Only a few swimsuits have made it to the Costume Institute Collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the best known is perhaps the least substantial, a super simple shape sewn from a meager meter of white nylon mesh. It has a tactilely lined crotch, but the mesh doesn’t hide the breasts or nipples, but it’s not clunky or seedy. In the perfect body, it would be ingenious.
The perfect body in question belonged to Cheryl Tiegs, the lead model in 1978, when Monika Tilley was asked to design the garment especially for Sports Illustrated magazine’s annual pin-up festival, its swimsuit issue.
Tilley, who died at 86, may have been influenced by the shape of Mary Quant’s revolutionary “body-media” lingerie from the 1960s, but the cheekiness of the suit, the way it sexed everyone’s healthy exercise Americans, it was Tilley’s own. Her idea sketches were as elementary as cartoons and it took the pattern makers of the swimwear companies she supplied, Cole from California, Elon from California, a lot of effort to translate into manufacturing.
His other famous design, also for Tiegs for Sports Illustrated, in 1983, arrived at Elon’s factory in San Diego as a preliminary drawing, plus white polycotton fabric and lace patchwork, with an urgent sample request within days. Elon did it on time, it looked like the all-in-one “teddy” undergarment that 1920s flappers wore under short dresses, as an “editorial” promo, mostly for publicity, but after Tiegs modeled the “lingerie suit” in the magazine. cover, it was a bestseller.
Tilley, tall, slender, sporty, and vigorous, regularly participated in the swimming, skiing and tennis for which she designed. She had gone from being a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar to being hired to propose ideas for companies that were part of America’s then huge garment industry, initially in children’s clothing. He then worked for the White Stag, making ski wear, which had changed since the invention of Spandex (also known as Lycra or Elastane) in 1958, as just adding a small percentage to a fabric made it stretchable.
When he joined Elon in 1968, shipping designs from his home in New York, the garment trade center, to California, where a beachwear industry had grown, he applied his ever-updated knowledge of new textiles to suits. bathroom; She claimed to have been the first to use Spandex for an unstructured swimsuit that maintained its shape, and that of its wearer, with no seams, built-in bra or padding. In other sportswear, he experimented with techno-fabrics as soon as they were invented, in particular the 1979 polar fleece.
Tilley made a name for herself in the garment business throughout the 1970s, but used her many New York press contacts to advertise brands that were her clients (labels that read “By Monika for Elon”) instead of her. itself. Even after starting her own company and label, she was not interested in personal publicity, willing to be the creative force behind a celebrity name: sportswear for athlete Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn Jenner) in the 70s, swimwear. with model Christie Brinkley. in the 80s.
She was supplying the Levi Strauss jean company when she sponsored the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, and asked him to design the uniforms for the American team parade; in 1984, they marched in cowboy boots, stetsons, and blue jeans, with red cuffs.
Tilley was not born in the US, but like many workers in the New York garment industry, he was an immigrant from Vienna. His father, Franz Nowotny, was a civil servant and his mother, Margarete (née Kinatader), a teacher; none approved Monika’s decision to pursue a master’s degree at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.
He met Merten Tilley, an American who was studying business in Vienna, and they married in 1957, later moving to Queens, New York, although Monika said their immigration status was uncertain for a time; He couldn’t cash his Harper’s paychecks because he didn’t have a work permit.
In the 1980s, clothing that was previously only acceptable on the track or field, or for dance practice and exercise classes, became the basis for women’s leisure ensembles, featuring stretch fabrics, fleece and Synthetic blends for easy laundering and machine washing.
Tilley contracted the design of what was then called loungewear (for us, under lockdown in 2021, daily wear) for the Vassarette label, and also developed his own budget line, At Ease. Her nightwear was as cool as that lacy swimsuit, and her teddy leggings and sweaters to flop onto the couch have become household staples. But it was the swimwear that earned him two Coty Awards.
The American apparel industry began offshoring its manufacturing in the 1980s, but Tilley remained dedicated to the idea of American fashion, its real-life and active relevance, and to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, founded in 1962. to promote it. .
He was on its board for decades and in 1996 founded its scholarship program, acting as a liaison with colleges and universities to provide a break for students from a wide range of backgrounds.
His marriage to Merten ended in divorce; her children, Martin and Mona, survive her.
• Monika Tilley, sportswear designer, born July 25, 1934; died on December 23, 2020
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism