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July 3, 2015

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S.I. cover girl’s bikini has Henderson swimwear designer riding wave of success


Photo Illustration by Jeff Adamson

2012 S.I. Swimsuit Cover Model Kate Upton

2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model Kate Upton at Haze in Aria on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Swimsuit Designer Kathleen Bruening

Kathleen Bruening, 23, designer of the bikini on the 2012 Sports Illustrated cover, Feb. 17, 2012. Launch slideshow »

When Henderson newcomer Kathleen Bruening clicked on David Letterman’s website Monday night searching for news about this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, she couldn’t believe her eyes.

The 2012 Swimsuit Issue cover, unveiled on "Late Show With David Letterman," featured Kate Upton wearing a red bikini that was designed by Bruening, a 23-year-old Hawaii native who moved to the valley last year.

“This was an April Fool’s joke or something,” Bruening had said in disbelief. “That can’t be the right cover.”

Bruening was on a long-distance phone call to Hawaii with her mother, Sheila, when she saw the cover. Both Bruening and her mom started crying when they realized it was no joke at all.

“This bathing suit, I made out of two days of sleep deprivation,” Bruening said. “It wanted to be the teenie-weenie, itsy-bitsy red bikini.”

This is the second year Bruening has sent bathing suits to be considered in the Swimsuit Issue. In 2011, one of her designs—a pink number with ruffles —made it into the issue. This year, Bruening sent 157 bathing suits to Sports Illustrated. Nine of them made it into the issue.

Designers are invited by Sports Illustrated to submit their swimsuits for consideration in the issue. Bruening found out through mentors and friends in the fashion industry how to go about submitting her pieces. Selection of Bruening’s pink suit in 2011 ensured an invitation to submit suits for consideration this year.

Designers are given deadlines for submitting into different swimwear categories like neon, animal print and red suits.

“Sports Illustrated is like the Oscars of swimwear,” Bruening’s mother said.

Once the 2012 issue hit the Internet, Bruening’s website — Suit Yourself Bikinis by Kathleen Bruening — was flooded with orders.

Her now-famous two-piece red bikini, dubbed “The Kate Upton 2012,” sells for $250 custom-made or $180 off the rack. Other Bruening-designed swimsuits generally range in price from $180 to $300, but she said she had sold extravagant custom suits for as much as $600.

Bruening started her web-based custom bathing suit business in 2007 at age 17. Her suits feature elaborate hand beading, crystal work and a center-back seam.

“Guarantees a no-baggy butt,” Bruening said.

Bruening can spend upwards of 36 hours on a single bathing suit, depending on how much detail is required. For the suits she submitted this year to Sports Illustrated, Bruening said she worked 16- to 20-hour days, seven days a week, for four months.

“I think she was stressing out a lot,” her mother said. “There’s only so much she can do by hand.”

Bruening started sewing at age 3 and was partially self-taught. As a child, she would save her allowance to buy fabric to sew outfits together for her Barbie dolls. Later she learned from an instructor who taught sewing classes on Maui.

“She’s not your normal 23-year-old going out to clubs every night,” Bruening’s mother said. “She’s been very focused.”

Looking to grow her brand and network with fashion industry professionals, Bruening picked Las Vegas for its networking opportunities and the Vegas pool scene.

“Coming from a small island, we don’t have connections,” she said.

Bruening moved to Henderson in April 2011 and set up her studio in a room on the second floor of her apartment.

Her cat, Sir Oscar Six-Foot, and her dog, Ginger, inspire her as does the fabric she uses.

Bruening says she often will sit in the middle of her living room surrounded by piles of fabric to decide what she’ll design next.

Since the Swimsuit Issue has been released, Bruening aspires to take her brand both national and international.

“As my mom said, it’s your 60-foot tsunami wave, you only get it once in your life,” Bruening said. “You can either ride it all the way to shore or jump off and die. Gotta love mom’s poetry.”

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  1. I must have missed something. Where's the bikini?

  2. The suit, what little of there is, is on the cover of the SI issue. Try to avoid looking at skin and you will spot it.

  3. Nice to see a young person take her talents and make something of herself with no hand outs.

    Great job and wish her the best of luck in the future.

  4. Nice swimsuits! Make a few to have for sale in The Hard Rock and The Palms. Vegas is the perfect place for high end bikinis. You are giving Wicked Weasel a run for their money. Keep it up Lady. :)

  5. way to go! it's nice to see a young person use their creative talents and become successful. i'd rather see stories like this vs some young person getting a DUI.

  6. Can't wait to see these creations show up poolside. She should start thinking about all the taxes she will have to pay now because she is making money.

  7. Seriously. Is there a straight man anywhere in America who wouldn't have designed exactly the same bikini? :-)

    Congratulations on your success, Ms. Bruening.

  8. Good luck to you, young lady. @John, seriously, that was cute.

  9. Oh, come on, Kate Upton in a burlap sack would be drop dead... but, way to go, from one hawaiian boy to a very outstanding island girl!


  10. The comments from you guys are funny but typical.

    Actually, for all intent purposes, the bikini is about a size or two too small (yes, guys, it is!). And you really couldn't swim in that thing - just parade around in it or lay on rocks provocatively to sell a magazine. NO WOMAN, even a size 0 such as Kate Upton, would actually buy a bikini that fits so horribly as that one. Nothing wrong with showing your assets but they should't be hanging out at the sides as much as Kate's are. It should be about an inch or so bigger around the both sides of the top and an inch higher on the bottom to actually fit well and STILL show a lot of boob and barely cover private parts. Why bother wearing anything if it fits that poorly? There is absolutely nothing left to the imagination. And no, I'm not jealous, just know what looks good and what doesn't.

    But I understand SI's approach. A magazine that mostly men read. What else would they do?

    PS Kate UPton was on Ellen this week. Methinks a lot of airbrushing (excuse me, I meant "digital retouching") went on to make her boobs look as they do because she looked smaller than average in a regular dress, not as voluptuous as she does in the photos.