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Frederick's of Hollywood

Frederick's of Hollywood

Frederick's of Hollywood is an innovative lingerie company established by Frederick N. Mellinger on New York's Fifth Avenue in 1946. A year later he moved his business to the West Coast. Originally a mail-order house, by 1998 it had expanded to include 205 retail outlets and an on-line presence at its web site at www.fredericks.com. For many years, corporate headquarters were located at 6608 Hollywood Boulevard and housed in an art deco building, which was informally known as the Purple Palace for its garish lavender facade.

During World War II, Mellinger was stationed in Europe, where he noticed the French preference for black undergarments at a time when Americans preferred white. Mellinger formulated a theory of female pulchritude centered on proportional perfection. When he returned to the United States, he studied anatomy so as to be better prepared to contend with such phenomena as sagging breasts, midriff bulges, lackluster posteriors, and something that he referred to as "piano legs," to name a few. Stern and Stern, in The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, proffer the following quote, which addresses the issue of Mellinger's motivation: "I knew there had to be ways to reproportion women and give every lovable one of them EQUAL OPPORTUNITY in the eyes of men." A popular Mellinger slogan—"Came in looking like a Chevy and left looking like a Cadillac"—epitomizes the Frederick's philosophy throughout much of the company's history.

Frederick's-style perfection can be achieved with the assistance of a number of innovative products. For the poorly contoured buttocks, there is the Living End padded girdle. For the woman who requires flexibility in regard to bust size, there is the Light 'N' Lovely Air-Lite Inflatable Bra, whose cups can be expanded to the desired degree with the aid of straws. Or, for those who prefer a brassiere that more nearly approximates tactile perfection, there is the H20 Water Bra, which features pads containing a water-and-oil mixture. A salient nipple effect can be achieved with the aid of prosthetic-nipplepad bra inserts.

The Mellinger concept of femininity, the one that Frederick's has projected throughout much of its history, extolled the symmetrical, the curvaceous, the buxom, and the docile: the image of the sex kitten and the harem girl, adumbrations of which were even evident in some of the company's product names—Sheik's Choice pajamas, for instance. Males made many of the purchases or told their women what to buy. The image of Mellinger as "Mr. Frederick" appeared throughout the catalogue proffering tips on such subjects as male preferences and drooping breasts. The male orientation of the firm was unmistakable.

In an era when many American women are financially independent of their male partners, and rapid progress has been made toward sexual equality, it is not surprising that Frederick's, with the death of Mr. Mellinger in 1991, has considered altering its image. New York Times contributor Jennifer Steinhauer related Frederick's CEO Terry Patterson's plans for the company: "Over all … Frederick's of Hollywood stores would attempt to whisper seductively to the modern female consumer, instead of simply leering salaciously at her boyfriend. 'I'm dressed, I'm corporate, I'm successful, I can play with the big boys … And you don't know I'm a Frederick's woman.' That is where I see the company now."

—William F. O'Connor

Further Reading:

Saari, Laura. "Naughty but Nice." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 1, 1996, D-1.

Steinhauer, Jennifer. "What Becomes a Legend?" New York Times. February 13, 1998, D-1.

Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste. New York, Harper Collins Publishers, 1990.

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