Cole of California
COLE OF CALIFORNIA
American swimwear company
Founded: Formed by Fred Cole from family knitwear firm in Los Angeles, 1923. Company History: Began collaborating with Hollywood costume designer Margit Fellegi, 1936; signed Esther Williams to represent the company, 1950; began producing swimwear from Christian Dior, 1955; purchased by Kayser-Roth, early 1960s; sold to the Wickes Company; launched Anne Cole Collection, 1982; signed licensing agreement with Adrienne Vittadini, 1983-93; company purchased by Taren Holdings, 1989; Juice junior line debuted, 1990; acquired by Authentic Fitness Corp., combined with Catalina to form Catalina Cole, 1993; Anne Cole introduced the "tankini," 1997; ultimate parent, Warnaco, filed for bankruptcy protection, 2001. Awards: Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Golden 44 award, 1979. Company Address: Authentic Fitness, 6040 Bandini Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90040, U.S.A.
On COLE of CALIFORNIA:
Lencek, Lena, and Gideon Bosker, Making Waves: Swimsuits and the Undressing of America, San Francisco, 1989.
Martin, Richard, and Harold Koda, Splash! A History of Swimwear, New York, 1990.
Sajbel, Maureen O., "Sea Notes: Anne Cole Takes the Plunge," in WWD, 28 July 1982.
Magiera, Marcy, "Swimwear Makers Aim for 'Older' Women," in Advertising Age, 21 April 1986.
Flint, Jerry, "Cover-Up: Cole of California," in Forbes, 2 May 1988.
D'Innocenzio, Anne, "Swimwear Dives, Hopes to Surface," in WWD, 10 August 1995.
Belgum, Deborah, "Swimming in a New Wave: Anne Cole," in Los Angeles Business Journal, 12 June 2000.
Robinson, Roxanne, and Rosemary Feitelberg, "Class of 75," in WWD, 10 August 2000.***
The high-water mark of swimwear exposure was 1964: Rudi Gernreich showed a topless bathing suit that achieved awestruck attention, but sold very few copies. Then Sports Illustrated, the New York magazine, began its annual swimsuit edition. Cole of California, in the same year, produced the three-item "scandal suit" collection that likewise plunged to new exposure with an astonishing commercial success, typifying the long tradition of Cole's being the most provocative—yet commercial—swimwear manufacturer in America.
Ever since former silent film star Fred Cole had first hitched his company's wagon to the stars of Hollywood, Cole had been a trendsetter, P.T. Barnum style. Cole knew by unerring instinct, like his film producing confréres, how to be sensational and to sell to the American public without being overly salacious. As Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker described in their book, Making Waves: Swimsuits and the Undressing of America, "Cut extremely conservatively by mid-1960s standards, the Scandal suits put everything under wraps, at least theoretically. In practice, however, the vast expanses of see-through netting turned their wearers into sizzling sex goddesses."
If black mesh only made a plunging décolletage or midriff seem more radical and seductive in the tantalizing peekaboo of exposure or coverage, Cole encouraged the sensation in dramatic public events and publicity. Hence this American company was in the vanguard of what was already being described as a 1960s sexual revolution and seemed ready to bring all of its license to the beach. Fred Cole knew that going to the beach or pool was recreation, but that it was also a spectator sport.
Cole had three brilliant ideas, put into action step by step: first, he transformed the family's prosaic knit underwear firm into a swimsuit business; second, he seized upon California and Hollywood to bring glamor to the swimwear industry and specifically to the imagery of Cole of California; and third, he knew sex appeal would be determined in the middle and late years of the 20th century by public relations and popular opinion. The health and dress-reform issues of knitwear paled beside the excitement Cole brought to the swimwear industry. His conjunction to Hollywood, working with the ingenious designer Margit Fellegi, who was to the Hollywood swimsuit what Edith Head was to every other Hollywood film garment. It was a cunningly American ideal—sexy without being smarmy, a pin-up excused by the sun-drenched healthy lifestyle of California and linked to another persuasive product, the movies.
In the trio of great American swimwear manufacturers, Cole went to Hollywood while Jantzen emphasized family fun and healthy sport, and Catalina became associated with beauty pageants. More than any other American company, Cole connected fashion and swimwear. Fred Cole reshaped the wool knit swimsuit to define the bust and waist and introduced a sunny California palette of colors. With the popularity of tans in the 1930s, Cole progressively sheared away the bulk of the traditional swimsuit to provide more and more exposure.
Fellegi, the Hollywood costumer, began working with Cole in 1936 and, immediately utilizing rubberized and stretch possibilities of new fibers that could surpass the old wool knits, brought a body-clinging science to the sex appeal that Cole desired. When rubber was restricted in World War II, Cole created the "swoon suit," a two-piece suit that laced up the sides of the trunk and tied for the bra, still an enduring pin-up. After the war, Cole and Fellegi pursued fashion and Hollywood glamor with New Look-inspired dressmaker swimsuits and profligate details of sequins, gold-lamé jersey, and water-resistant velvets.
In 1950 Cole signed film/swimming star Esther Williams to a merchandising-design contract that created and promoted the most popular and glamorous swimwear of its time. In 1955, with the phenomenal success of Esther Williams secured in her film aquacades and romances, Cole entered into agreement to produce swimwear for Christian Dior, thus bringing the most famous fashion name of the moment to swimwear design. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Cole produced a variety of lines addressed to the increasingly segmented (principally by age and body type) swimwear market. In the early 1980s, Anne Cole, daughter of founder Fred, began designing her own line of swimsuits.
The Anne Cole Collection sustained the designer swimwear ideal; the swimsuits were beautiful, feminine, and quietly sensual. Anne Cole's sensibility was traditional elegance, and her swimsuits often recalled the 1930s beach scene as well the most elegant sportswear of Patou. Yet while Cole of California's swimwear lines thrived, the company itself endured a succession of corporate parents. Kayser-Roth was bought by Gulf & Western, then sold to the Wickes group of companies, which in turn sold the firm to Taren Holdings, Inc. In 1993, Cole of California, the Anne Cole Collection, and fellow swimwear producer Catalina were all rescued from bankruptcy and acquired by Authentic Fitness Corporation, a subsidiary of Warnaco.
The swimwear division of Authentic Fitness proved a snug fit for Cole of California, which was paired with Catalina to create the Catalina Cole unit. In addition to Catalina Cole and Anne Cole, Speedo and Oscar de la Renta made up the Authentic Fitness swimwear division. While many swimwear producers had poor results in 1995, Catalina Cole and Anne Cole both experienced record growth and profits. Two years later, Anne Cole introduced the "tankini," an instant hit and the must-have swimsuit of the season and beyond.
In the 21st century, almost 70 years after its formation, the Cole name has come to represent both Catalina Cole and Anne Cole. While each prospered under the ownership of Authentic Fitness, their future was once again in peril when ultimate parent Warnaco Group filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001. The quest, however, of Cole swimwear will not change—these suits were never merely for the water, but to not only be on the crest of the wave but to define and enhance bathing beauty.
updated by NellyRhodes
Born: Las Vegas, Nevada. Education: Scholarship to study music, University of Southern California, turned to theatre and making costumes; graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Los Angeles. Career: Began designing swimwear, 1978; worked for Jantzen, then became swimwear designer for Anne Cole, California, 1982; left Anne Cole, 1984; designed the Viewpoint by Gottex swimwear line, 1984; opened Randolph Duke, Inc., and unveiled his first collection, 1986; developed a sportswear line under his own name, New York, 1987-92; debuted his first men's line, Duke Men, 1990; dissolved his company, 1990; signed a contract with 168, Inc. for a swimwear line, 1990; launched first jewelry collection, 1991; reorganized sportswear line under the name Randolph Duke, 1993-95; named creative designer, Halston International under the Signature Collection and Halston Lifestyle, 1996; began designing formal wear, 1996; debuted his formal evening wear, 1997; left Halston, 1998; opened store and began designing in Los Angeles, 1999; debuted the Randolph Duke Resort Collection, 2000. Address: 260 West 39th Street, New York, NY 10018, USA.
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Randolph Duke came to realize the fame of being "the Duke of Stars" after he made his formal eveningwear debut during fall 1997. Hollywood embraced his styles and designs with marked enthusiasm and admiration; among the likes of his Hollywood followers are Sharon Stone and Celine Dion. Duke progressed from swimwear to sportswear to evening wear, a progression that came naturally for a designer who has claimed that change itself is his inspiration; this particular need is what made him Hollywood's designer of choice in the late 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century.
Duke began his career designing simple yet stylish swimwear. He worked as swimwear designer for Anne Cole in 1982 and stayed until he ventured off on his own, creating for his own label from 1987 to 1992. His designs were vibrant, young, colorful, and full of innovative fabric use. Though he had shifted from swimwear to clothing design, Duke returned to swimwear in from 1993 to 1995, again giving the garments fresh, lively looks.
The transition from swimwear to sportswear seemed a natural step for Duke. When he joined Halston International in 1996, he continued his fashion style from his years of producing collections for his own label. The aim was to reach working women with a fashion sense who were also functioning on a limited budget. In 1997, he enlivened the Halston show at the New York Historical Society with a collection of cashmere tube tops and sexy, fitted evening dresses. Jackets for spring came in either a fitted, cropped style or a multipocketed safari design, along with four or five colors with coordinating prints.
During his years of creating sportswear collections under his own name, Duke's designs were bold, simple, tailored in contrasting stitching, and included supple knit pieces to round out his line. Almost all fabrics were domestic and the result was a charming, trendy sportswear collection full of life. Included in a hip 1989 line was a bright yellow motorcycle jacket, sharp suits, and an array of wet-weather wear including raincoats.
In 1998 Duke opened a store in Los Angeles and successfully began creating his own line of formal eveningwear. He introduced the future of fashion with circular shapes and red snapper-skin sandals. His gowns made a bold statement in 1999, starting with a dark velvet dress with braided shoulder straps and a long slip in mohair over beaded tulle. Moving back into sportswear in 2000, Duke presented a resort collection with a selection of blouses, including one in taffeta with two drawstrings down the center that, when pulled, rose up to show the midriff. The collection also introduced a t-shirt emblazoned with rhinestones, sequined ombre pants in lavender, sequined ombre short skirts with matching cashmere twinsets, and a beaded sarong skirt.
Being the Duke of Stars, Randolph Duke found himself increasingly catering to Hollywood clientéle. His spring 2001 collection was composed predominantly of elegant eveningwear. His designs have become highly visible at awards ceremonies, such as the Academy Awards®, with award-winners Hilary Swank (in a bronze ball gown) and Marcia Gay Harden (in ruby silk satin) in 2000 and 2001 respectively. Duke's designs, whether for high profile clients or not, continue to be bold, direct, elegant, and of star quality.