Growing up in Irvine, Nicole Di Rocco saw Cuba as a dream. Born to Cuban immigrants, Di Rocco soaked up her history through sepia-toned photographs, memories and the native language they shared.
Inspired by the vintage styles her parents grew up wearing, Di Rocco started Nicolita, a swimwear line, in 2002 upon graduating from USC.
Her latest lookbook for 2011 is inspired by Cuba of the late 1940s and '50s with hip-hugging, vintage-inspired styles in bright, candy-colored hues. Cabanas, white sand beaches and antique cars serve as backdrops for polka dot bikinis and strapless one-pieces.
"It wasn't until this season that I wanted to pinpoint that moment in time — the year 1949," she said about her 2011 collection. "I love the glamour and romance that people had during the '40s. Cuba was the playground for the rich and famous."
In 2009 President Obama lifted the embargo on travel for Cuban Americans, and Di Rocco realized that her time had come to travel to the country that served as her muse.
"To go connect with your roots, you're unlocking things in your future," she said.
SiTV, a network for Spanish speakers, documented her story for its "Pastpost" series, following Di Rocco and her family as she connected her past to her present.
"As I was learning my culture, it developed my brand because I was trying to understand that culture," she said. "It was all stories and photos to me. I didn't know if I would ever be able to see this island."
The experience not only brought her family closer — her parents hadn't been back in 49 years — but it also helped her understand what she was trying to say with her fashion.
Growing up a stone's throw from Newport Beach, where she rode her beach cruiser and sunned with friends, Di Rocco never considered that there was more to her love for the sun and sand.
"I've always had a connection with the beach; however, I didn't really understand why," she said. "My mom grew up going to the beach in Cuba. My dad grew up going to the beach. It's in my blood to have that beach lifestyle."
When she moved to Los Angeles, it didn't take long for the coast to lure her in.
The designer spends her days in Nicolita swimsuits and cover-ups, if the weather permits, she said. It's not hard when you live on the beach in Malibu.
Her day-to-day life, which includes fishing and boating with her husband, Phillip, inspires her to keep her styles sexy and comfortable, she said.
For more information about Nicolita swimwear, visit mynicolita.com.