Itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny

When in Seattle, do as Brazilians do
Bonnie Henderson

"Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking ..." But if she's in Seattle, she's probably wrapped in layers of fleece most of the year. Even at the beach in summer, she's likely in a swimsuit that covers more of that loveliness than is necessary, says Cristina Silva, Tininha to her friends. This girl from the beaches of Recife, on Brazil's sunny northeast coast, is having fun changing that, customer by customer, at her Fremont bikini boutique.

"Come on," she cajoles the hesitant, stepping back from the dressing room mirror in her pastel-colored shop filled with racks of unapologetically bright and tiny swimsuits. "You're going to the beach, life is short ― you look great!"

Think Brazilian bikinis are a hard sell in Seattle? Think again. Granted, Tininha's Butique de Biquini is a small store. But customer demand is what turned Silva's first venture, a small import shop she opened north of the University of Washington in 2001, into the all-bikini boutique she has today. It stocked handicrafts and bikinis, just for fun. But the bikinis were the draw. So she bought more swimwear, added cover-ups and other beach accessories, and moved to her current spot in Fremont 1½ years ago.

"I had a couple of people tell me, after I opened, 'Are you crazy? The store's really cute, but Seattle is not the best place for a bikini store,' " Silva says. "But every year I've done better and better." Her regulars tell her they can't find what they want in Seattle department stores; some used to shop for swimsuits on trips to San Francisco or Los Angeles or Miami before they discovered Tininha's.

"Even though the Brazilian styles are cut lower and show more, they're just so flattering," Silva says. "Some people are like, 'Oh, I never had a Brazilian bikini bottom before,' but they try it, they love it, and they don't go back to the full coverage."

 

For all shapes and ages
The Brazilian bikini bottom, to the uninitiated, is V-shaped (as opposed to U-shaped) and is not only low-cut but is several inches slimmer in back than your typical conservative American or English cut ― though nowhere near a mere thong. What's known as a European cut falls between the two styles. Silva specializes in Brazilian bikinis, made in Spain and Colombia as well as Brazil, but she also carries European and conservative cuts for the less bold. (Surprisingly, the less bold includes 20-somethings and teenagers, who tend to be more conservative than customers in their 30s and 40s, Silva says. "When it comes to swimsuits, [younger customers] like the boy shorts or the fuller cut.")

All of Tininha's swimsuits are high-quality Lycra, soft to the touch and designed to last. But the swimsuits from Brazil, where women of all shapes and ages practically live in bikinis year-round, are the ones where designers seem to have taken the most liberties. Think pink with chocolate tiger stripes, a halter top lavished with tiny buttons and embroidered flowers, geometric swirls in chartreuse and lavender, and a garden of red and orange posies on a field of neon green.

Silva is an accidental retailer ― and an accidental Seattleite. Born and raised in Recife, she had just completed a law degree there in 1991 when she married her husband, a Washington State native who'd spent a year in Brazil in high school. He was ready to stay in Recife, but she wanted to give Seattle a try. With an instant circle of friends and family and, now, the success of the shop, Silva loves the city and thinks that its conservative reputation and self-image ― where beachwear is concerned, anyway ― are undeserved.

"A lot of people in Seattle are very open-minded, they travel a lot, they've seen different stuff out there, they're willing to try new things," she says. "It's exciting."

Truth be told, she thinks most of her customers wear their bikinis on vacations to southern climes ― Mexico, Hawaii ― rather than on Seattle-area beaches. When you're the only one on the beach with a Brazilian-cut bottom, regardless of how good it looks, it can be a little disconcerting ― as disconcerting, say, as strolling Waikiki in your one-piece. For her part, Silva doesn't hesitate to wear a bikini at Madison Park Beach on rare summer afternoons away from the shop.

"And my bikinis are tiny."

Info: Tininha's Butique de Biquini (617 N. 35th St.; 206/985-6772)

 

Test-drive your new bikini
When the weather warms, try a dip or some sunbathing at these Seattle-area beaches, pools, and water parks.

Alki Beach Park. Skip the swimming (it's cold! and there's no lifeguard) and enjoy the sights at this 2 1/2-mile-long waterfront park in West Seattle, from distant views of the Olympics to close-ups of in-line skaters, kite flyers, and sun lovers like you. Open year-round; free. 1702 Alki Ave. S.W., West Seattle; www.seattle.gov/parks or 206/684-4075.

Henry Moses Aquatic Center. A one-year-old outdoor swim center with two waterslides, a wave pool, a "lazy river," and other fun ways to get wet. Opens Jun 18; from $6. 1719 Maple Valley Hwy., Renton; www.ci.renton.wa.us or 425/430-6780.

Madison Park Beach. Stretch out on the grassy lawn alongside freshwater Lake Washington. Opens June 25; free. E. Madison St. at E. Howe St.; www.seattle.gov/parks or 206/684-4075.

Mounger Pool. In the Magnolia neighborhood, Mounger has two freshwater pools, one with a popular giant corkscrew slide. Opens mid-May; $3.50. 2535 32nd Ave. W.; www.seattle.gov/parks or 206/684-4075.

Wild Waves & Enchanted Village. An outdoor water park with 14 waterslides and water-based attractions. Opens May 28; $32. 36201 Enchanted Pkwy. S., Federal Way; www.sixflags.com/parks/enchantedvillage or 253/661-8000.