Imagine a cruise line, headed by Grace Jones, carrying around a bunch of rich old Italian ladies. That’s the back story designer Lisa Katnic created to explain her line of one-piece swimsuits. She was fueled by a “fetish for the disco and club-kid culture” to start Katnic Swimwear, suits that “enable you to feel like a tacky aristocrat by day and James St. James by night.”

I first ran across Katnic on the Cobrasnake photo Web site, and she stood out from the rest of the pessimistic scenesters with an unruly, childlike sense of any situation. Whether she stomped around in boots fashioned from Tecate 12-pack boxes on a Wednesday or rocked a fringed metallic spandex unitard on a Tuesday, I could tell it wasn’t that she just didn’t give a fuck, but that she really saw it as a public service to poke the proverbial doughboy in his belly. I remember thinking, Wow, what would happen if she actually designed clothes — would they be as maniacal and fanciful as her giant smile? Well, she already did and they definitely were.

Born of fantastic juxtapositions of bold patterns, Katnic’s swimsuits seem almost made for the stage; there’s a theatrical quality to the pieces, while they still retain function and a unique identity. It’s no surprise, then, to learn that it all began with a play. At 16, she was asked to design costumes for a high school Cirque du Soleil rip-off. “I knew I had to learn how to sew and to realize a thematic thread between all of the garments,” Katnic explains. At 18, she moved to Hawaii and had a simple realization: passé thrift-store treasures were completely impractical. She pawned them off and proceeded to don a daily uniform of bikinis and one-pieces. Now how much more of a utilitarian impetus for a craft can you ask for in a designer? She’s been gaining attention steadily; last fall, she made a splash at the “Gen Art Fresh Faces” shows during Fashion Week.

Her new swimsuit line offers an alternative to the near nudity found in the beach-ready bikini, readily available at any posh L.A. boutique or displayed on the ass of any shameless starlet. Katnic’s designs are a mix of bygone eras — part Studio 54–inspired fantasy, combined with eyebrow-raising compositions and enough ’80s-kitsch frosting to satisfy a still-legitimate hipster-chic sweet tooth. It all comes from a designer five years the junior of those still-misunderstood fashion revolutions. And there is the undeniable irony of Lisa Katnic. She upholds a sense of freewheeling fantasy that most have lost and only a few have dared to breach. Her swimsuits are made for a bawdy persona caught between a John Waters flick and a long night with Donatella Versace.

The pieces are barely there, but they’re complicated in their multilayered construction. Some even seem to trick the eye, like an M.C. Escher sketch, with overlapping passages of fabric disappearing and reappearing behind each other in the most unpredictable ways. Katnic also challenges the definition of what a one-piece swimsuit is. While certain sections bridge your thin little torso, they only imply cohesion as briefly as possible between a primarily separate sense of top and bottom. The unexpected flash of a garish pattern is parallel to the cartoonish aesthetic of überhip and most-of-the-time-toxic Jeremy Scott. The overall form has the balance of a Calder mobile combined with the classic Halston sling shape. “I think they keep you busy visually, and I think that’s very important in a time when we’ve so little of our attention spans left. I definitely try to reflect that notion,” says Katnic. And if you’re in love with your bellybutton, you may need to implement your own hole punch, because they are almost always left to the imagination.

No one knows where fashion will be in two years, but our sense of what can and can’t be done is surely evaporating. These creations are vehicles of a more intense sense of self-expression and humor — something we could all use. Currently these vibrant offsets to the body are only custom made. They are meant to be one-of-a-kind statements that capture the nonlinear, chaotic fashion sense of a hoodlum from The Road Warrior. So get one before everyone figures it out — and get an incongruent sense of baring your shit.

Katnic’s swimsuits run $175 to $200, available at Scout, 7920 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 658-8684, or online at iamkatnic@yahoo.com.

LA Weekly