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Derriere To Be Different

"It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done."
Does local businesswoman Marion van Rooy: House the homeless?
Feed the hungry?
Save the whales?

Or does she sell $90, custom-fitted, computer-measured swimming suits to women in Scottsdale?

"People come in a little negative, a little worried," says van Rooy, proprietor of Computerized Swimwear Systems. "When they pick up their suit, they are actually hugging me, saying `Oh, I am so happy!'"

The store's gimmick--the computer thing--was first used about five years ago by Florida-based entrepreneur Michelle Deziel. Intrigued by news reports about microchip-aided garment fitting, Deziel contacted a now-anonymous programmer and charged him with bringing space-age technology into the fitting room. In just a few weeks she had opened her first store. Today she oversees a loose network of about twenty shops around the country that use her pioneering measuring system. At van Rooy's Scottsdale store, which has been printing out suit styles since December 1988, fittings are by appointment only. But don't get the wrong idea: Not all of her patrons are glamour gals. "We really have a wide variety," she says. "My oldest customer was 89 years old, married for seventy years. Her husband did this as a surprise for their anniversary."

Customers, aided by a store "designer," first sift through several dozen suit styles, which are presented as black-cloth generic prototypes. When just the right look is decided upon, the customer poses for a few seconds, front view and profile, in front of a video camera. A computer then "reads" the video image. "The computer does the measuring inside its little brain, does the numbers and calculations: bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep," explains Deziel via telephone from her headquarters, Second Skin Swimwear, near Palm Beach. "Then it spits out a numerical pattern. The designer looks at the numbers, circles a few, then lays out the fabric and cuts a suit." The entire fitting process takes about forty minutes. After two or three weeks in the construction phase, the custom-made suit is ready to be lounged in at poolside. The customer has looked through hundreds of different fabrics and tried dozens of top-and-bottom combinations. She has been measured by computer. So much trouble for so little coverage. But for the female of the species it's worth it. Apparently, buying an off-the-rack swimming suit is one of the untold horrors of what it means to be a woman. According to informed sources, store-bought suits you might consider being caught dead in start at about $50. Rarely are those suits a perfect fit everywhere on everyone.

"I never realized how many women needed this," Deziel says of her service. "If they're not top-heavy, they're bottom-heavy. There's always a problem."

To hear Deziel tell it, the now-antiquated tape-measure ritual of being fitted for a custom suit was equally horrific. "To get any custom garment, it's the measuring that's the critical part," Deziel says. "Bathing suits are pretty traumatic. Thinking about it gets women a little bit whiny. It would be kind of painful to a customer to be hand-measured."

Men don't know such pain, Deziel says. A few dudes come into her stores in search of racy custom suits, usually "fitted styles, made in stretch Lycra--no baggies or boxers here," she notes approvingly. But mostly her computer measures women. "Men just don't have the bathing-suit trauma that women do," Deziel says. "I've never seen one in tears because he can't find a suit that fits."

Apparently, buying an off-the-rack swimming suit is one of the untold horrors of what it means to be a woman.

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Dave Walker