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Croquis Artistiques Tricots - designs for women's leisurewear

Date: 1936
Overall: 345 x 230 mm
Medium: Coloured wax pencil, black and coloured printing inks, water soluble paints
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Dale O'Sullivan
Object Name: Design
Object No: ANMS0439[013]

User Terms

    Hand coloured designs for female leisurewear by Australian designer Peter O'Sullivan.
    Titled Croquis Artistiques Tricots (Sketches of Artistic Knitwear) the image features five different designs for summer beach or resort wear.

    SignificancePeter O'Sullivan was the first Australian to successfully design and manufacture swimwear for export to the United States of America. He would later secure the world patent for the square buckle on the belt that held woollen trunks up. The design was later immortalised as the Superman buckle.

    HistoryFrom the 1920s to the 1930s it was a liberating time for swimwear designers such as Peter O’Sullivan (1904-1977) as new fabrics like lastex, a yarn with rubber core encased in wool, silk, rayon or cotton threads, was introduced to the market leaving the cumbersome and, heavy when wet, wool behind, giving the designers more freedom to create a more daring and figure hugging pieces in a variety of colours.

    The public accepted the shrinking swimsuits trend, but the government put up resistance – especially to men exposing their chests by wearing trunks. This daring style was met with public protests and by the end of the 19 30sbeach inspectors refused to uphold the by-law allowing swimwear to become shorter and sexier.

    After leaving his family farm in Inervell, New South Wales, Peter began labouring in wheat silos at the age of 14. He then purchased a motorcycle franchise, moved to Sydney and had a couple of jobs involving car and motorcycle repairs and servicing before switching to swimwear design and manufacture.
    O’Sullivan was one of the first Australians to successfully design and manufacture swimwear to export to America. From his Melbourne Botany Knitting Mill in Prahan, Peter incorporated imaginative design details such as buckles, decorative buttons, contrast trims and polka-dot patterns. He understood that the market was demanding an elegant and streamlined approach to swimwear and so he created a range of designs that accommodated for sunbathing which was both practical and comfortable for swimming.

    For the men, he designed the ‘Bucaneer’ style with a detachable top that could be easily be removed to become swimming trunks and then, re-attached for more coverage out of the water. For women, he designed the one-piece maillot with halter necks and V back cuts that were suitable for swimming while exposing more skin to the sun. His brands, Black Lance and Seagull Water Fashions, were part of the top Australian swimwear brands along with Kookaburra, Penguin and Speedo.

    His designs were adopted by lifesaving clubs and during the Sydney Harbour Bridge opening celebrations in 1932, the marching surf lifesavers wore his Black Lance designs. But perhaps his most famous design, for which he won a long battle for its world patent, was the square buckle belt over the woollen trunks immortalised by Superman.

    But Peter loved change and new challenges, and as he grew tired of the fashion world, he sold his knitting mills and re-invented himself once more. After WWII, O’Sullivan established a chain of 25 delicatessens before moving into the Real State business in the 1950s. In 1963, he acquired several properties at Woodend, near Melbourne, and began breeding Murray cattle. One of his properties, Cadella Park, became the largest Murray cattle stud in the country.

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