The Facekini Gets an Upgrade, but Fails to Catch On

Popular with China's dama's, but that's it

Don’t be fooled, these photos are not a promotional still from the latest superhero movie, but rather the latest iteration in the Chinese cultural phenomenon that refuses to die, the facekini.

First showing up on the beaches of Qingdao, Shandong about ten years ago, the facekini is a piece of beachwear designed to protect the face from the harmful effects of the sun.

As Shanghai Daily reports, pale skin is highly-prized in China because it is regarded as delicate and feminine. Darker skin, on the other hand, is not.

Designer Zhang Shifan, who says she invented the facekini in 2007, says these designs are the 6.0 version of the swimwear. The facekini, originally a device worn over the head, has now been incorporated as part of a one-piece unitard, making users resemble crime-fighting crusaders wearing skin-tight uniforms.

But Zhang’s designs have a clear theme in mind, showcasing ten endangered animals that include the giant panda and the Siberian tiger. The body of the suit is decorated with animal print, while a picture of the animal adorns the back.

“In the past I really wanted to do everything I could to avoid scaring people,” said Zhang. “If I were to make a facekini, I wouldn’t make a black one, a white one, not dark colors. But scaring people still couldn’t be avoided. So I thought ‘Why don’t I draw some Peking opera designs that Chinese people like instead?’ So little children might not be so scared when they see these designs.”

Over the years, the facekini has threatened to become one of China’s leading cultural exports, having once appeared in a Paris fashion magazine. However, Zhang admits that the facekini has failed to trend overseas despite all the attention it has gained.

“We’ve tried promoting our products overseas after the pictures of our products went viral, but it didn’t turn out well. We’ve only had small orders from Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan in the past few years,” said Zhang.

This summer has seen a controversy over the “burkini”, a similar piece of beachwear worn by Muslim women that covers up their bare skin that has been banned in France. Despite its similarities to the facekini, Zhang says she doesn’t understand.

“I can’t really make sense of it,” she said. “I thought it’s the bikinis that could be banned.”

Charles Liu

The Nanfang's Senior Editor