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Summer Sizzle : Top to Bottom : Talk about bikini anxiety. Designers for Point Conception scrutinize every detail.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Life as a swimwear designer isn’t exactly a day at the beach for Jamie Jung and Carol Fergus.

They work in an industrial complex miles from the ocean, designing swimsuits for Point Conception in Rancho Santa Margarita. They no longer enjoy the kind of carefree, endless summers depicted in their swimsuit ads.

Jung, a 38-year-old San Clemente resident, does double-duty as owner-designer of Point Conception and mother of a 14-month-old son, while designer Fergus is a busy grandmother who commutes to Point Conception from Ocean Beach in San Diego County.

Together they create colorful, itsy-bitsy bikinis and other swimwear for women and girls--no easy task considering that bikini buyers are notoriously fickle and want to look like they stepped off the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

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To keep their customers satisfied, Jung and Fergus hunker down in their respective offices making sketches and choosing fabrics and prints they hope will translate into the summer’s hottest suits.

In a downstairs factory, workers sit at sewing machines piecing together bikini tops and bottoms. Boxes of finished suits line the walls of an adjacent warehouse, awaiting shipment to more than 1,000 swimwear retailers who carry Point Conception.

Although their jobs have led them away from lazy days at the beach, Jung and Fergus love designing swimwear. Both found their way to Point Conception through different routes.

“I grew up in Santa Barbara and started making swimsuits when I was 12,” Jung says. “I would make them for myself, then I began making them for other people.”

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After graduating from a fashion institute in Los Angeles, Jung began making swimsuits out of her house in San Juan Capistrano.

“My mother asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I panicked,” she says.

Point Conception soon outgrew her garage and later moved to offices in San Clemente before ending up in Rancho Santa Margarita five years ago. The company has gone from a one-woman operation to a staff of more than 60.

Jung’s brother Jeff, Point Conception’s chief executive officer, came on board eight years ago to take on the business responsibilities so his sister could devote her time to design.

Fergus has been designing swimsuits for more than 20 years, working for Southern California swimwear companies such as Cole and Jag before joining Point Conception a year and a half ago.

She graduated from a design school in Los Angeles with the idea of creating costumes for the stage, but she was offered a job designing swimwear for Jag and found her calling.

“I never want to leave it,” she says. “I like bright colors and fabrics.”

Although they sometimes work together choosing fabrics and colors, the designers have divided duties. Jung designs the juniors line, for 12- to 25-year-olds, and Point Conception Kids.

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“Juniors like skimpier suits and brighter colors,” Jung says. The most popular bikini-bottom style for juniors falls somewhere between a regular and a narrow Brazilian cut.

Fergus designs the Kechika line for women: The suits tend to be made of heavier fabrics with larger prints and have more modest silhouettes than the juniors’ suits.

“It’s more sophisticated,” Fergus says. “We use interesting gold and silver trim, hardware and buckles.”

Fergus also designs for Point Sol, the company’s active separates division that features more sports-oriented swimsuit styles such as higher-waist bottoms and a sports camisole for volleyball and in-line skating.

Both women have seen swimwear styles come full circle since they started in the business.

In the 1970s, women preferred bikinis with flimsy triangle tops. By the end of the ‘80s, they were sporting heavily padded push-up bra tops.

Today bikini tops have gone back to less padding and no under-wire; women found the hard cups too uncomfortable, and if they didn’t have enough to fill them out the cups sometimes caved in, Jung says with a laugh.

While higher, French-cut legs have become the norm on swimsuit bottoms, the lower-leg, hip-hugger bottoms seen in the ‘70s are starting to resurface, Fergus says.

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“The ‘60s and ‘70s influence is really strong right now,” she says.

Retro fabrics are hot. Prints have gone from tiny florals to medium-sized daisies, tropical motifs and dizzying Op Art patterns. Textured solids such as ribbed knits are still strong, and shiny materials such as vinyls will be hot for summer ’96, Fergus says.

Colors have brightened, moving away from dark solids such as forest green and cocoa that were strong two years ago but ended up hurting the swimwear market, Jung says. Point Conception’s summer palette features lime, orange, fuchsia, bright blue and, as always, black.

“Bright colors look good in the sun,” Fergus says.

One of Point Conception’s bestsellers for 1996 is a daisy-print bikini in lime green with contrasting binding.

“Detailing is really important in swimwear--the lace-up fronts, the top-stitching and the binding,” Jung says.

In Orange County, Point Conception is carried at Diane’s in Balboa and Laguna Beach. The separates retail for $25 to $40.

The designers work six months to a year ahead of time on their cruise and summer collections. Both carefully monitor fashion trends to keep up with swimwear looks.

“You look at artwork, movies, stores, magazines--everything influences you,” Jung says. “You pay attention to the market and go shopping a lot.”

Jung and Fergus understand why their customers agonize over their choice of suit:

“Your suit makes you feel sexy,” Fergus says. “It’s the nearest thing to wearing your underwear.”


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