STYLE

Esther Williams, 90, On Being The 'Million Dollar Mermaid,' Retro Swimsuits And 'Revealing' Bikinis (PHOTOS)

05/25/2012 08:08 am ET | Updated Oct 11, 2012

It is no surprise that Esther Williams is one of our swimsuit style icons, as the former MGM film star was a competitive swimmer before becoming an actress in the 1940s.

Hollywood incorporated lengthy water-based musical numbers into Williams' films to highlight her Olympic-level talents. The 1952 movie "Million Dollar Mermaid," which was based on the life of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman, not only became Williams' nickname and the title of her autobiography, but it was also her favorite of all the films she was in over the years. "There was lots of glamour and a gold lamé swimsuit which became a trademark for the opulence of the kind of films I made," Williams explained this week, "I think there were 26 of those lovely aqua-musicals. The audience loved them. They were such entertainment."

Since retiring from her wildly successful film career in the 1960s, Williams has been designing a line of retro-inspired swimsuits. To prepare for summer, we caught up with the now 90-year-old star to find out about her current swimming routine, what she thinks of revealing bikinis, her design inspiration and more:

What made you want to design a line of swimsuits after retiring from acting?
I've always been involved in business. You had to if you were to be a successful movie star. Swimwear was a natural move for me. And it has proved very successful - after all these years. They now call my designs, "a classic."

How does being a former competitive swimmer influence your bathing suit designs today?
As a swimmer, you had to understand your "costume." Will the straps stay secure as I stroke through the water? Will the fabric move with me? Swimwear used to be made of wool, which is rather heavy to wear in the water, don't you think? Lycra was a miracle fabric for swimwear.

How did being a movie star influence your swimwear designs?
We had to look good on a 40-foot screen! From every angle! There was no room for error.

Were you ever nervous about appearing in a bathing suit on camera?
Oh no, never. The comfort that I felt in a swimsuit was from knowing I could get to the end of the pool first.

What is your favorite bathing suit you have ever worn?
When I look back, I think my very favorite was a pink maillot, a one-piece sheath I wore in "Bathing Beauty." I knew the color was just right and the fit was superb. And I was right. When I see the movie today, I see how flattering technicolor was to the fabric and the color.

What is your design inspiration for your swimsuits?
I think I'd have to say MGM. MGM knew what looked good, what looked "pretty." And don't we all want to look pretty?

How do you think the swimsuits men and women wear now compare to the 1940s?
I think the swimwear today is more revealing. We always "dressed" for the pool, not undressed.

What do you think is the most flattering type of swimsuit?
As a swimmer, I've always preferred the one-piece. It feels most secure. I always thought that swimwear was the least amount of clothing that you would wear in public, so it better look good.

What is the least flattering type of swimsuit?
I know the bikini is so popular but you'd better have the best body to wear one. And not all women have that.

Do you still swim on a regular basis?
Yes, why would I ever give it up? It is the only sport you can do from your first bath to your last without injury.

What kind of swimwear do you currently wear?
Basically, I wear the same swimwear I wore then. After all, my swimwear collection is designed after the swimwear I wore throughout my career - and I've got a closet full!

Do you prefer swimming in the sea or in a pool?
I always loved the ocean. I learned to swim in the Pacific Ocean. There are not limits in the ocean. It seems like an endless swim.

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