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Original Issue

Here's to the Soft Life

"I feel as if I'm in a special place, far away, in another country," said an astounded tourist after viewing the secluded barrier islands near Panama City on Florida's west coast. That's the reaction of many visitors to this unspoiled area, with its great stretches of beach and wind-sculpted dunes. Just as surprising are some of the state's other out-of-the-way places: the lush forest around Wakulla Springs, the rocky shore of the east coast's Hutchinson Island, the sponge-diving center of Tarpon Springs, where Lena Kansbod has found a comfy spot to bag some rays in a beaded bikini by Monika Tilley for Elon ($39). Much of this year's swimwear suits the settings. Even cover subject Christie Brinkley has a castaway look in her artfully tattered suit by Liza Bruce ($58), as she shares the sunset with terns on an old pirate stronghold, Captiva Island. For another view of Florida, and its future, turn to page 82.

A smile is Carol Alt's umbrella as she mimes the bathing beauty adorning her tank suit, designed by Leah Gottlieb for Gottex ($56), while gracing St. Joseph Beach in the panhandle.

Kelly Emberg, in a lace-edged Lycra camisole suit by Bonnie August of Danskin ($19), fleetingly populates uninhabited Shell Island, a 5½-mile-long stretch of sand near Panama City.

The cool pool below a Cypress Garden waterfall is the perfect place for a dip, as Rita Tellone has just discovered. She's semi-attired in a Lycra tank suit from Gottex of Israel ($42).

Christie struts her stuff—a suit ($48) and reversible jacket ($100) from Gottex—on Hutchinson Island, north of Palm Beach, where the rocky coastline seems more like Maine than Florida.

No, that's not a snake in the grass; it's Carol amid the sea oats on Shell Island. Her snakeskin-print suit by Bill Blass Beachwear ($44) certainly doesn't constrict her.

At Wakulla Springs, a 4,000-acre wildlife sanctuary near Tallahassee that's chockablock with exotic plants, birds, fish and—watch that oar—alligators, Kelly pokes about in a Gideon Oberson suit ($67).

He's awfully short, but kinda cute, thinks Rita as she tries to bring a 400-pound, 30-year-old Galapagos tortoise out of his shell at Disney World. Rita's less weighty covering is by Gideon Oberson ($59).

"You Tarzan, me Christie," our heroine seems to be saying as she legs' it along Red Fish Pass on Captiva Island in a strapless leopard-spotted chamois that Norma Kamali designed for OMO ($185).

Rita looks for a pad of her very own in a pool of variegated water lilies at Cypress Gardens. Her Lycra suit, made in England for Liza Bruce ($56), is appliquèd with the leaves of the Monstera deliciosa.

On the beach on Shell Island, a boat to match one's suit is nothing to skiff at, and lucky Carol's handsomely harmonized ensemble includes a maillot by Moi ($60).

Christie lingers until the very last flicker of light on Johnson's Shoals off Captiva. Her silky Lycra suit is adorned with an embroidered satin rose designed by Monika Tilley for Elon ($60).

Kelly takes off her hat to greet the dawn beside a sweet-water lagoon on Shell Island. Her shadow-striped Lycra maillot with a halter neck is created in Israel by Gideon Oberson ($67).

Let's hear ruffles and flourishes for Christie who makes a splash at South Seas Plantation resort on Captiva in a suit by Monika Tilley for Elon ($45) that has a skirt for dry-land conditions.

Laved by wavelets, Christie listens to terns cry as they wheel off shell-strewn Captiva. Her suit, which has a modest Lycra front, is by Norma Kamali for OMO ($75).