Every year at about this time, women across America start to panic. They jog, they sweat, they starve on celery and club soda. And when the moment of destiny for which they have prepared arrives, even the tautest of tummies is apt to turn somersaults. Buying a bathing suit is never fun.

Lisa Lomas has designs on changing all that. Her nine-month-old company, H2O Swimwear, Ltd., specializes in skimpy suits adorned with fanciful flourishes that make them a cut above—and below—the rest. "I want women to feel like they're buying evening gowns for the beach," says Lomas, 33. "No matter who you are, you're going to look beautiful in my suits." (Sure. And the check is in the mail.)

With that promise H2O is making a big splash. Model Paulina Porizkova chose to wear mainly H2O designs on her forthcoming photo calendar. A green H2O tank suit with a rhinestone heart, amply filled out by model Elle Macpherson, decorated the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S swimwear issue in February. Bergdorf Goodman, Saks and Blooming-dale's were all enthusiastic, and at Manhattan's Henri Bendel, the collection (priced from $50 to $175) sold out briskly.

Lomas grew up in Westchester County, N.Y., where she collected bathing suits "the way other people buy shoes. I've always had tons of them." She went to work as a scout for New York's Elite modeling agency. Then at a business convention in Puerto Rico last winter, Lomas' self-styled, sparkling aqua bikini drew so many raves that a friend suggested she make her own. Intrigued, Lomas rang up Holly Green, 36, a pal who owns several clothing stores, and together they created 25 slinky styles, which they peddled from Green's showroom and Lomas' Manhattan apartment.

With $1.5 million in projected sales this year, their working conditions have markedly improved. Future plans call for a men's swimwear collection and even H2O perfume. "H2O is going to be the Rolls-Royce of bathing suit lines," vows Lomas. For women whose figures more closely resemble Volkswagen vans, H2O is on the case. Green holds up a suit with a skirt and announces, "This is our cellulite item."