Anne Cole

Swimwear veteran Anne Cole died Tuesday in Beverly Hills after a short illness. She was 90.

Cole worked in sales and marketing for her father Fred Cole, who founded Cole of California and produced swimsuits for Hollywood starlets such as Esther Williams and swimwear for Christian Dior. She launched her eponymous line in 1982. Cole is best known for inventing the tankini — which pairs a tank top with a bikini bottom — and for producing styles that suited multiple body types. Swimsuits are still created today under her brand.

Before joining the family business, Cole dabbled in theater and worked with actor Gregory Peck when the La Jolla Playhouse was just opening. In the early Fifties, she decided to work for her father. She started in the mailroom before becoming a key saleswoman and was in charge of significant accounts, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall-Field’s, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.

When Kayser-Roth Corp. acquired Cole of California the early Sixties, she became executive vice president of the company and opened a headquarters in New York. She also became the face of Cole of California and appeared in ad campaigns.

A model wearing a striped swimsuit by Anne Cole.A model wearing a striped swimsuit by Anne Cole.

A model wearing a striped swimsuit by Anne Cole.  Robert Mitra

In 1981, the National Board of the YWCA honored her as one of four outstanding women in American Industry and in 1985, she was voted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Her own line became the company’s designer division and it quadrupled its volume within the first five years of operating. Cole was one of America’s top designer swimsuit companies by 1990.

She won the Otis Creative Vision Award, which was presented by the Otis College of Art and Design, in 1993 and 2001.

In 1998 she introduced the tankini, a style that was revolutionary at the time and continues to do well in the swimwear market. Cole was known for saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad figure. There are just bad swimsuits.”

In 1993 Authentic Fitness Corp., a subsidiary of Warnaco Group Inc., purchased Anne Cole. In 2008 it was acquired by the In Mocean Group for $26 million.

Cole is survived by her brothers Jeffrey Cole and Major General Thomas Cole, her sister Penny Cole, and her godson, Frederick Flora. She was preceded in death by her longtime companion and business partner, Susan Flora.