At the tail end of July, Bella Hadid made an even bigger splash on Instagram than usual by striking a pose in Mykonos, wearing nearly $12,000 worth of diamonds. And yet, that treasure trove was practically invisible; the real star of the photo was far and away Hadid’s mind-bending one-piece swimsuit, dreamed up by the up-and-comer Louisa Ballou.
In a summer that’s essentially doubled as the Olympics of inventive swimsuits, from trompe l’oeil nudity to long-sleeved bikinis, Ballou, who’s all of 26, has managed to come out on top. In a way, her most popular designs are now the “Truth Hurts” of swimwear: No one seems to mind that they’ve actually been existence since 2017, when Ballou showed her graduate collection at London’s storied Central Saint Martins. IN fact, neither Sofia Richie, Kali Uchis, Jorja Smith, nor Megan Thee Stallion appear able to get enough of them, whether at sea or on land. (In a true testament to Ballou’s trendiness, the same goes for Kylie Jenner—even though Ballou has also been Insta-endorsed by Jordyn Woods.) Collectively, within a matter of weeks, they’ve all sent Ballou’s production into overdrive.
With a degree and internship at Loewe under her belt, these days, Ballou has been keeping busy back in Charleston, South Carolina, where she was born and raised. Get to know the up-and-comer, who shared her style notes with W between keeping up with the demand and making the most of the rest of summer, here.
Why swimwear? Are you planning to expand further into ready-to-wear, too? Swimwear happened organically—I grew up on the beach surfing, swimming, always in the water, etc., so even though I didn’t start out designing swim, it was always there and it’s true to who I am. As for RTW, I’ve been developing more pieces that can be styled with the swimsuits such as mesh dresses, surf tops, and mini skirts.
Where do you typically find inspiration? For me, openness and curiosity are key. I’m constantly researching so I document anything that catches my eye. As a swimwear designer, I’m interested in anything to do with water and the different types of people around it—what they’re doing, what they’re wearing. The library is also a good starting point, and I look at a lot of art and go to as many galleries as I can. Recently, I’ve been really interested in Sylvie Fleury’s work. And Richard Diebenkorn is an endless source of color inspiration.
Is there a person or label that’s most shaped your approach to design? Saint Martins informed my approach—challenge yourself, question, experiment, don’t be complacent, and research, research, research. At Loewe, I really got to understand the importance of considered detail in luxury garments, as well as how a collection works as a whole and the story it tells.
Who have you been most excited to see wear one of your suits? It’s so rewarding to see people wearing what you’ve created. Jorja Smith has been a supporter since the beginning; she just wore one of my suits in her latest music video, too. It’s great to have people come back for more because they like the product and believe in the brand.
Who are you dreaming to see wear your designs next? Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell!
What are three words that describe your personal style? Minimal, uncomplicated, and comfortable.
What’s your go-to outfit for a day off? When it’s this hot in Charleston, I like to wear one of my lycra mini skirts, a white or black tee, and black sneakers.
Who’s your ultimate style icon? I’ve never really had a style icon; for me, it’s more of a feeling and a mood that I’m drawn to. I have loads of old swimwear references from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s that I’ve found in the magazine archives I’m always revisiting—work by Jean-Daniel Lorieux, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Hans Feurer, Herb Ritts, and Steven Meisel, to name a few.
What’s the best fashion advice you’ve ever received? Don’t wear it if it bugs you. Everything used to bug me when I was younger so I was picky about what I wore—and maybe that’s one of the reasons I love swimwear. Now when I’m designing, it’s very important that the clothes are comfortable and feel right. I’m intentional about seam and hardware placement and using soft, quality fabrics. And no scratchy labels.
What piece of yours are you proudest of having designed? Sex Wax. It was one of the first swimsuits I made, and it’s so flattering.
What’s the most prized possession in your closet? A vintage Versace dress.
What was your first major fashion purchase? A vintage Hermès jacket by Margiela, which I bought when I moved to London.
What was the last thing that you purchased? A pair of Triple Black Nike Shox TL.
Which friend or fellow designer’s style do you most admire? Mowalola. We went to Saint Martins together and I’ve always admired her vision and personal style. She also looks amazing in LB.
What are your favorite places to shop? Aro Archive in London, and any art bookstore.
What’s your favorite fashion moment from pop culture? Tom Ford’s first collection for Gucci fall/winter 1995. But that was more revolutionary than just a moment.
What do you always keep in your bag? I never carry a bag.