Second skin: Annette Kellerman, the modern swimsuit, and an Australian contribution to global fashion

Schmidt, Christine Margaret (2008) Second skin: Annette Kellerman, the modern swimsuit, and an Australian contribution to global fashion. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The aim of this thesis is to explore the evolution and global dissemination of fashion values, both aesthetic and commercial, in the interfaces between fashion, media, celebrity, sport, and the cultivation of the modern body. In particular, it traces the career of the modern swimsuit, showing how an inventive individual, Annette Kellerman, and a peripheral nation, Australia, influenced the design direction of the swimsuit in the 20th century and beyond to create a distinctly Australian niche in global fashion. Annette Kellerman, an Australian long-distance swimmer, diver, vaudeville performer and silent movie star, was a modern woman shaped for speed. She achieved success across a number of related fields – in fashion, film, sport, and as a role-model for women, encouraging self-motivation and self-development. Kellerman achieved global fame and recognition for popularising the one-piece swimsuit, and for her innovations as an aquatic performer, entertainer, and fitness writer. As a prototypical Hollywood star she prefigured the celebrity culture focused on the body that has predominated since then. Australia has continued to be associated with the values championed by Kellerman. It is also a launching pad for a number of international swimwear and surfwear companies, from iconic brands like Speedo, Quiksilver, and Billabong through to a new breed of contemporary swimsuit designers who tap into fashion trends while maintaining an Australian handwriting. This is exemplified by the Zimmermann and Tigerlily fashion labels.

This study demonstrates the fluidity of fashion as a result of geographic and cultural influences, and the convergence and cross-pollination between individuals and global currents. Using a combination of historical and archival research, interviews, textual analysis, and the author's own experience as a fashion designer, this thesis explores the shaping of the modern swimsuit and its eventual incorporation into global high fashion. It shows how a garment and a nation have migrated from the periphery to the centre of international attention by combining popular culture and high fashion to embody the values of modernity for women.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 18391
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Hartley, John & Vaughan, Suzi
Keywords: swimsuit, Australian fashion, Annette Kellerman
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 27 Feb 2009 05:40
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2017 14:40

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