Award: Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Golden 44 Award, 1979
Cole of California was founded by Fred Cole, a former actor at Universal Studios. Cole's family wanted him to join their underwear manufacturing operation, West Coast Knitting Mills; however, Cole found underwear design uninspiring and decided to produce swimwear instead. Cole's attitude toward swimwear design was not typical for the time. While most swim-wear designers of the 1920s and 1930s were concerned with designing functional swimwear, Cole was interested in designing fashionable swim-wear.
Cole's first swimsuit design was dubbed the "prohibition suit" because it was considered quite revealing for the time. Despite its scandalous reputation, the suit was extremely popular, and it became known as the first true fashion swimsuit. Cole's designs were inspired by exposure to the glamor of Hollywood. He translated the allure of Hollywood into swim-wear for glamorous movie stars and for ordinary women who wanted to look and feel glamorous.
The first designer for Cole's label was Margit Fellegi, a costume design student from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Fellegi had already built a reputation for herself as "the swimwear designer for Hollywood" when she came to work for Cole in 1932. Fellegi had developed a "Matle-tex process," which allowed cotton fabric to be shirred on elastic thread.
This process allowed Fellegi to manipulate the style lines of her swimsuit designs without sacrificing a close fit. Fellegi's combination of distinct patterns, vibrant colors, and unusual design lines caught the eye of both film stars and average women.
Fellegi became even more popular in 1964 when she designed the "scandal suit" collection by Cole of California. The "peek-a-boo suits" consisted of variations on black leotards which selectively exposed certain areas of the body with cutouts of elastic mesh. Fellegi's new elastic mesh provided shaping and support while, at the same time, creating a transparent, sexy look. To promote the new suit line, Cole launched an advertising campaign with a provocative photograph of actress Joan MacGowan mouthing the words, "Isn't it time somebody created an absolutely wild scandal for nice girls?"
Anne Cole, the daughter of Fred Cole, began designing for Cole of California in 1982 and launched a signature collection under her own name. Anne Cole's collection was distinguished by an innovative use of fabrics. Her 1986 collection, inspired by fashions from the 1960s, was fabricated in vinyl and metallic swimwear fabrics. When the collection was photographed for the swimsuit edition for Life magazine, it exposed Cole's line to viewers all across America. In 1994 Anne Cole launched her Anne Cole Locker collection which featured functional swimwear and active wear for working out. The line was also labeled as Faux Fitness in association with its parent company, Authentic Fitness Corporation. Authentic Fitness Corporation purchased Cole of California from Taren Holdings in 1993. Taren Holdings, which also sold Catalina to Authentic Fitness Corporation, purchased Cole of California from Kayser-Roth in 1989.
Over the past seven decades, Cole of California has expanded its product lines to include offerings under the Cole, Sandcastle, Anne Cole, Adrienne Vittadini, Hot Coles for juniors, and Juice for juniors labels. Each label is made in one of the company's nine plants in Utah. The collections are sold in department stores or specialty stores across the country. Fred Cole, credited for transforming his family's underwear business into an amazing swimwear company, will be remembered for his racy, glamorous, fashionable suits. He brought fashion into swimwear, making the average women feel elegant while sunbathing on the beach or by the pool.
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