Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 11:01 pm | Fair 61º

 
 
 
 
Style

Judy Foreman: With a Rio Flair, Sonia De Mello Keeps Style-Conscious Women In the Swim

Regardless of whether you’ve got the beach body you want, Montecito designer’s So De Mel swimwear and resort lines will have you looking good

Sonia De Mello’s So De Mel swimwear and resort wear is infused with the influence of her native Brazil. “So De Mel was born of a desire to see changes, re-create a modern approach to beachwear, and to introduce the U.S. market to my country’s own philosophy when it comes to beachwear,” the Montecito studio owner says. Click to view larger
Sonia De Mello’s So De Mel swimwear and resort wear is infused with the influence of her native Brazil. “So De Mel was born of a desire to see changes, re-create a modern approach to beachwear, and to introduce the U.S. market to my country’s own philosophy when it comes to beachwear,” the Montecito studio owner says. (Christy Schuler photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

The 2016 Summer Olympics wrap up this week in Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil has used its time on the world stage well.

For all its challenges, the country has proudly shown off its music, food, colors and beauty for thousands of athletes and spectators at the games and millions more watching from around the globe.

If you’re looking for a taste of Rio closer to home, you need only venture as far as Montecito’s Coast Village Road and the beachwear studio So De Mel.

Brazil native Sonia De Mello, the boutique owner and its namesake, designs and creates bathing suits for today’s women — inspired by famed Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro.

De Mello arrived in Santa Barbara in 1988, speaking very little English at the time. She attended Santa Barbara City College, worked as a nanny and considered becoming a child psychologist before diving into the swimwear business.

“When I first moved here and would wear my Brazilian bikinis,” she recalled, “I got a lot of looks for their limited coverage — and a lot of questions about where they could buy the suit I was wearing!”

That interest sparked the idea to create Brazilian-style bikinis for a Santa Barbara audience.

Encouraged by her friends and employers, she returned to Brazil in 2000 to learn the business, launching her company eight years later.

“So De Mel was born of a desire to see changes, re-create a modern approach to beachwear, and to introduce the U.S. market to my country’s own philosophy when it comes to beachwear,” De Mello told Noozhawk.

“I could not be happier to be based in Montecito and Santa Barbara. I embrace this town as my own and feel privileged to be part of this community.”

On a recent Monday, we dined on a lunch of tuna tartare followed by a Brazilian-style espresso at Tre Lune, conveniently located below De Mello’s Coast Village Road studio. We engaged in a little “Copa chatter,” and I learned more about her journey.

“Growing up in Brazil, the beach is very important to us,” she explained. “We took our beachwear very seriously. It’s as natural for us to build a beach closet as it is normal street wear, and we don’t repeat that same bikini over and over again.

“We own a lot of them, as the summer is year round!”

Later, we went upstairs to her studio, and I had the chance to check out her range of bikinis, one-piece and two-piece high rise swimsuits, and some of the new additions to her resort wear. The latter includes long and short cover-ups, linen blouses, crocheted dresses and wraps.

So De Mel has something for everyone, even those for whom wearing a swimsuit is a challenge.

De Mello, who travels to Brazil several times a year to buy fabrics, proudly says her line is “all about the fit.” Her clientele, she adds, is a sophisticated woman, and the styles and color palette reflect that audience.

So De Mel swimsuits are sold in many fine boutiques in the United State,s and are available at Four Seasons resorts in Hawaii, Palm Beach, Mexico and elsewhere.

This season, her swimwear is included on the exclusive M‘oda ‘Operandi website, which also features some of her Beyond the Beach line of versatile styles that can from the beach to dining out.

From 2 to 6 p.m. Aug. 23, Calypso in Montecito Country Mart will be featuring So De Mel as part of a “designer appearance” event. De Mello will be showing off an assortment of swimwear from her 2016 summer collection as well as taking pre-orders for her resort and 2017 summer lines.

“It is challenging running a business,” De Mello said. “But when you love what you do, you overcome the challenges.

“All it takes is one customer to tell you they love your product and how confident they feel when they are wearing So De Mel, and it’s worth it all.”

So De Mel is located at 1151 Coast Village Road, Suite 200. Click here for more information, or call 805.969.2955.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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