100 Years of Swimwear

These past few months the Esse Purse Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas has been showcasing 10 bathing suits from the Fashion History Museum collection with the 1930s and up augmented with hats, sunglasses, and other fun beach paraphernalia. The show is about to end in a few weeks:

And while we are on the topic of swimwear, I thought this recently colourized picture from c. 1910 was interesting. History seems more real when it’s in colour:1905

Canadian Fashion Connection – Rose Marie Reid’s earliest line – Skintite

'Out of the West - Skintite' man's bathing suit by Reid's Holiday Togs Ltd., c. 1938 - 1944

‘Out of the West – Skintite’ man’s bathing suit by Reid’s Holiday Togs Ltd., c. 1938 – 1944

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I first blogged about Rose Marie Reid in my first ‘Canadian Fashion Connection’ post nearly six years ago. However, last week I found an example of the very first design she created that got her into the swimwear business. So here is a little more information about Rose Marie Reid.

Rose Marie Yancey was born into a Mormon family in Cardston, Alberta in 1906. Her first marriage brought her to Vancouver, British Columbia but that union did not last. After her divorce she took swimming lessons and fell in love with her swimming instructor Jack Reid, who became her second husband in 1935.

Bathing suits in the mid 1930s were made of wool that sagged when wet, so Rose Marie cut a pair of swimming trunks for her new husband from heavy cotton and put laces up the sides for a snug fit. In 1937 the Reids went into business after an order for sixteen dozen men’s and women’s laced suits were placed by the Hudson Bay Company department store. The suits were sold under the brand name Skintite and were made between about 1938 and 1944 (the dating is inexact in her biography.) In 1946 Rose divorced Jack Reid and moved her business to California. Rose Marie Reid went on to become the leading manufacturer of women’s swimwear in the 1950s.

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.

Fashion and furniture

Pierre Paulin Ribbon chair and ottoman, 1966, made possible by the bathing suit...

Spandex (an anagram of ‘expands’) was co-invented in 1959 by chemists C. L. Sandquist and Joseph Shivers at DuPont’s laboratory in Virgina as a replacement for rubber in corsetry. Also known as lycra, the super stretchy synthetic fabric was being used for bathing suits in the early 1960s when it caught the eye of French furniture designer Pierre Paulin. His sculptural designs were difficult to upholster section by section in the traditional method because of the curves. Paulin got the idea of ‘dressing’ his furniture in spandex and tested the idea by cutting up his wife’s bathing suits to cover miniature models of his designs. Fitting the pre-sewn bag over the chair was “like a woman shimmying into a bathing suit” he said. Paulin’s 1966 ‘Ribbon’ chair and ottoman design was the first to feature the new bathing suit material inspired upholstery. For the complete story of Pierre Paulin see Modernism magazine, summer 2008.

Canadian Fashion Connections – Rose Marie Reid

(Originally blogged November 21, 2008)

Yesterday I introduced what will become a regular blog column on Movie Costume Reviews. Today I want to introduce another regular blog column – Canadian Fashion Connections. Here I will find interesting tidbits that are sometimes profound and often obscure, but always fashionably Canadian!

Two piece bathing suit with totemic designs labelled 'The Canadiana Swimsuit - A Rose Marie Reid Original' c. mid 1940s

Because of a lucky find at a local antique store on Sunday the illustration for this article has inspired the first Canadian Fashion Connection — bathing suit designer Rose Marie Reid.

Rose Marie Yancey was born into a Mormon family in Cardston, Alberta in 1906. Her first marriage brought her to Vancouver, British Columbia but that union did not last. After her divorce she took swimming lessons and fell in love with her swimming instructor Jack Reid, who became her second husband in 1935.

Bathing suits in the mid 1930s were made of wool and got heavy and saggy when wet. Rose Marie cut a pair of swimming trunks for her new husband from an old duck (cotton) coat and put laces up the sides for a snug fit. Jack convinced Rose Marie to design a woman’s version and also convinced buyers from the Hudson Bay Company department store to look at samples and place orders. Sixteen dozen orders later and Reid’s Holiday Togs Ltd. was born. Reid quickly became known for her well-fitted, comfortable, flattering bathing suit designs but just when her real success began to take off in 1946 her marriage to Jack Reid ended.

As early as 1938 Rose Marie Reid had been trying to break into the American market. The war stagnated any international expansion but in 1946 she began to look for a niche in the U.S. swimsuit market that was being dominated by Jantzen, Catalina, Cole, and Mabs. A buyer at Lord and Taylor in New York was impressed with her line and convinced other buyers to see her show in California where Rose Marie wowed them with her collection. The highlight of the show was an extravagant metallic gold suit bought by Rita Hayworth – the ‘IT’ girl of 1946, and the first of many pinup models (including Marilyn Monroe) to choose Reid bathing suits for their flattering fits.

In 1951, LIFE magazine praised Reid’s hourglass design as the year’s most revolutionary suit. In that same year Reid’s attention turned exclusively towards the U.S. as the headquarters were moved to Los Angeles. The Canadian side of the business was closed in October 1952. Rose Marie Reid of California became the world’s largest manufacturer of ladies’ swimwear from 1954 to 1959, with her suits selling around the world in forty-nine countries.

Rose Marie Reid believed in flattering the female figure by creating bathing suits with support and structure but her Mormon background wouldn’t let her accept the baring of the belly button in bikinis. In the end it was the adoption of the bikini that spelled Reid’s demise. In 1962 Reid sold out her share of the company and stopped designing bathing suits.