Isle designer: Bikini feature on cover of SI is unexpected

For a second time, Haiku clothing designer Lisa Letarte Cabrinha has landed one of her bikinis on the coveted Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover, which hits newsstands today.

“It was completely unexpected,” Cabrinha said Monday morning, adding that she did not submit as many swimsuits for consideration as she did in the past 13 years.

For the record, Cabrinha’s suits from Letarte swimwear have made it into the edition every year she has offered up swimsuits.

This year, a Cabrinha-designed sporty white mesh bikini bottom is worn by model Kate Upton, whom Cabrinha said is appearing on her second swimsuit edition cover. Upton looks like she is sans bikini top under a white hooded snow jacket, with a title saying “Kate Upton Goes Polar Bare.”

For those who want to know, Cabrinha says the top is made of the same perforated-type design with mesh material layered over a solid white stretch material. White track pants also go with the cover bikini.

The bikini is part of Letarte swimwear’s “surf/kite surfing capsule” designed for the summer collection. Although the upscale Letarte label is found around the world in more than 400 retailers and exclusive resorts, Cabrinha said the cover bikini will only be in the four Letarte stores: the flagship store in Paia; Greenwich, Conn.; Palm Beach, Fla.; and a seasonal store in Nantucket, Mass.

The suit also was available for pre-order via the Letarte website Monday afternoon. Listed price was $180.

Cabrinha, the clothing designer and co-owner of Letarte swimwear, shares the honors with her sister, Michele Letarte Ross, also co-owner and president, who lives in Connecticut, where the label’s warehouse and main office are located. Cabrinha also gave credit to local seamstress Dana Hartley, who sews Cabrinha’s samples.

Cabrinha said it was ironic that the magazine cover shows Upton with a bikini and a snow jacket.

Ross is currently skiing in Vermont, while Cabrinha is taking in the rays on Maui.

Cabrinha said she told Ross to “go out in the snow and put on a white jacket.”

“We laughed so hard,” Cabrinha said.

The former competitive windsurfer said the magazine cover was apparently leaked, and Friday she got a call from a friend in Los Angeles who told her about seeing a white bikini bottom on the cover. Cabrinha said she recalled getting a call from the magazine for a photo credit for a white bottom.

For a moment, Cabrinha thought it was a sham and that maybe someone made a fake cover. She saw posts of the cover on Facebook.

Then she took a close look at the photo and said: ” ‘Hey, that looks like a white mesh bottom.’ We couldn’t do anything. It hadn’t hit the newsstands yet.”

Official word came Saturday. Cabrinha got the call from Sports Illustrated saying that her bikini would again be on the cover.

The cover “can definitely boost sales,” she said, adding that it gives Letarte brand recognition.

“The Sports Illustrated magazine is pretty much a household magazine,” she said, adding that it doesn’t just cater to those in the fashion and sports worlds but can be found even in doctors’ offices.

“It’s actually one of the largest selling magazines,” she said, adding that it spans the world.

Letarte is not the only Maui brand to have a showcase in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition. Other swimwear designers and jewelry makers on Maui and those with ties to Maui have had their pieces photographed on swimsuit models in the special edition.

It was unclear Monday if any other Maui-based brand is featured in the issue this year.

Cabrinha is married to Pete Cabrinha of Cabrinha Kites. They have a daughter, Tahiti, 10.

The designer said the suit is in line with what designers, such as Stella McCartney and Calvin Klein, are doing with perforated leather. Cabrinha is transforming that perforated style into swimwear.

Cabrinha comes from a family of clothing designers on the East Coast. She and her sister founded the Letarte label of swimsuits, coordinating coverups and and sportswear in 2000. Celebrities, including actress Kate Hudson, singer and entertainer Beyonce Knowles and model Cindy Crawford, wear the label, the clothing’s website said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at