In the 24 years that we have had a swim-suit issue, only a few places, such as Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Hawaii, Baja California and now Tahiti, have lured us back. For this year's issue we succumbed to the longing of senior editor Jule Campbell—who chooses everything from the suits to the models to the locations for our midwinter feature—to pay a return visit to the South Pacific.
In 1968, when we last turned our attention to Tahiti, Campbell's efforts resulted in a cover shot featuring Polynesian beauty Turia Mau and 15 pages of suits against sun, surf and sky in an issue that ran to 64 pages. Now, 18 years later, the issue has burgeoned to 230 pages, 36 of them graced with Brian Lanker's photographs from Moorea, Bora Bora, Tahiti and Huahine in the Society Islands (see map).
"There isn't a single harsh thing about the setting," says Campbell. "It's so soft, luxurious and feminine. We saw orchids and hibiscus and bougainvillea, and lagoons of every color imaginable—aqua, sapphire, turquoise. Even the language is soft.
"Gauguin was one of the people who brought us to Tahiti. We were hoping to capture a Gauguin flavor. We tried to incorporate flowers in as many pictures as possible."
We also have Campbell to thank for the idea for senior writer Bruce Newman's piece on Tahiti's Tiurai festival, which begins on page 136. When she arrived in Papeete to scout locations last June, Campbell got to talking to several of the contestants in the Tiurai, which was just getting under way. Intrigued, she phoned New York, and senior editor Julie Lamb dispatched Newman to paradise. "We didn't give him much time to pack his lavalava," says Lamb. Neither Newman nor photographer Craig Molenhouse was heard to complain about the assignment.
Campbell is expert at tending to details, but she also has benefited from a bit of luck. "Last year Brian had asked me if there was some ultimate picture we'd tried for year after year and never got," she says. "And there was one I had always wanted: a rain shot, with a suntanned girl's face turned to the sky."
And so it happened that one rainy day, as the SI crew sat huddled in a sheltered boat cursing the weather, Lanker suggested they go for it. Campbell pulled out the most colorful suit she could find, and just as model Coco Mitchell slipped into it and found a coral head to stand on, the sky over Bora Bora began to break.
"Behind her was the biggest rainbow I had ever seen, so bright it reflected in the water," Campbell says. "Coco was still wet from the rain, wearing a suit with every color in that rainbow."
You'll find Campbell's "ultimate" picture in the swimsuit portfolio, which begins on page 102. We suspect you'll enjoy searching for it.