Jantzen Celebrates Centennial

The company honors its past with a line based on vintage suits.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Swim issue 07/09/2009

Jantzen, the Portland, Ore.-born brand that first coined the term swimsuit, will head into its second century in business next year and is commemorating the occasion by reflecting on its first 100 years.

This story first appeared in the July 9, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Under the design direction of head designer Lisa Dixon, Jantzen dove into its archives to identify iconic swimsuits of the brand’s past in order to reinterpret them for modern consumers. The resulting Heritage Collection contains suits evocative of significant styles from each decade from the Twenties on, and the relaunch of Curvallure, a line popular in the Fifties for its glamorous bras and shapely fit, targeted at swimwear shoppers who want slimming features.

To promote the new swimwear, Jantzen is rolling out advertising in December speaking to its legacy and drawing upon the tag line “Just Wear a Smile and a Jantzen,” which was first introduced in the Sixties. On July 10, a 13-week exhibit called “Beauty on the Beach: A Centennial Celebration of Swimwear” will kick off at the The Wolfsonian–Florida International University to showcase classic artwork, memorable advertising, emblematic bathing suits and celebrity swimwear standouts.

Jantzen’s objective is to educate a younger audience about the brand’s heritage, which began when the Portland Knitting Company, founded by partners Carl Jantzen and brothers John and Roy Zehntbauer in 1910, developed stretchy, unisex knitted one-piece wool bathing suits for the Portland Rowing Club. The Portland Knitting Company, which became Jantzen in 1918, then began to promote recreational swimming as a way to popularize lighter versions of the garment — which it labeled swimsuit — with the general public.

“The owners were very gutsy,” said Jantzen archivist Carol Alhadeff, referring to the company beginning a national advertising campaign in 1921 and creating the International Set, a line in the Fifties gleaned from designs from across the globes. “They took risks and were visionary.”

George Feldenkreis, chief executive officer of Perry Ellis International, which purchased Jantzen in 2002, said Jantzen is doing well, and believes future growth for the brand could come from a premium line aimed at stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. And he suggested the brand has to make itself as well known to women under 40-years-old as it is to women over. “While keeping that [misses’] customer, we are trying to bring in a younger demographic,” he said. “We are making inroads.”