1980s Peter Max Swimsuits

For the most part, my collecting stops with the 1970s. That’s an arbitrary cutoff date, but early on I realized I had little interest in more modern sportswear. Over the years I’ve gone back in time, but not forward.

The one exception is that I have a small collection of clothing and accessories that use the art of modern artists. This in itself is a bit weird, as I’m not a big fan of most art from the late 20th century, though I do make efforts to expand my understanding of it. I only get pieces that the artist actually had a hand in designing, like these two late 1980s swimsuits from pop artist Peter Max.

Max is most known for his work in the 1960s. To quote myself in an earlier blog post about max:

In the late 1960s and early 70s Peter Max was everywhere.  Or at least his products with his name in bold print were.  Max opened  a design studio in New York in the early 1960s, but it was his finely honed style of the late Sixties that combines op art, comic strips, astrology and Eastern mysticism that seemed so perfect for the Woodstock Generation.   In 1969 he was on the cover of Life, with the title of the article being, “Peter Max: Portrait of the Artist as a Very Rich Man.”

There were dozens of Peter Max labeled products – everything from blow-up vinyl pillows to kitchen wares to clothing.  Many of the designs were manufactured by clothing firms such as Wrangler, for which Max designed jeans, shorts, and shirts.  Others were advertising items like the decorated vinyl umbrellas that were made for Rightguard deodorant.  About ten years ago my friend Corky who owned a vintage store in Asheville went to the estate sale of an optometrist.   She found stacks of Peter Max scarves that were made for an eyeglass company.

In 1970 Max designed a line of junior dresses, tee shirts and neckties for the guys which Seventeen magazine featured on the cover and in an editorial.  These were only made for a year or two and are very rare (and valuable) today.   I guess the very rich artist decided he had enough money to last him for a while, because soon afterward he closed his design studio and semi-dropped-out.

Actually, he didn’t really drop out. He was rich enough to concentrate on the art he wanted to create. He did work on commission and opened stores to sell his pieces. And for some reason, in the 1980s he again did clothing collaborations under two labels, Neo Max and Via Max.

I’m going to say right out that I know next to nothing about these clothing lines. Neo Max was, according to the US patent database, first used in 1987. Via Max was first used in 1986.

I found these swimsuits in thrift stores over a decade ago. Today similar suits are offered for sale at really good prices, but nothing like the sums asked for his clothing from the 1960s. It all has to do with the desirability of pieces that portray that for which the artist was best known. Max was at his apex of influence in the late 1960s. That’s what collectors want.

Not that the 1980s items aren’t interesting. They are. It’s just that they don’t have the cultural currency that the 60s items do.

I recently found an original hangtag from the Via Max line. It’s a nice addition to my file on these suits.


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5 responses to “1980s Peter Max Swimsuits

  1. Vicky Loebel

    I love that second suit! The first one…brings an 80’s smile to my face at least!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. jacq staubs

    Ditto the “80’s smile”. I firmly believe the 80’s is an important (if not exceptionally) to fashion history. It echoes the 60’s (to me) in a polar opposite sense. I love Max. the acid colors of the late 60’s his trademark.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I had 3 sets of full length Peter Max curtains and 2 matching Peter Max twin bedspreads in my bedroom growing up in the mid 70s. They had a black background and crazy colors, very wild and groovy. Wish I could have saved them, they would be worth a fortune!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The first one is straight out of the Art Deco era – it reminds me of the cinemas built in England (but probably copied from your US ones) in the 1930s, many of which are still in use, if not necessarily as cinemas. The 80s usually tended to echo the 40s, but in this case, he went back a step further. I’d love a suit like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As a teenager in love with anything 60’s, I bought a long-sleeve tshirt from this line in 1989. I also have a VERY large, colorful Peter Max wristwatch from the same time frame. My friends didn’t understand, but I adored them!

    Liked by 1 person

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