Monika Tilley, Fashion Designer and Activewear Pioneer, Dies at

Monika Tilley, a racy swimwear designer who glittered from Sports Illustrated magazine covers to models like Christie Brinkley and Cheryl Tiegs and a pioneer of activewear and loungewear, died on Dec. 23 in Manhattan. She was 86 years old.

His daughter, Mona Tilley, announced the death in January. She said her mother died in hospital after suffering multiple strokes.

Ms. Tilley was not a creator of names like Bill Blass or Calvin Klein; she was an industry talent known for her work for Anne Cole, Anne Klein, White Stag, and other companies, designing what would become an uniquely American dress style. She created a line for Caitlyn Jenner when she was a runway star in the 1970s, and collaborated with Ms. Brinkley on a swimwear line in 1984. For the Olympic Winter Games in 1980 and 1984, she designed the parade uniforms for the American teams. .

With an athletic build – she was an expert skier – and a deep, deep voice, Austria-born Ms Tilley was a towering and beautiful figure. “But she had a spark; you never knew if she was having a little fun, ”said Jule Campbell, longtime Sports Illustrated swimwear editor, who put many of Ms. Tilley’s costumes on her covers. “Her swimwear designs were provocative for their time.”

Along with Norma Kamali, who designed the red one-piece swimsuit made memorable by Farrah Fawcett, Ms. Tilley was emblematic of the “sexification of swimwear in the 1970s,” said Eric Wilson, a veteran fashion journalist.

Ms Tilley and Ms Kamali “combined a sense of athleticism with an open embrace of sex appeal in a way that would influence traditional swimwear styles far more than Rudi Gernreich had done a decade earlier,” when he shocked the fashion world with the breast reveal. monokini, ”Wilson said. “It was just a little shameless about the impact of Monika’s fishnet swimsuits – which left little to the imagination about a woman’s anatomy – on loosening consumer tastes and creating fantasies of schoolchildren and dormitory posters for decades.

Perhaps the most famous was Mr. Wilson’s stripped white mesh swimsuit, worn by Ms. Tiegs in the 1978 issue. Sports Illustrated swimsuit image of all time, said Terry McDonell, Sports Illustrated editor-in-chief from 2002 to 2012. “Every swimsuit issue has drawn threats of cancellation and howls of objection – first moralists then feminists – and this image has been supercharged in this sense. Mr. McDonell said.

It is now part of the permanent collection of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ms Tilley often added delicate touches to her swimsuits, like the pieces of lace on another white one-piece swimsuit Ms Tiegs wore for a Sports Illustrated cover in 1983, made mostly transparent by a soak in the waterfall behind her. .

“She was Viennese, after all,” said British designer Patricia Underwood, a longtime friend of Ms Tilley. “In Austria, they are very good in fur coats, loden and lingerie.”

Monika Theresia Nowotny was born on July 25, 1934 in Vienna. His father, Franz Nowotny, worked in the agriculture department; his mother, Margarete (Kineder) Nowotny, taught English and physical education.

Monika obtained a master’s degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, an education that her father allowed her to follow only if he could learn daily from his teachers. (He didn’t believe art was a viable career path.)

She and Merten Arthur Tilley, an American she met while studying business in Vienna, married at the Hofburg Palace in 1957, after which they settled in Forest Hills, Queens.

At first, Ms. Tilley worked as an illustrator at Harper’s Bazaar. She was quickly hired as a designer of children’s clothing at Anne Cole. She went on to create swimwear, sportswear and loungewear at Anne Klein and other companies.

Asked by the New York Times in 1964, Ms. Tilley, then 29-year-old ski wear designer for White Stag, was asked to predict what looks from Innsbruck, Austria, where the Olympics were being held that year, would become the trends. She was optimistic about pom-pom hats and stretchy pants.

In 1976, The Times noted, “Designing sportswear is Miss Tilley’s lifelong work, and she participates in many sports for which she designs clothing. The tennis boom has caused a lot of crime in the name of fashion, and its aim is to restore basic elegance to the game, using modern fabrics.

Ms. Tilley was also, as designer Stan Herman put it, “a force in loungewear,” a category newly created in the 1970s for women who wanted to look sharp at work but feel comfortable in their own. back home. It marked the end of the era of the house, as pointed out by Mr. Herman, also a force in this genre.

“Liz Claiborne was going to dress the new woman at work, and we were going to dress her at home,” he said. “Monika did a very sporty loungewear outfit: lots of notched collars and dressing gowns that looked like men’s shirts.”

In the late 1980s, Ms Tilley’s signature loungewear line for Vassarette included bold striped ankle-length sweaters worn over monochrome tops and leggings, styles that wouldn’t be out of place today.

Mr Herman recalled that Ms Tilley was once commemorated in a Lord & Taylor display case, in a scene featuring a model Monika Tilley – her own doppelgänger – drawing at a desk and looking very official.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Tilley is survived by her son, Martin, and brother, Thomas Nowotny. Her marriage to Mr. Tilley ended in divorce.

Ms. Tilley has long served on the board of directors of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the trade organization created in 1962 to promote American fashion. She founded the CFDA scholarship program in 1996 and has remained closely involved in its development.

“She was an unsung hero” in the organization, said Lisa Smilor, executive vice president of the board. “The multitude of design students to whom the CFDA has awarded scholarships may not know his name or his heritage. Nevertheless, it had a positive impact on their future.

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