Textile Memories

For most designers, inspiration comes from many and varied sources.

Sometimes, it's the little things that you notice, like the colors found in the gravel as you walk the dog. Who knew there were so many pretty shades of ecru, taupe and warm grey? Other times it's more of an overall mood or feeling, say from a movie or a novel or traveling to a new place. And in some cases, at least for textile designers, it can be quite literal, meaning finding inspiration in textiles themselves, from vintage clothing or textile swatches. 

I have a few extremely vivid memories of very early childhood that feel more like dreams than actual events. One of those memories is of being at the beach with my mother when I was about 2 1/2 years old, which certainly seems too young to remember all that much. I'm sure my sister was there as well as others, but what I most remember is my mom, the smell of Coppertone suntan lotion and since this story is really about textiles, her swimsuit. It was pink and red and orange and had flowers, loosely drawn and large. I mainly remember the colors. Intense. I've asked her about this memory many times to verify it, as it really is dream-like, but it wasn't until a recent visit that I specifically asked her about the swimsuit and if she remembered the design and the colors. My mother is in her mid-eighties now, so I was surprised when she said, bluntly, "I think I've still got it, somewhere." Really? Where? Jackpot!

When I looked at it, I realized it was from earlier than 1970, which is when I remember her wearing it. I think she said around 1960 was when she bought it. (Apparently she didn't buy swimwear too often.) The print was very much as I remembered, but what really surprised me was the structure of the suit itself. It was made from a stretch woven fabric, had boning on the sides of the lined inner bra, removable buttoned-in straps and a metal zipper. I've never seen a zipper in a swimsuit before, let alone a metal one, with hook and eye reinforcements along the zipper tape. I had to try it on! I am sure it was one of the most structured garments (besides a bra) that I have ever worn, including a Yves Saint Laurent skirt suit and my strapless wedding dress.

While I don't think I'll be sporting it on any beach or at the local pool anytime soon, it felt really great on. Modest but very feminine. I never thought boy short legs would be so flattering. All that structure made me feel, well, rather pulled together and chic, as well as inspired to design a new print collection. Which is a lot to get from a vintage swimsuit.