If you’re a breast cancer survivor, you might think you’ve worn your last bikini. Think again.
Veronica Brett, an independent New York swimwear label, is giving cancer survivors a chance to head back to the beach in fashionable styles that rival the hottest looks under the sun.
Veronica Brett bills itself as the first luxury swim line designed exclusively for breast cancer survivors and women who have undergone risk-reducing mastectomies.
The young designer label offers a range of sexy, fashion-forward suits in black and white, as well as distinctive color-pop signature looks in tangerine and turquoise.
It’s also one of the most extraordinary stories in American fashion today, and has already been featured in leading magazines such as Oprah, Harper’s Bazaar and Glamour.
Founder Patricia Brett (the brand is named for Patricia’s late aunt) launched her first collection in 2010 after discovering first-hand how the fashion landscape shrinks for women who have had mastectomies.
The Ohio native, who worked as an architect in New York, watched breast cancer ravage her family for generations. Three aunts (including Veronica) died of the disease at an early age, and in 1998 her sister received the same diagnosis. Later, a total of five Brett cousins were diagnosed with either breast or ovarian cancer.
Tests showed the family carried a genetic mutation that means an 85% chance of getting breast cancer in a person’s lifetime. After testing positive for the gene herself in 2002, Patricia underwent a voluntary, prophylactic double mastectomy and reconstruction at age 39 to eliminate the risk. Five years later, she had her ovaries removed.
“While these measures may seem drastic to some, it was the only way I could insure that breast or ovarian cancer would not prevent me from some day attending my son’s wedding or seeing him graduate from college,” she said.
Her plunge into fashion design began one weekend in 2007 while listening to her sister and her young niece — who also inherited the deadly gene and opted for a risk-reducing mastectomy — agonize over the lack of apparel choices for women in their situation.
“This was my 5′-2″, blond-haired, blue-eyed, tiny, beautiful, recently married niece who wore cute little camisoles with colorful bra straps peeking out,” Patricia said. “While she had made peace with the idea of surgery, she spent the weekend venting, ‘I’ll have to give away my entire wardrobe!'”
The next day, Patricia began doing sketches and creating a business plan that would eventually become Veronica Brett.
“I set out to create something to help both breast cancer survivors and pre-vivors (women who opt for pre-emptive risk-reducing mastectomies) look and feel like a million bucks again,” she said.
“I figured, if I can design a building, I should be able to design a better swimsuit.”
Before launching her label, she conducted a survey of 400 breast cancer survivors from across the U.S. and found that 0% said they were satisfied with the post-mastectomy swimwear options on the market.
Each Veronica Brett piece is engineered to accommodate breast forms and prosthetic inserts, but that doesn’t limit style options for women dealing with the unique challenges of finding garments that suit their new shape.
From traditional one-piece suits to bandeaus, bikinis, wraps and even a deep-plunge front-lacing halter, Veronica Brett offers what might have seemed unthinkable: a complete range of styles that don’t look like medical garments.
This weekend, women in New York will have a chance to discover the Veronica Brett collection in person when the label hosts its first-ever pop-up shop in Chelsea.
The shop runs from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday at the Margaret Thatcher Projects art gallery at 539 West 23rd Street and will offer swimwear as well as sarongs and caftans.
Veronica Brett has also earned a reputation for actively supporting several breast cancer charities and support groups, and 10% of proceeds from this weekend’s sale will go toward the Young Survival Coalition, the first non-profit to exclusively serve the needs of young women affected by breast cancer.
The label not only borrows the name of Patricia’s aunt, who died 35 years ago at age 44, it also uses her as a role model for others.
Veronica, Patricia said, “was beautiful, intelligent, elegant and an inspiration. I want every woman who wears a product bearing her name to feel the same way.”
Visit the brand’s website or Facebook profile to find a list of online stockists and retail boutiques carrying Veronica Brett.