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Women's ethnic print Peek-a-boo swimsuit

Date: 1940s
Overall: 650 x 315 mm, 150 g
Medium: Cotton and rayon
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Swimsuit
Object No: 00045203
Place Manufactured:United States

User Terms

    A women's ethnic print rayon 'peek-a-boo' style swimsuit made by Cole of California, USA.

    SignificanceThis swimsuit is significant in reflecting fashion trends and cross cultural influences in American and Australian swimwear in the 1940s.
    HistoryIn 1946 the modern bikini was launched in Paris. This daring two piece swimsuit was so brief it could be pulled through a wedding ring. The spectacle of women baring so much flesh in public was rejected in America and Australia where swimsuits were more modest. Instead one piece costumes were cleaverly tailored to reveal more of the bust and midriff with plunging necklines and cutaway midriffs. Margit Fellegi used Hollywood glamour as the inspiration for the midriff suit with is tie bra top, peek-a-boo cutaway midriff and ruching and shirring to create a swimsuit that was both form hugging and revealing. The two piece swimsuit with bra top and high waisted trunks soon followed.

    The 1970s saw the introduction of the side-baring swimsuit with high cut thighs and dramatic crossover bust. Such swimsuits were designed for sculptured bodies honed to perfection by workouts and costmetic surgery. This trend continued into the 1980s where the swimsuit was an artful frame for the perfectly shaped and toned body. No longer was the swimsuit designed to hide imperfections.

    Cole of California began as the swimwear division of the West Coast Knitting Mills when Fred Cole, a former actor, joined the family firm in 1925. He directed his passion for glamour, beauty and theatre into designing women's swimwear that aimed to be a fashion statement rather than a purely functional garment.

    Cole maintained his links to Hollywood by employing cinema costume designers and making swimsuits for film stars. Esther Williams signed a modelling contract with Cole of California which included an annual swimear design named after the star.

    From 1936-1972 the company employed former theatrical designer Margit Felligi as head designer. She introduced innovations such as the use of synthetic fibres including Lastex, nylon and spandex. In 1965 Felligi created a one piece suit with a plunging net front aptly named the 'Scandal Suit'.

    Cole of California continues to manufacture swimwear, and Fred Cole's daughter Anne designs for the related company Anne Cole (2008).
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