Monika Tilley dies at 86 Monika Tilley dies at 86

Monika Tilley dies at 86

Monika Tilley was a famous activewear designer
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Monika Tilley, an innovative designer of activewear, loungewear and racy swimsuits that glistened from the covers of Sports Illustrated magazine on models like Christie Brinkley and Cheryl Tiegs, died on Dec. 23 in Manhattan. She was 86.

Her daughter, Mona Tilley, announced the death in January. She said her mother had died in a hospital after having multiple strokes.

Ms. Tilley was not a name designer 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 a uniquely American style of dressing. She created a line for Caitlyn Jenner when she was a track star in the 1970s, and collaborated with Ms. Brinkley on a line of swimwear in 1984. For the Winter Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984, she designed the parade uniforms for the American teams.

Monika Tilley

Monika having fun

With an athletic build — she was an expert skier — and a deep, gravelly voice, the Austrian-born Ms. Tilley was an imposing and handsome figure. “But she had a sparkle; you never knew if she was making a little fun,” said Jule Campbell, the longtime editor of Sports Illustrated’s swimwear issues, who put many of Ms. Tilley’s suits on her covers. “Her swimwear designs were provocative for their time.”

Monika Tilley in France

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

Ms. Tilley and Ms. Kamali “combined a sense of athleticism with an open embrace of sex appeal in a way that would influence mainstream swimwear styles far more than Rudi Gernreich did a decade earlier, when he shocked the fashion world with the breast-revealing monokini,” Mr. Wilson said. “That was just a blip of immodesty compared to the impact of Monika’s fishnet swimsuits — that left little to the imagination about a woman’s anatomy — on loosening consumer tastes and making the stuff of schoolboy fantasies and dorm-room posters for decades.”

The nipple-baring white mesh swimsuit Mr. Wilson referred to, worn by Ms. Tiegs in the 1978 issue, was perhaps the most famousSports Illustrated swimsuit image of all time, said Terry McDonell, editor of Sports Illustrated from 2002 to 2012. “Every swimsuit issue drew threats of cancellation and howls of objection — first from moralists and then from feminists — and this image was supercharged in that sense,” Mr. McDonell said.

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

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