Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap recently was in Massachusetts where she not only got to see this exhibition, but also agreed to share it with us. Located at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, it was originally organized by the Los Angeles Museum of Art. Mod Betty also saw that one, and reported back that while there was some overlap, there was enough new material to make a second visit worthwhile.
The photo above is a spectacular early 1950s bathing suit from Cole of California. Designed by Margit Fellegi, it was probably a tie-in with an Esther Williams film, Million Dollar Mermaid.
This suit is one of Cole of California’s best known bathing suits. Designed by Margit Fellegi in 1942, it was designed to conserve fabric and rubber elastic for the war effort. They called it the “Swoon Suit” and it guess it did make a few fellows feel weak in the knees.
These pieces were designed by Irene Saltern who is best known for her work at Tabak of California. These coordinates date from 1960 and are so typical of what she did best – making cheerful, wearable clothes for a casual lifestyle.
Here is another set from Margit Fellegi for Cole of California. These separates were from her Female Animal collection of 1954.
This Pucci-inspired print is on a Rose Marie Reid swimsuit from 1963.
This American flag themed suit dates from 1961 and is from Mary Ann DeWeese. I thought this one was pretty interesting, as clothing that mimicked the flag was not always considered patriotic as it is today. According to the Flag Code, it is not legal to use the flag as “wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery”, and I can remember how rock stars were criticized in the 60s for wearing flag-like clothing.
This is actually a bathing suit with a matching skirt. It is from 1952 and was designed by Mary Ann DeWeese. Aren’t those cutout flowers special?
Here’s one for the guys, though I can’t see many men today who would wear this. These matching swim trunks and shirt or jacket were called cabana sets.
In the foreground is a mid 1940s play set from designer Pat Premo. The fabric is of note, as it was from renowned textile designer Wesley Simpson.
In the background are the pants of the 20th century – Levi’s jeans.
Levi Strauss also made clothing with a Western twist for women. This set dates from the mid 1950s.
No exhibition of California clothing would be complete without a bit of Gilbert Adrian. This is a typical Adrian suit, with the precise piecing and use of stripes to produce a pattern.
This Adrian dress is a bit later, and is from his Atomic 50s collection of 1950.
Rudi Gernreich took wool knit and made surprisingly modern-looking bathing suits. This one is from 1958.
The exhibition is not just clothing. Furniture, decorative objects and other items featuring 20th century design are highlighted.
I want to thank Mod Betty (that’s her with her mom who accompanied her to the museum) for the great photos and for the item notes.
All photos copyright Beth Lennon.