Passing Legend – Lea Gottlieb of Gottex

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Late 70s floral print swimsuit and matching scarf

Lea Gottlieb was born on September 17, 1918 in Sajószentpéter, Hungary. Surviving the nazi occupation of Hungary, Lea, her husband Armin and their two daughters, moved to Czechoslovakia after the war to run a raincoat factory. The Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948 led to their emigration to Israel where the Gottliebs opened another raincoat factory near Tel Aviv in 1949. The lack of rain and preponderance of sunshine persuaded them to shift production to swimwear in 1953.

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The strapless one piece – Gottex’ 1984 hit

In 1956 the Gottliebs founded Gottex (an amalgam of the words Gottlieb and Textile) that by the 1970s had become Israel’s leading export fashion brand. Lea Gottlieb was the company’s chief designer, and was known for her one piece swim suits, often with bird or flower prints and matching wraparound skirts, tunics, or caftans. Their most successful design was the strapless one piece suit introduced in 1984. Sales in 60 countries topped $40 million that year and included Diane, Princess of Wales and Brooke Shields as clients. Gottex began losing ground in the swimwear industry in the 1990s to more modern companies and plainer styles of swimwear. Armin’s death in 1995 influenced Lea to sell the company in 1997, although she remained as chief designer until 2001.

Lea Gottlieb died in Tel Aviv on November 12, 2012.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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