Author Archives: christine

‘Woollen Mermaids’ swimsuit designs at the ’09 QUT BFA Fashion Show

A number of the designs created by the second year students for Woollen Mermaids were presented at the recent QUT BFA fashion show – and they looked fantastic!

View on  YouTube 

Woollen Mermaids swimsuits


Woollen Mermaids

The exhibition has opened and is fantastic!  Of course the sub-theme that is closest to my heart is the Woollen Mermaids. I first started scoping this concept back in 2006, and in part I was driven by the desire to articulate how Annette Kellerman and the swimsuit have contributed to Australian national identity  – and in turn  how Australia has influenced the design direction of the swimsuit to create a distinctly Australian niche in global fashion. Kellerman is remembered for popularising the swimsuit in the early 1900s, however her contribution stretches beyond this, as she achieved success across a number of related fields – in fashion, film, sport and as a role-model for women, encouraging self-motivation and self-development. By drawing on her as muse for a contemporary swimsuit collection by Australia’s leading swimwear designers and the talented second-year students at QUT,  I was threading the past into the present to both celebrate and memorialise Kellerman’s achievements and give it new meaning and currency.

Kellerman drew on mermaidenry and the magic of fairy tales to create a charismatic persona clothed in the swimsuit, although in reality these were woolly and uncomfortable. Woollen Mermaids is a modern fairy tale at a time when swimsuits have a fashion edge – glamorous, exotic,  and designed in body-hugging fine wool/lycra.

Happy endings  – I love them – and Woollen Mermaids is just that!

christine xx

Retain your youthful charms – remember it’s not just your designs that have to look good!

For all you young bunnies who have forgotten to maintain a healthy diet while toiling away to meet studio deadlines, you may find Annette Kellerman’s advice helpful.

 Diet to Gain Weight

Physical Beauty: How to Keep It

Annette Kellerman: 1918

 First Day

Upon rising a glass of milk or an eggnog with orange juice


Bran gems with butter and honey

Fried bananas

Milk or cocoa


Lamb chop with scalloped potatoes

Corn bread and butter

Stewed corn peas

A glass of buttermilk

Stewed apricots and cookies


Puree of split pea soup

Roast beef with mashed potatoes

Salad of lettuce and salmon or sardines, dressed with oil and a dash of lemon juice

Fruit cake

 Before retiring a glass of milk

 This diet should give you the stamina to complete your swimsuits in a timely fashion!




A Fishy Tale


Kellerman played a mermaid in a number of early silent movies including Neptune’s Daughter (still from film above). The mermaid narrative created a fictional layer that glamorised her body and ensured her celebrity.  Kellerman’s legs were imprisoned in heavy iron braces as a little girl due to rickets and she escaped the pain of her crippled body in an imaginary world of fairy tale characters. She learnt to swim in the late 1800s to strengthen her weakened legs and found a freedom in the water that she had never had on land. There are similarities between Kellerman and the Little Mermaid – both amphibian beauties from distant worlds longing for the bright lights of the metropolis. Whereas the Little Mermaid sought an immortal soul, Kellerman sought immortality through a stellar career as a swimmer and actress. Kellerman was referred to as a’half woman half fish’ and the Little Mermaid was a mythical sea creature who metamorphosed into a human. They both transcended the boundaries between human and non-human and represent the exotic ‘other’; individuals from different worlds who did not conform to conventional notions of feminine beauty. Mermaids have not lost their lustre or glamour in the 21st century and Hannah Fraser has created a successful career as a ‘professional mermaid’.

Fashion and Swimsuits

Over the last four years I have zipped myself into a PhD research project that has centred on the swimsuit and in particular Australian swimwear design. I must admit initially I had little knowledge or interest in swimsuit design and had always pigeonholed the swimsuit as a non-fashion garment – or as a glamour item for hot bodies – and of course a focus for personal angst at the beginning of every summer.

The starting point was Annette Kellerman, a mostly forgotten Australian swimmer, diver, vaudeville performer, and silent movie actress. What was intriguing was reference to her in costume history sources as the creator of the one-piece bathing suit in the early 1900s and the idea that she was not a fashion designer. From here it was about understanding and tracking how the swimsuit became a designed and fashionable garment. In particular how Australians, individuals like Kellerman and local designers and manufacturers, have contributed to the swimsuit’s success on a global scale.

As part of my role as a fashion and concept consultant for the upcoming exhibition, Exposed: the story of swimwear at the ANMM, I have been involved in scoping the contemporary sub-theme that includes the Woollen Mermaids. This blog represents an exciting outcome by providing QUT students with an opportunity to articulate their personal swimsuit design journeys – to track  the process from design inception through to the final garment, and for the public to learn first-hand how this unfolds.

It will be exciting to see how each student responds to the brief – the conceptual exploration – how this is communicated – and of course the swimsuits!