Guests to South Fourth’s eclectic tiki bar The Limbo wouldn’t be too surprised to walk in on a Saturday night and find a swimsuit fashion show. The Limbo already is known for its sense of otherworldliness and nostalgia.
And besides, isn’t there an inherent appropriateness of a swimsuit at the beach implied by the tiki theme?
On the third Saturday of each month, that’s exactly what Limbo patrons see. The swimsuits on display come from the sewing machine of Laura Patterson, whose company Cannonball Swimwear has been turning out handmade Louisville swimwear for three summers.
Insider sat with the artisan to talk about her creative endeavors, her first “perfect” swimsuit and, of course, those late-night fashion shows.
Before she started making one-pieces and bikinis, Patterson worked on a broader line of clothing under her nom de couture “Laura Fauna.”
“That was clothes, dresses … I made coats, I made whatever I felt like making,” says Patterson.
Making whatever she feels like making is something of a guiding principle for her, and a subject that comes up repeatedly in conversation. “With everything I do, it just evolves. I’m just trying to find something that feels good and that fits into my lifestyle. ”
The switch from a broader base of clothing came in one specific moment for Patterson, but it had been brewing under the surface for a long time.
“I’ve been trying on and off to make a swimsuit that I love for a really long time,” she explains. “I’ve always — when I’ve bought swimsuits — there’s always things you don’t like about them, so I always ripped them apart and put them back together.”
Masculine folks may think that sounds a little obsessive, but the femmes out there know well the odyssey of finding a swimsuit that fits up top, down low and looks cool, too.
Patterson’s search for a great swimsuit included making lots of swimsuits from scratch, and when it reached an apotheosis, she decided to start selling them through her Laura Fauna brand.
“I finally got it right,” she says. “I made something that’s beautiful, sellable, wearable, comfortable. They fit people. You can move and be active in them. They’re great swimsuits.”
Patterson feels her confidence in the product is well-earned.
“I can say that because I made a lot of not great swimsuits in order to get these great swimsuits,” she says. “I threw a lot of stuff in the trash just because it looked terrible. I made things that just didn’t work. I’d put them on and be like, ‘Oh wow, this doesn’t look good, doesn’t feel good.’”
Patterson believes failure is necessary for any successful project or product, and that’s part of what keeps her trying new things.
“I think failure is what’s interesting to me,” she says.
She likens this to her athletic training, casually mentioning her personal regimen, which sounds pretty intense.
“When you’re trying to get somewhere physically … what you do is go till failure, and that’s how you find the next level,” says Patterson. “If you lift weights, think about it, you rep till failure. You do it till you can’t do it anymore. You run until you can’t run anymore.”
At first, she sold the swimsuits successfully through her former brand and website, but she let herself be led by the joy she takes from creating swimsuits.
“I realized I wasn’t going to make anything else anymore,” she says.
She began to brainstorm a name and a look for her new company. In response to questions about the origin of the name, Patterson asks, “You know that band The Breeders?”
Nineties kids who watched MTV probably don’t need much more of an answer. The Breeders had a hit song off their album “The Last Splash,” and the heavy rotation video featured people having lots of fun in swimsuits. The name of that song was “Cannonball.”
Patterson gets out in the community for “trunk shows” once or twice a year, but what keeps her business running, she says, is her Instagram account. She says people will see stuff they like on that social media platform, message her and then check out her full inventory.
When she does take the suits out for a sale, it’s usually linked to the local arts community, such as the recent pop-up at Revelry Boutique Gallery. Patterson says this is because of her pre-swimsuit passions.
“I was already an artist, already a musician, and I already knew all those people,” she explains. “People like Mo (McKnight Howe, Revelry’s owner) and all the arts people.”
She still views what she does as equal parts art and business, and she has mostly stopped doing anything else creative because of her intense focus on swimwear.
“I get busy. I switch around my projects. I can never stay with one thing I’m going to do forever,” she admits. “This is a thing I’m doing right now that is going really great. When I’m interested in something else, I’ll go do something else.”
Until she gets her next business inspiration, you can find Cannonball Swimwear online and at The Limbo on the third Saturday of each month.
You’ll see people feeling sexy and strutting, but don’t expect 6-foot-tall runway models. The people populating The Limbo’s catwalk are all friends and patrons of Patterson.
In fact, they bring their own past purchases, which Patterson says speaks to the power of those suits.
“When you have a new swimsuit that’s really awesome, most people are really excited to get out there and sport it,” she says.