Melissa “Missy” Isaksson decided several years ago that she wanted to be a professional swimsuit designer.
Less than a year after graduating from University of Wisconsin-Stout in apparel design and development, she is realizing her dream in a big way. One of her suits is featured in the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which hit newsstands Tuesday, Feb. 12.
Talk about exposure. By some estimates, SI sells four million copies of the magazine. Upwards of 70 million people see the magazine and online features of models in exotic locales.
Isaksson’s suit appears on Genevieve Morton on page 97 of the magazine and in two photos online. It’s a one-piece suit in pastel blue with pink trim. It features a nearly full-length front zipper.
Eight other suits she helped design for her company, Kate Swim, also made the magazine.
Isaksson, from Eau Claire, was traveling through Chicago last summer when she learned that the suit had been taken along for a photo shoot and might make the magazine. “I’m pretty sure I jumped up and down in the middle of O’Hare airport,” she said.
In December, while visiting her parents, Carol and Steve Isaksson, and family for Christmas she found out that the suit had indeed been chosen. “It’s probably one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me,” she said.
Sports Illustrated receives “thousands and thousands” of swimsuit submissions from apparel companies it invites to participate, Isaksson said.
Isaksson is an assistant designer for Kate Swim, a Las Vegas swimsuit design company. She started full time in July after finishing classes and after a Kate Swim internship. She designed the SI suit during her internship in June.
Kate Swim was founded by Kathleen Breuning. The only designers are Breuning and Isaksson. A design by Breuning made the cover of the 2012 swimsuit issue.
Swimsuits worn by SI models identify the company but not the individual designer. Kate Swim uses female names for its swimsuits. The suit worn by Morton in SI is named “The Missy” to celebrate Isaksson’s success.
In an online SI video, Morton said “The Missy” was one of her favorites this year because of the front zipper. Isaksson knows that SI looks for suits with sex appeal. “I had a lot of fun with it,” she said.
Kate Swim suits are custom-made. “The Missy” is made of nylon spandex and sells for $240. It can be seen at the Kate Swim website.
If product demand is strong, which is common after swimsuits appear in SI, then Kate Swim contracts with a manufacturer.
Passionate about swimsuits
Isaksson, a 2005 Eau Claire North High School graduate, originally went to school in Hawaii for marine biology but found herself skipping classes to go to the beach and sketch swimsuits.
“I knew I wanted to design swimsuits. I have a collection of probably 150 of them. I just kind of covet them,” she said, adding that she has traveled to 14 countries, all of them known for their beaches.
She transferred to UW-Stout’s apparel design and development program and put herself through school while working full time at SkyWest Airlines in Eau Claire.
At UW-Stout, she learned a “broad array” of skills — not just how to design but how to make clothing — needed in the highly competitive design market, she said. “The professors really pushed you,” she said.
Isaksson also minored in photography at UW-Stout. She took many of photos on the Kate Swim website.
For one of her final senior projects, in the class Apparel Design Studio, Isaksson created a four-piece collection of matching swimsuits.
“Missy was a unique student who lived with swimsuit designs swimming in her imagination all day long,” said Assistant Professor Kathryn Kujawa, who taught the class. “I never encountered a student with more passion, knowledge, and downright obsession for swimsuits.”
Isaksson didn’t care how long it took to make sure a suit was perfect; she embraced all the technical and creative challenges. “While other students tried to ignore little inaccuracies, Missy would happily offer to make a new sample over and over again with a huge smile on her face,” Kujawa said.
“No student deserves a successful career in swimwear more than her,” Kujawa added.
For more information on the apparel design and development program, click here.