Swim expert, fashion editor, and world traveler, Diane Smith takes keeping chic on the beach to new heights with her blog, Swim A La Mode. A thirteen year stint as Swimsuit Editor for Sports Illustrated brought fair-skinned Diane to the best beaches in the world, working with top models and photographers from July through December. Today, she brings her insider’s view of off-the-clock style to the blogosphere with Swim A La Mode where the resort lifestyle is year round news. In Diane’s World, staying chic, stylish and modern is not limited to the shore or pool – it’s anywhere you can get wet or wear resort.
How did your career start and what led you to styling swim and beachwear for Sports Illustrated?
I started my career as a guest editor at Mademoiselle. I entered their College Competition and the magazine brought me to New York to start working at Condé Nast. I was a painter – so I entered some of my artwork into the contest and made it past the preliminary choices. Fern Mallis, who was an editor there at the time, showed up at UC-Santa Barbara and selected me. From Mademoiselle, I went to Glamour.
How did Sports Illustrated gig come about?
I am a California girl born and raised. I was a not a beach girl which was why I moved to New York in the first place. The Sports Illustrated opportunity came up when I was at Glamour and I thought what a great opportunity. In some ways, it was like having my own magazine. Suddenly, I was doing everything: picking locations, photographers and models. All the things I was trained for culminated in the perfect job.
When you started doing the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue it was not the high profile magazine that it is today. How did you transform it?
I wanted to bring style and fashion as well as sexiness to the magazine – subtly. I also wanted to make it very believable so it felt a bit like cinéma vérité, peering in on something intimate.
How did you approach styling the models?
It was such a pleasure to work with the models! They were all so beautiful and I tried to make them look as natural as possible. My favorite photos were almost always what I call the come as you are looks capturing the moment the models came off plane or woke up in the morning, looking beautiful and natural. My guiding tenants: undone, natural and sexy.
How did the idea for your blog, Swim A La Mode, come about?
I was so excited to launch the blog. It was the obvious next step. It’s a culmination of my knowledge of years being in industry and experiences. I thought, well, I have so much experience, and so many contacts in the industry. Plus, I did not see anyone covering the life of swim.
How does running a blog compare to working in print?
The immediate is what is so fun about the blog. It challenges me to keep my eyes and ears open all the time. The spontaneity of it is great. Plus, there is such a wider array of subjects we can cover: jewelry, travel, shoes, beauty, or just about anything.
Is it a refreshing change from working at Sports Illustrated?
Yes. I worked on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue for 13 years and it takes over your life from July through December. There was so much involved – lots of people, luggage, customs, paperwork, and so forth. We were always getting ready to go somewhere else. I like that I don’t have to be on road for so long and can work from the comfort of my own home. Plus the transition of not having to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning was great!
Best beaches for photos?
The color of the beach makes a huge difference in photographs. For example, grey sand is very tricky. The most beautiful beach to shoot is Harbor Island. It has pink sand so the light reflection comes out with a beautiful, glow. In 2006, we took eight past cover girls to Harbor Island beach to photograph and it was magical. The book Exposure by Raphael Mazzucco came out of it because there were so many gorgeous pictures.
What are the most beautiful beaches you’ve traveled to?
Canary Island has black sand and the beach resembles caviar, and I recall it being so special. Croatia’s beaches were also surprisingly beautiful.
Do you stay in touch with the models?
Yes, definitely. You have such a bond with them when you go on these trips. I’ve become so proud of them. Petra Nemcova, who is a dear friend, went through one of the worst possible experiences. And now she’s become such a strong advocate for children. She’s such a good-hearted person. They saved her life, and now she is saving theirs.
What are some of your favorite resort collections?
Love Sam, Basta Surf, Marysia Swim, Luli Fama and Ale by Alessandra. Alessandra Ambrosio is the ultimate beach girl.
What are your must-have items to bring to the beach?
I am definitely not a sun worshipper. So, lotion or sunscreen of some kind, a great pair of sunglasses, hat and cover up. It always seemed so ironic to me that a German, Irish fair skinned girl who hates the sun lived in the sun!