Gay Times March 09 - Issue 366
Peter Travis was the man who put the ‘mmm’ into swimwear 40 years ago with the invention of the Speedo. What gay man doesn’t have at least one pair? GT salutes you
“Anybody who follows fashion is never stylish,” says Peter Travis, the man who designed the first leisurewear range for Speedo back in the 1960s, helping the company become the most successful swimwear manufacturer in the world. He is a hard man to track down, but when I eventually catch him at his home in Sydney – the city he was born in 82 years ago – he proves as uncompromising as the day he told Speedo: “A good designer never follows anyone.” They had just shown him a pair of boxer shorts and some shorts with Hawaiian motifs. “I will make the fashion, but before I do that I will start with a swimsuit you can swim in,” he told them.
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A keen swimmer himself, there was physics behind Peter’s classic design. “I used to have a full-length swimsuit in cotton” he tells me. “That was the only one that fitted the body tightly. I wouldn’t wear any of the others because you couldn’t fit them. If you pulled them up, the waist came halfway up your chest, and if you wore them on your waist, the crotch would hang halfway down your thighs.” So Peter designed his trunks to sit on the hips, “Because the hips are stable. That’s why Olympic swimmers have worn them for over 40 years.”
This science may be lost on some of the gay men in Packed Lunch, one of the short films on Peccadillo Pictures’ new collection, Boys On Film: Hard Love. They are more inclined to treat their ‘budgie smugglers’ as fetish objects, with one man claiming over 5000 pairs. But, if the film proves ultimately inconclusive as to whether the Speedo is an especially ‘gay thing,’ it’s more convinced it is a ‘fabulous thing.’
Not that it hasn’t been without controversy, however. The current Australian Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, was ridiculed by the local press for “parading in ill-advised budgie-smugglers”, while the Liberal Leader of Victoria, Ted Baillieu, was accused by the Melbourne press of having suffered a “wardrobe malfunction” when he donned a pair. And the first men to wear them on a Bondi beach, way back in the early 1960s, were arrested by an over-zealous coastguard, an event Peter recounts in Packed Lunch.
Peter eventually got out of fashion (“too full of phoneys”) to spread his creative wings. Oddly, he has never seen the film, so I promise to send him a copy. Not that he will have much time to watch it, I suspect. Alongside his partner (a revered historian), he exudes the energy of a man a quarter his age. He is currently occupied seven days a week on “the most important work of my life,” an installation for the last Gothic cathedral in the world, in Brisbane. “I want to live to be 120,” he says with glee, “Because I firmly believe I’ve yet to do my best work.” Some boys may disagree.
Boys On Film: Hard Love is on sale from March 9th. www.peccapics.com / www.peccapod.com. Two more volumes are set to follow later this year
Words by Andrew Copestake