Monika Tilley Makes a Splash with Her Sexy Swimwear

updated 07/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

If Monika Tilley has her way, the boudoir look will be big at the beach in 1983. America's leading swimsuit designer is still doing those sleekly futuristic racing suits, but this summer she is staking her formidable reputation on lots of white suits, daintied up with corselets and lace. "I've gone in this softer direction," says Tilley, "because women are not as militant as they were a few years ago."

Tilley, who has been in the swimsuit business for 15 years, made waves in 1978 by designing a fishnet number (worn by Cheryl Tiegs for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's annual swimsuit issue) that left little to the imagination. Tiegs graced this year's SI cover in a plunging lace-trimmed maillot by Monika.

The signature look from Coty Award-winner Tilley is the high-at-the-thigh cut, which, she explains, gives legs a long-stemmed American beauty look. It's not an easy style to carry off, but if you have the figure for it, she says, "All you have to do is shave your legs higher or have bikini waxings."

Tilley, 48, has been a crack swimmer and skier since she was a girl growing up in Vienna. Her conservative father wouldn't let her wear the outrageous designs she was developing a reputation for at the Vienna Academy of Applied Arts. Tilley settled permanently in the U.S. in 1957. She quickly landed a job as assistant to respected New York designer John Weitz and then moved on to White Stag and later Cole of California. Since 1968 she has been designing for Elon of California, a firm that grosses some $5 million a year from her suits. Divorced since 1977, Tilley lives in an antique-filled apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

How does Tilley envision the bathing suit of the future? Her dream is to find an opaque fabric that will permit the wearer to get a suntan through the fabric so she can cover as much of her body as she wants. Girl-watchers, no doubt, will regard this as positively un-American, but that's not likely to stop a pioneer like Tilley.

From Our Partners