Originally created 05/14/05

Model to bring St. Bart's style to the real world



NEW YORK - Elizabeth Hurley doesn't want you to see too much of her body when she's on the beach. For that matter, she doesn't want to see too much of your body, either. That's why Elizabeth Hurley Beach, the model's first venture into fashion design, doesn't have any thongs or G-strings among its swimwear offerings.

It's possible to look "hot and sexy" without looking naked, she insists. "I certainly don't like to see women in thongs."

Part of this modesty - from a woman who once wore a risque Versace gown held together by safety pins - stems from motherhood. Hurley's son is now 3 years old.

In the days just before and after Damian Charles was born, Hurley says she realized that women don't necessarily want to parade their flaws, whether they're real or perceived, in front of a crowd. "I really developed a sensitivity to people who don't feel skinny," she says.

It should be noted here that 39-year-old Hurley is slim and trim but not unnaturally "skinny" like most runway models. She appears on this day as vibrant as the bright pink tankini top that she's wearing under a jacket as a regular tank.

The collection, a mix of bathing suits (bikini and tankini tops and bottoms are sold separately to accommodate women whose tops and bottoms are not the same size) and apres-beach looks, for those times when someone says, "Hey, let's go for a drink" after you've been on the beach and you don't want to go in a wet towel, Hurley explains. Styles include sarongs, tunics, caftans and stretch pants that pay homage to some of the world's most famous beaches: The St. Tropez pants, for instance, are sleek, while the St. Bart's pants are looser and more casual.

"I'm obsessed with glamorous summer clothes," Hurley says. She chalks it up to growing up in dreary England and always wishing she could spend more time in exotic locales with clear skies and sunshine.

She still calls London home but she says she's now lucky enough to take many vacations and, in her pre-motherhood days, she'd also be summoned to "work" in soft sand and gentle surf. Those days, though, are mostly over.

She decided to become a fashion entrepreneur largely because she is a working single mother who can't jet off here and there. She doesn't have a nanny for Damian, instead relying on her mother and sister, who also runs Hurley's Web site and serves as her "everywoman" fit model, for backup.

There was a flurry of movie roles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" and "Bedazzled," but Hurley says it's "almost impossible" to do now. "Movies are my first love... but not while my son is young."

It's more important to drop him off and pick him up from nursery school, she says. "It's how I want it," she says.

And, Hurley adds, she's always had an interest in business and when she decided to launch her own fashion brand, she made the commitment to be fully involved. "It's not a licensed deal, for better or worse."

Hurley visited the factory in Italy, met with beaders in India and even read the vendor manual from Saks Fifth Avenue, the exclusive U.S. retailer of her beachwear. She's bagged and boxed garments and overseen the shipping - jobs she's eagerly willing to give up as the company grows.

For her, beachwear was a more logical starting point for her brand than the now ubiquitous celebrity handbag or novelty T-shirt lines because it's something she's passionate about - and there was a noticeable hole in the marketplace.

"I wanted the perfect bikini for myself and I got carried away," she says.

For the upcoming resort season, she hopes to further expand into knitwear, hand-embroidered Ts, flip-flops and jewelry.

While the collection is aimed at the well-heeled - and high-heeled - traveler, she's making an effort to add more affordable cotton pieces and to have garments that are easy to care for. Everything is wash and wear, she promises. (Hand-washing is recommended for the beaded pieces.)

Hurley road-tested samples of the line last summer when she was invited to join Valentino for a vacation on his boat. "They went down very well," she reports.

Still, she is approaching this venture cautiously, keeping the collection small and limiting distribution, because she wants it to grow the right way. She's in it for the long haul, she says.

Because her name and face are famous, it's been easier to draw attention than other new fashion brands, but, she notes, the line is being watched with a far more critical eye.

Estee Lauder Global Brand President John Demsey, however, expects Hurley to pass the industry's test. She's been a Lauder model for a decade.

"She's stylish, glamorous, self-assured and sexy. She's a woman who's living her life and that makes her even more appealing," he says.