At the turn of the century it was still only wealthy fashionable women who “took to sea water” in bathing machines for medicinal purposes, wearing restrictive corsets and heavy voluminous bathing dresses (Probert 1981: 7). However, by the late 1920s gender and socio-economic barriers to swimming and functional swimwear had been destabilised. With the rise of body culture, designers, like Patou, began producing more streamlined swimsuits, with very little differentiation between male and female styles (Probert 1981: 8). Essentially, swimwear designs mirrored and influenced changing body ideals, as the “female body was reconstructed to resemble a boyish body, lacking breasts and hips. Attributes of femininity were replaced by those of androgyny” (Martin and Koda 1990: 60). On a literal level, my sailing concept references the nautical motifs and sailor cuts of 1920s swimwear, which in turn perhaps relates to an earlier unisex fashion: children’s sailor suits.
Nautical has since become an ever recurring theme, present in swimwear collections each season, and has perhaps developed a certain kitsch quality. I challenge this predictability through my unconventional use of black and by adopting a more surrealist approach, where boat forms, sail shapes, knots and hull patterns are directly applied to the body. As Caroline Evans (1999: 6) wrote of Elsa Schiaparelli’s work, “Inside and outside become confused…displacing and repositioning its parts through recognizably Surrealist tactics.” Conceptually my nautical appropriation celebrates an era of “active play” (Hollander 1992: 12), in which “torsos asserted not only their flexibility…but their variability” (Hollander 1992: 11). Further, sailing represents mobility and freedom. As Roland Barthes (in Mandoki 2003: 600) eloquently articulates, “clothing by its weight participates of the fundamental dreams of man, of the sky and the cave, of sublime life and of embalming, of flight and dream: by its weight, clothing can become wing or coffin.” The sail forms in my collection act as wings to emancipate the wearer.