NEW YORK — Instead of looking forward to retirement as most executives would after decades of work in a family business, Anne Cole hopes to steal a few secrets from her storied past.
Over the years, Cole of California, the firm her father founded in 1925, suited up starlets like Esther Williams and Marilyn Monroe. Anne Cole knew Christian Dior as a Parisian hired to design a swimwear line for the company and Ronald Reagan as a judge in one of the company’s swimsuit contests. She knew Sharon Stone and Rene Russo as Cole of California models before they were Hollywood actresses.
Guests at the 20th-anniversary bash for Anne Cole swimwear, an offspring of her father’s business, got a glimpse of Cole’s history. Cole dug up vintage swimsuits and blew up old photos to tout the brands’ roots. The Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage is reportedly interested in using these looks for a special exhibition next year.
The future of swimwear, she said, to a large degree can be found in classic styles with a dash of innovation. Instead of body-baring styles in bright colors, there’s a need for discretion, Cole said.
"I think swim has to go back to our roots. It sounds corny and everyone says it, but buttoned-down sex is where it belongs," said the woman who Barbara Walters once called "the first lady of swimwear." "I don’t like oversexed. Bare is good, but not bare with little taste."
For her signature line’s celebration, she had one request: to celebrate the milestone at the 21 Club, the same place she had her first martini on her 21st birthday. That’s just what she had Monday night after all the glad-handing was done.
Sharp-witted and at times disarmingly direct, Cole is not one for fanfare. Before giving a few quick words of thanks to the crowd, Cole recalled how a certain former company president was less than confident about what she could do with her own line.
"I’ve given her a line and in six months, I’ll get rid of the line and get rid of her," Cole quoted the unnamed executives having said.Today, the business is a $28 million operation. In January, Kathy Van Ness joined parent company Authentic Fitness as president of the designer division, and building the Anne Cole swimwear business is a key part of her game plan. Authentic Fitness purchased the Anne Cole and Cole of California lines in 1993. The Cole businesses are based inLos Angeles.
Early on, Cole was not as sold on the prospect of a lifetime of swimwear. She said she initially had no interest in getting into the family business when she was a young woman.
"I was a normal, rebellious daughter who wanted to be in theater, not business," she said.
But she eventually caved in to her father’s persistence and stuck with it.
As a youngster, she didn’t do any pool-hopping in the backyard of neighbors Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Rosemary Clooney and Ira Gershwin, but she did pitch in at her family’s Beverly Hills home when Cole of California fashion shows were held there. Not everyone was pleased with having a child in the wings. One time, Cole dutifully laid out swimsuits for Esther Williams and threw away what looked like tissue paper, but turned out to be the silver screen star’s falsies.
Even as a child, Cole wanted women to be themselves.
"I want women to look like what they want to look like," she said. "Nothing fussy, no frills."
During this week’s swimwear market, she planned to sit in on sales appointments to get a better idea of what’s needed and what’s well-received. This trip’s only indulgence would be a swing by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to take in the Gauguin exhibition and hopefully glean some inspiration for next year’s colors.
Cole’s knack for naming suits and shades has also helped make her line successful, said Stuart Levin, someone who has been a friend of Cole’s for 50 years and sells fabrics to her. Take the "Swoon" suit, something she named when Frank Sinatra was all the rave, or the "Scandal suit," a mesh number that was so risque in the Sixties that TV Guide published air times for its commercials. An updated version of the suit is expected to be seen in "Die Another Day," the new James Bond flick that bows this fall.Levin added: "She is innovative in what she picks. She would also rather pay a little extra more to have a better quality fabric."
Roger Williams, president and chief operating officer of Authentic Fitness, said: "We’re making a more concerted effort to return to what we were in the past. We want to give that consumer something more unusual than just swimwear. Now, we have some things women can wear with jeans and coverups."
But she’s always looking for a way to rework the past. Cole said: "We grew up in wool suits. We should go back to wool with a little stretch — for people who do cold water swimming in Alaska and Italy, but pretty."
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye