Fashion: Under cover of darkness (and Lycra): You don't have to be a supermodel to look good in these. Roger Tredre welcomes the return of swimwear cut to flatter

WHEN Burt Lancaster frolicked on the beach in Honolulu with Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity, cinema- goers were thrilled, although many thought the scene rather shocking. Remember this was 1953 (although the story itself was set in 1941). A decent chap just did not do that sort of thing, and certainly not with the wife of his commanding officer.

However, it was a glorious episode in the development of modern swimwear. The scene sent out all the right signals to the newly emerging consumer society. Here was sun, sea, sex and fashion whisked together with an impact that an advertising copywriter would be hard pushed to match.

Forty years on, the swimsuits worn in that celebrated scene are back in fashion. This is welcome news for both men and women. Deborah Kerr's swimsuit was shaped to enhance her figure; the underwired construction, in particular, flattered her bust. Similar designs will do the same for women this summer.

Meanwhile, men's swimming trunks of the style favoured by Burt Lancaster are making a return, after years in which men's swimwear has alternated between the absurdly brief (from the slip to the thong) to the absurdly unpractical (water-logged beach shorts). Trim but high-waisted trunks are the best, if only because they help to conceal the imperfections of those who do not possess washboard stomachs.

In the Nineties, designers have come to the sound conclusion that most of us are not blessed with beautiful bodies. We need swimwear that flatters rather than merely imitates our less-than-perfect forms.

The difference between then and now is the fabric. The development of materials containing Lycra means that structured swimwear need no longer feel cumbersome. A typical boned swimsuit from the Fifties weighed about 12 ounces, at least three times the weight of today's underwired designs.

Lancaster and Kerr got it right from another point of view: their swimming togs covered up as much as they revealed. Now we know rather more about the dangers of excessive sun (from melanoma to wrinkling of the skin), we can applaud their wisdom.

A pity, however, they did not stop to slap some factor 15 on to each other's backs. For our remake of From Here to Eternity, we decided to play it thoroughly safe - fashionably, if not politically, correct. We shot the new swimsuits on a Californian beach at night when there was no danger of harmful UV rays.

This summer, Hollywood glamour is having an impact on all beachwear. Look out for Forties- and Fifties-style matching skirts that give new versatility to swimwear. The prints of the Fifties, from gingham to polka dots, are back in favour, too.

For our shoot we chose to marry fashion with a sports look: streamlined, striped one-piece tank suits and unfussy, plain two-piece sets. Nothing beats navy and white stripes or plain black.

A final word on this summer's swimwear: ignore fashion magazines that propose string bikinis as part of the Seventies revival. These skimpy pieces are neither sexy nor flattering, unless you have the figure of a supermodel. They should be worn only by teenagers or Brazilian sun-goddesses on Copacabana beach.

(Photograph omitted)