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Beach Body Bingo: An Interview with Designer Matthew Zink of the Swimwear Label Charlie

Like it or not, swimwear season is upon us. For those of you who slaved away at the gym all winter long, you can finally show off the rewards of your hard work. The last thing you'd want to do beach-side, though, is make a fashion faux pas. When you're wearing minimal amounts of clothing, everything matters. As you're probably aware, we're oh-so-over the saggy, baggy board short, and instead are favoring trim, tailored trunks for indulging in some fun in the sun. Last week, we had the pleasure of meeting Matthew Zink (left), the designer behind the new men's and women's bathing suit label Charlie, perfect for lounging by the sea or pool.
OUT: Where were you born? Did you always love fashion, even as a child?
Charlie Zink: I was born and raised in Stow, Ohio. As a child, I drew constantly. However, my interest in fashion developed as a teenager.
When did you know you wanted to design? Did you study fashion design? Swimwear specifically? If so, where and what did you learn there?
When I decided to go to college, I knew I had to go into a field where I could create. A mentor, Rose Mary Stehman, suggested Kent State University's fashion school (Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman School of Fashion Design and Merchandising). She was the first person, outside of my family, that genuinely believed in me. I was fascinated by her strength, wit, and style. She wore Chanel lipstick!!! (I didn't even know what Chanel was....) So upon her suggestion, I decided....I would study fashion design. I received my BFA in Fashion Design from KSU in 2003.
I've always loved bikinis...Greg Louganis, Sports Illustrated, Farrah Faucett, lifeguards, Paulina Porizkova. But I got into swimwear design a bit by coincidence. A friend of mine (and now business partner) suggested me for a position at Victoria's Secret Swimwear and I instantly fell in love. That "love at first sketch" is really how I dove into swimwear.

What were you doing before you started your own company?
I was the Design Director for Victoria's Secret Swimwear for 5 years prior to launching Charlie. I will always be grateful for my time there. I had the opportunity to work for a true American icon and a world class team. I also formed relationships that I hope to have for the rest of my career. Before that I had the pleasure to briefly work with a few fashion icons (Carolina Herrera, Tom Ford, and Stephano Pilati) all of which gave me a quick glimpse at true passion and commitment to a vision.

What made you decide to launch your own label?
I think I finally knew exactly who I was as a designer. I wanted to create a sexy, joyful, and inspired fantasy that could celebrate season after season all the great loves of my life....thus, Charlie was born.
What images, people, things inspire your design aesthetic? Do you approach designing for women differently than designing for men? If yes, how so?
I am a very inspired designer and I am always trying to celebrate the muses in my life. (Barbara Hulanicki, Jerry Hall, Tom Selleck, RuPaul, Dolly Parton, Stephanie Seymour, Harry Bush, Gianni Versace, Bianca Jagger, Alanna Kendell, Joe Dallesandro, Goldie Hawn....the list goes on and on) I truly believe that these "muses" give Charlie a soul. I am absolutely seduced by the joy and sexual celebration the 1970's and early 1980's represents to me. There is definitely a level of consistency in my inspiration, but each season I always start with an iconic man or woman who has helped define and shape me as a designer. For my first men's collection I paid tribute to the Illustrator Harry Bush and "the lifeguard". For Resort 2012, I'm paying tribute to Tom Bianchi, 1970's denim and "the scarf".
Do you have any advice to offer for people who want to design? Are there any pointers for getting into the swimwear world?
I really believe that you should take the job that you are willing to do for free. It will never feel like work, and you will always be excited for the road ahead. For me, one of the greatest gifts I have is the ability to create something beautiful and then share it with the world. So I think everyone, regardless of your field, should stay passionate and sincere.
What is an average day for you like? How much is spent designing versus other tasks? What about running a small business has surprised you?
You can have no ego as a small business owner; I am the CEO, designer, messenger, cleaner, accountant..everything. And you have to enjoy all of it. Although launching Charlie has been the greatest undertaking I've ever accomplished -- I've never been so's worth the work.
Where did the name Charlie come from?
Charlie is my muse. For me, the name is sexy for both a man and a woman. It's classic, charming, handsome, timeless, and iconic.....all of which I want Charlie to capture. It also holds an undeniable 1970's connotation that is both familiar and impossibly alluring to me.
Where would you like to see yourself and your company in five years?
I hope for Charlie to continue to offer our customer timeless and sexy pieces. I want to inspire and excite for as long as I possibly can! We hope to expand into more apparel, shoes, accessories...everything you might desire to live the Charlie lifestyle. I hope to continue to be able to work with such an amazingly talented team and also meet new talent that our team might collaborate on future ventures. I am infinitely thankful for this past year and can't wait to discover what the future holds for Charlie.

Charlie is sold at Barneys New York, Intermix, Saks Fifth Avenue and as well as online.

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