I look forward to summer the way some people vie for promotions or marriage proposals. Sometime around February, when my will has been tested a little too far from chapped lips, snowdrifts that cover stop signs, leather boots that make it to my office weary from salt and mudpuddles, and once-new winter coats dingy from dirt and smog, I start to daydream about days at the beach and picnics in the park. With June in full swing, I can even start to smell summer’s beginning, the lingering, cashmere-soft scent of rose bushes and distinct sticky-sweetness of hydrangeas and hyacinths from neighbors’ gardens and fresh-cut grass from nearby parks. Even the not-so-seductive smells, like motorcycle exhaust and teen sweat mixed with sunscreen, groups of them playing hooky and en route to Coney Island flirting with each other right next to me on the F or N train, gets me excited.
As good as summer smells, I love the kind of clothes it allows me to wear. Every spring I stow away suffocating sweaters and bulky woolen socks with vigilant enthusiasm, making space in my chest of drawers for ribbed tanks, halter tops and tight-fitting denim shorts. Looking over my worn and weary beachwear collection, however, I knew I needed an upgrade.
It all started with a photo: Micheline Bernardini wearing the first bikini, 1946
I did some online research for my bikini quest, knowing that I wanted a boutique, and in Queens, if possible. I found some good reviews about Axe Brazil Inc. (2833 Steinway Street; (718) 545-0499), so I took the R train at 36th Street one stop to Steinway Street and headed over. The pulsing Latin music gave me a bold, but not overwhelming, welcome. Its fast beats put me in predator mode, helping me decide in an instant whether to try something on or not. As a full-figured lady who could never fit into those tiny triangles connected by rubber bands stores like H+M and American Eagle try to hock as bikini tops, and as a low-key gal who can’t stand Victoria’s Secret overdramatic two-pieces, the high-cut bottoms and plunging V-neck tops, I struck the perfect balance at Axe.
The different sizes and styles (with sizes shifting depending on the style, a smart approach to clothing that American designers deny to adopt because it would mean, gasp, not every woman has the same body type), offered endless selection. The pieces I selected fit my curves and still left me comfortable. I could wear these bikinis on a secluded tropical beach with my boyfriend or around family at a barbecue on Cape Cod. I spent over two hours there and the whole time the saleswoman and owner, a Brazil native, gave me constructive, candid advice, and never forced me into anything I didn’t think would look good on me. Working alone on this slow Sunday afternoon, she had no qualms about running back and forth to the rack to exchange a top or bottom, even suggesting ways to mix and match. She imports everything straight from Brazil, guaranteeing the hottest colors and ultra-modern designs. In the end I left with two sure-fire finds, and although I paid retail for my troubles, I considered it an investment well-made.
An example of the classic string bikini that looks amazing on some women. For the rest of us, stop by Axe Brazil Inc. in Queens, NY to seek out pieces that offer flirty sex appeal for the full-figured gal.
A few weeks later, my sister invited me over to check out her new place in Astoria, a quick subway ride from where I live in Long Island City. We sat down to a meal of spaghetti and olive oil seasoned with oregano and pepper and topped with generous teaspoons of grated romano. She spoke with excitement about her trip to Europe in August, starting in Amsterdam, then Paris, then Italy, ending in Greece for a friend’s wedding. She said, “I got some great new bathing suits for Greece. Have you been to that Brazilian bikini store on Steinway? It’s amazing! And the woman was so warm and helpful.” I laughed at the irony of our desperation to find the best bikini before summer started. Because once it does, us girls know all too well that makeup melts off and shoes don’t stay on for long, so to make the perfect style statement you need the perfect bikini.