Sky News presenter Jacquie Beltrao (left) and designer Melissa Odabash at the launch of her new mastectomy swimwear range at Fenwick Bond Street
"It is intimidating enough to wear swimwear without having gone through what these women have gone through," says luxury beachwear designer Melissa Odabash. Her new mastectomy range created with UK-based breast cancer charity, Future Dreams, has been designed to give the confidence back to women who have suffered from the disease.
Interior designer Kelly Hoppen, event planner Yasmin Mills and former Olympic gymnast and Sky News presenter Jacquie Beltrao, who is the face of the campaign, were among the stars who came to support the launch at Fenwick Bond Street. We caught up with the American designer to talk about her inspiration and the ethos behind the range.
Why did you decide to create the range?
My sister Jamie had breast cancer ten years ago. She always said she couldn't find swimwear that covered her scars. I would make her pieces and add a few centimetres. I wanted to create a mastectomy line for some time as many women would come to me with these issues but it was technically very difficult. The construction is completely different, every woman who has been through breast cancer has different problems. Two years ago I attended a Future Dreams charity event, they said: 'Would you be interested in doing a collection?' It started from there.
How did you want the collection to look?
Just because you have breast cancer it doesn’t mean the rest of your body is not great and fit. I kept with the same style that I create all of my swimwear but with extra support, sewn in molded cups, high back bands, pockets for the breast forms, wide adjustable straps.
There is also a little more coverage, so for example the bandeau bikini is a little bit higher at the front. It means you don’t have to feel different. I wanted to make it easier. It’s frustrating enough to find swimwear that fits when you just have regular body issues.
What inspired you about Jacquie Beltrao?
She is amazing. One she gets up at 4am every day to do the news - she should get an award for that alone - but she is so positive and beautiful and she has helped so many women from being a public person speaking openly about breast cancer.
Backstage on the shoot I saw many women who were going through chemo with wigs and I thought, I will never complain again when I have a cold, it was a real reality check.
What makes the range different?
I kept all the colours simple and neutral and the designs timeless and elegant so that women can wear them for many years. The one comment I got from all the women who tested the range is that they love the soft fabric because scarring hurts. They were saying: 'This fabric is like butter'. I made sure the swimwear doesn’t dig in anywhere, it is seamless at the back so it hides everything but is comfortable – it was a lot of trial and error and I was learning as I went along.
Why are there not more swimwear brands launching similar ranges?
Perhaps because it’s not profitable, not glamorous, its extremely technical it’s not a regular triangle. But breast cancer is frighteningly common - it is at the back of everyone’s mind, there is a sister, aunt, cousin who has been affected by the disease.
My seamstress found out part way through working on the collection that her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The response I have had on social media has been phenomenal. It touches everybody.