Since we’re constantly searching for vintage treasures and looking to the past for design inspiration, it’s only natural that it was love at first click when we laid eyes on Lilah Ramzi’s blog, Part Nouveau. The fashion history buff explores the cyclical nature of fashion by juxtaposing modern styles with their past incarnations, whether it be ’70s Rudi Gernreich reimagined as a strapped pentagram swimsuit or Guy Bourdin-inspired snaps through Terry Richardson’s lens. As we’re gearing up for some hot fun in the summertime, we asked Lilah to school us on the history of the bikini and a few of our suit’s past lives.
Where did you grow up?
My childhood was split between two VERY different cities: Beirut, Lebanon and Houston, Texas. My father is Lebanese and my mother is American so my family spent time in both countries. I can’t say I really identify with either city so that’s why I moved to NYC.
What’s the first fashion magazine that you fell for? What attracted you to it and are you still into it?
Without a doubt, Vogue. The magazine has been home to some of the most well-known fashion photographers who, second to designers, have helped to define fashionable archetypes throughout history. I continuously use the Vogue archive and Voguepedia in my personal research and will actually start working at the glossy upon my graduation!
What and where are you studying? At what age did you know you liked fashion enough to go to grad school for it?
I am nearing completion (like 2 weeks!) of my Masters in Costume Studies from NYU. Costume is an academic term for fashion so don’t let the contemporary connotation throw you off. I can’t pinpoint an exact age at which I knew I wanted a life in fashion, but lets just say I never thought I would do anything else.
What fashion class have you taken that would make non-art school students jealous?
Well, my all-time favorite course was History of Fashion Photography, I would literally find myself dizzy after 2 hours of staring at spectacular images. However, a class that usually got a reaction from my friends was my History of Taste class. It chronicled various trends and fads from architecture, to food to fashion and now I know the most random things!
We think your blog is super unique. What inspired you to start it?
In the History of Fashion Photography class I mentioned earlier, one of our assignments was to actually identify a contemporary image that called upon a previous work. After completing my own comparison, I realized that there were countless other comparisons to be made. I was so intrigued, and slightly annoyed that I had not previously identified the reference, and I felt that others might share a similar sentiment.
What came first: the name or the concept?
The concept was born before I coined the term. After I realized I wanted to follow a “Who Wore it Better” or “B*tch Stole My Look” type format, I began brainstorming and somehow found Part Nouveau on my list of potential blog titles. I was so thrilled when I Googled the term and found that save for the occasional art history typo, no one else had used it before.
Where do you always find hidden inspiration?
As a former intern at the Costume Institute at The Met, many of my inspirations derive from the actual objects I am working with that day. My fellow intern was labeling a pair of these fantastic heel-less shoes from the 15th Century and I couldn’t believe how much they resembled the heel-less Nina Ricci and McQueen shoes!
If time machines existed, like we all wish they did, to what place and time period would you travel?
Easy. Paris circa 1947: the year of Christian Dior’s debut “New Look” collection. It kills me that several pieces of that collection are housed at the Met and I have no chance of ever trying them on, something about conservation or whatever.
A hall of fame vintage find you’d care to humble brag to us about?
When I was in high school, I spotted a black Givenchy clutch in one of my favorite vintage spots. At first glance, I read the price tag as $200 and debated spending that much until I soon realized it was priced at $20! I couldn’t believe it! I still have it after all these years, it goes with everything.
And now, how the bikini was born…
Women disregarded two-piece tunic and knicker suits in favor of sleeveless knitted one-piece skirted suits that exposed the legs and hugged the body.
By the 1930s, improvements in elasticated fabrics allowed for body-skimming bathing suits. Swimsuits no longer required an over-skirt and women opted for backless, low-cut suits with brief-style shorts.
Designers Jacques Heim and Louis Reard introduced the bikini in the summer of 1946. Although the bikini was published in Harper’s Bazaar in 1947, the skimpy two-piece bathing suit was not adopted by the general public and considered taboo until the 60s.
The swimwear of the 1950s resembled that of undergarments of the period. Strapless, boned one-pieces that nipped in the waist were worn, along with two-piece styles that revealed a sliver of the stomach.
In 1962, Bond Girl Ursula Andress sported a bikini with a hip holster throughout much of Dr. No, promoting the use of the skimpy suit. Soon after, it was accepted as fashionable swimwear. The suit even inspired a variation, which was worn by Halle Berry in 2002 in Die Another Day.
By the mid-1970s, the skimpy bikini had lost its shock value and swimsuit styles reverted back to one pieces, however, these one pieces were just as revealing. The body was still on display through crocheted fabrics or in thong-style bottoms.
The 1980s experienced a heightened awareness in health and an exercise craze that resulted in athletic style bathing suits such as sport bikinis with racer-back tops, and high-cut briefs in fabrics such as mesh and spandex.