By Jamie Caulley
For the Hollywood Star News
Need some help overcoming the dreaded approach of swimsuit season?
Try Popina, 2030 N.E. 42nd Ave., a bathing suit boutique with the largest selection of women’s swimwear in the Northwest. Interesting, given our city is known more for its rain gear than swimwear, but Portland was the springboard for modern swimsuit styling.
In 1910, the present-day company known as Jantzen, started making bathing suits under the name Jantzen Knitting Mills in downtown Portland. Those initial swim costumes, as they were referred to then, were made of knitted wool.
“They [Jantzen] were the real initiator of swimwear that you wear for leisure,” said Pamela Levenson, owner and designer of Popina’s swim line. “Before that you went in the water to bathe.” Of course that was usually without a bathing suit.
Levenson stumbled into the swimwear business when she found limited availability while shopping for her own suit in Portland. “I’ve got the ability,” she thought at the time. “I should just design and make my own.”
With a fondness for the styles of the 1940s and 1950s, Levenson decided to interpret them using modern fabrics and more contemporary styling.
“I included that in the suits I initially made, and today that is still a big influence on me,” Levenson said.
After designing her own swimsuits (now made with an 80/20 blend of nylon and spandex) as well as swimsuits for friends and on consignment, Levenson opened a store with the help of her husband, Will. That first store opened in 2006 at Northeast Alberta Street and 42nd Avenue. A second store, located in the Pearl, opened in 2010.
“We love being in Hollywood,” Pamela Levenson said about moving the Alberta shop to its current Hollywood location in 2013. “What a charming neighborhood. There is a lot of great energy here and great businesses.”
In the back of the store sits the design area where Pamela Levenson develops the prototypes for her suits, including tankinis, bikinis, one-piece suits and various bottoms for women. Popina also carries other brands of men’s and women’s suits, kid’s suits, chorine-resistant suits (for lap or competitive swimming) and European bra size suits. Many of the accessories you’ll need for a swim adventure can be found there, too.
The Levensons realize a swimsuit is not something most people purchase frequently.
“You buy it once a year, maybe. Maybe once every 10 years, depending on the customer,” Pamela Levenson said.
For that reason, the store is designed to make the shopping experience as easy as possible. Amenities include a bar with taps and a TV so your significant other can hang out while you contemplate your purchase, a kid’s corner to keep the young set occupied, a generous selection of sale-priced items that includes $10 options, and a wide selection of merchandise displayed year round.
Not only does Popina have more swimwear options than any other local store, but Pamela Levenson has stayed true to the “Popina formula,” offering suits with moderate coverage that feature flattering, youthful designs that don’t leave the wearer too exposed.
In fact, several suits from Popina’s original line are still the most popular styles today, including “Grace,” a one-piece suit with a 1940s style; “Freda,” a retro bikini top that can be paired with Popina’s draw-cord boy shorts; and Pamela Levenson’s personal favorite, the retro halter top.
“Different suits sell for different reasons. There is such a wide variety of bodies out there,” Pamela Levenson said of her goal to create fashionable, comfortable swimwear for all types of bodies.
2030 N.E. 42nd Ave.
Open 7 days a week: Monday-Wednesday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
318 N.W. 11th Ave.
(503) 243-SWIM (7946)
Open seven days a week: Monday-Wednesday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.