from a geometric striped bikini to a cut-out white one-piece with gold metallic clasp. These hard costumes push Julie’s obnoxious youthfulness to the fore, making an iconic statement using contemporary style.

5. Stealing Beauty

Bernado Bertolucci’s 1996 coming-of-age tale depicts a young Liv Tyler in the middle of Tuscany searching for answers following her mother’s suicide. Arriving at a family friend’s villa, she slips into a modest black swimming costume and dives into the pool. Her understated glamour perfectly embodies that laid-back sexuality that was so compelling in the mid-90s, cossetted in sporty black nylon as she is, but her subsequent encounter with the topless Rachel Weisz, swathed in a loose hippie cover-up, belies Tyler’s burgeoning sensuality. 

6. Boogie Nights

Paul Thomas Anderson’s famed portrait of the 1970s adult film industry paints a determinedly colourful landscape of the L.A. party scene. The famous pool scene, captured in just one shot, gives enough inspiration for colour-clashing separates, fringed coverups and itty bitty two-pieces to keep us going all summer.

7. Suddenly Last Summer

The minimalism of Elizabeth Taylor’s striking white one-piece with its small cleavage cut-out – worn when she played the traumatised Catherine Holly in the 1959 adaptation of Tennessee William’s Suddenly Last Summer – has a remarkably modern vibe. Transcending eras, it’s the sort of swimwear you might see on a socialite in a Slim Aarons shot in 80s Malibu, or in Helmut Newton’s early 90s Cindy Crawford snaps, both of which we hold dear to our hearts.

8. To Catch a Thief

Hitchcock’s 1955 To Catch a Thief sees Grace Kelly play Frances Stevens, a wealthy jewellery owner who sparks the intrigue of notorious thief John Robie, played by a dashing Cary Grant in red checkered swim shorts, while holidaying on the Riviera. First seen lounging in a bright canary yellow ensemble on the beach, Kelly’s attire sets up her presence in the film as a jewel brighter than the diamonds she possesses. Hitchcock was known for giving Kelly more rein with clothing than he usually allowed his actresses, and it’s clear that her personal style, paired with Edith Head’s award-winning costume design, was a match well made.

9. The Talented Mr. Ripley

Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 psychological thriller of mistaken identity is set in the opulent Italian coast where the wealthy youth of 50s New York choose to escape. Think crisp white shirts tied over brightly coloured bandeau bikini tops, carefree resortwear compiled of flowing mid-length printed skirts, and bathing suits that double as body suits. Try a bold print à la Jude Law’s Dicky Greenleaf, or Gwyneth Paltrow’s equally colourful combo as his fiancé Marge. If you’re really looking to make an impact, channel Mr. Ripley himself, with Matt Damon’s neon bathing shorts.

10. Bathing Beauty 

The musical Bathing Beauty follows the tangled love lives of a college swimming instructor and an L.A. songwriter, played by Esther Williams and Red Skelton. When both attempt retirement in lieu of their marriage, a meddling producer and his water ballet gets in the way. Williams is a spectacle, but the real crowning jewel of the film is the breadth of synchronised swimming costumes on display; fuchsia and emerald green one-pieces, petal-covered caps and wide smiles make a compelling case for coordinating with your friends.