Leah Gottlieb, founder of Gottex, “helped change the way people thought about bathing suits,” reports Douglas Martin in a New York Times obituary. (11/20/12). “Leah came up with an idea no one before had thought of: to inject glamour into women’s swimsuits and beachwear,” as Helen Shuman wrote in a 2006 book about Gottex. Leah’s creations, worn by “royalty, movie stars and Sports Illustrated swimsuit models” moved more than a million pieces a year “in the 1970s and 1980s.”
Some of her styles were “inspired by symphonies, others perhaps by impressionist paintings. One-piece suits were her specialty in some seasons, and birds, flowers and waves were among her favorite motifs. She made suits from velvet, metallic gold fabric and pseudo-suede. A single rose wrapped in a newspaper inspired a line of suits.” Her other innovation was “making something any woman in a bathing suit … could feel confident in … pioneering the use of” Spandex, for example.
Leah, known to some as Lady Leah, got her start “with a single sewing machine in a refugee camp” in Israel, initially “making children’s clothes because they required less material.” She then tried her hand at raincoats, but this didn’t commercialize because it rarely rains in Israel. In 1953, she “switched to cotton bathing suits,” and the business flew high until the 1990s, when her “colorful creations” began to look dated and her machinery grew antiquated. Lady Leah sold Gottex in 1997, and in 2005 launched her own label. She died at 94 last week, in Tel Aviv.