Monday 23 April 2018

Siren's song - designer Carla Johnson wanted her swimwear to be sultry

'Azolla' - print string bikini, €158, Mona Swims. Ear cuff, €20, Topshop. Photo: Evan Doherty.
'Azolla' - print string bikini, €158, Mona Swims. Ear cuff, €20, Topshop. Photo: Evan Doherty.

Constance Harris

There is something about the aesthetic of Irish swimwear designer Carla Johnson, in her Mona Swims collection, that gets the fantasist going in me. I can envision Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft, or Jane Fonda's Barbarella, looking hot and kicking ass in Mona Swims. Equally, there is an element of sea goddess and underworldliness about Mona Swims, too.

Carla Johnson is a print designer who graduated from NCAD in 2008. Afterwards, Carla worked for eight years in London, for a print design studio, before launching Mona Swims.

"The print studio is where I developed my trade in print," Carla tells me. "Before I did the swimwear, I used to design cushions for myself that were sea-inspired. I used to go to Ibiza, and I kept noticing the lack of interesting swimwear. I guess I became inspired by that lack and the lack of innovation. I was dying to design something for myself. When someone said to me 'swimwear', it ticked all the boxes - my love of the sea, my designs, the fish I painted, enchanting backgrounds. Swimwear was a perfect fit for me."

Mona Swims is rooted in the mysterious worlds of our planet's oceans - its creatures and plant life. Carla's print motifs tend to be abstracts of fish and fauna - say of a mackerel's scales, or exotic seaweeds.

"The collection is all about the print; it is what makes it unique," Carla explains. "I wanted to make the Mona Swims collection sultry. Most swimwear that you see is bright and poppy. I wanted to do something different. A lot of my colours are muted, darker tones. Even if there is colour, there is a sophisticated palette. It is really flattering on paler skin - because they are more organic colours."

Mona Swims's unusual print and colours are a big part of why I find the collection so evocative. Then there is the drama of Mona Swims's gorgeous bandeau maillots, two-way, wrap bikinis, striking high-waist briefs and the oh-so-cool print leggings and the luxurious oversize silk shrugs.

The swimwear on our pages today is part of Mona Swims's second collection, for which Carla won Fashion Designer of the Year at this year's Fashion Innovation Awards. Last year, Mona Swims was selected to be part of Create at Brown Thomas, and this year, the collection is stocked exclusively in the prestigious store. For such a new collection, it is racking up the credits. Amanda Byram, Vogue Williams and Nadia Forde are Mona Swims devotees.

"I am different from that main swim market and I think that is my strength," Carla says. "I offer people something different."

Mona Swims's first ever pop-up store is opening in the Migjorn Ibiza Suites and Spa, Ibiza, where the full range, as well as those of other swimwear and accessories designers such as Susannagh Grogan and Jayne Fowler, will be on sale.

Photography by  Evan Doherty

Styling by Courtney Smith

Fashion edited by Constance Harris

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