Premium swimwear brand Gottex is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year with a collection that pays tribute to its creative founder, who, against all odds, survived the Second World War and established an innovative and fashionable swimwear brand inspired by a simple bouquet of flowers that saved her life.
The story of how Gottex was founded could be one of the most fascinating in the history of swimwear, and indeed fashion apparel.
It all started in the mid-1940s, during Germany’s occupation of Hungary when a Jewish woman named Lea Gottlieb was forced to hide from the Nazis, moving from one hiding place to another with her husband Armin and daughters Miriam and Judith.
At checkpoints, she hid her head in a bouquet of flowers to avoid being recognised as Jew.
Happily, Gottlieb and her family survived the war, and after the liberation, she and her husband set up a raincoat factory in Czechoslovakia, before immigrating to Haifa, Israel in 1949.
With money borrowed from family and friends, the Gottlieb family opened a similar raincoat factory near Tel Aviv in 1949, but it wasn’t long until they realised that there was little demand for raincoats in the Middle East.
“They found that Israel had more summer than winter, so they made a change and set up a swimwear business,” says Karen Gasner, the current head of design at Gottex.
Gottlieb sold her wedding ring for capital, bought fabric, borrowed a sewing machine and began to design swimsuits that were unique to Israel, inspired by local Middle-Eastern colours, including the greens of the Galilee countryside, the blues of Lake Tiberias and the pink of Jerusalem stone.
In 1956, Gottex, a high-fashion beachwear and swimwear company, was born, and by 1984, the brand was the leading exporter of fashion swimwear to the United States, and made up two-thirds of the Israeli swimwear market.
Among those who wore the label’s suits were Princess Diana, Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell.
“She was a real creator,” says Gasner, speaking at Mode City, Lyon on July 10.
“She was the first designer to make luxurious swimwear for the beach and she was the first swimwear designer to use innovative materials and introduce draping and special printing.”
Gottlieb’s collections often had dramatic and varied patterns that were inspired by and dominated by floral motifs; a tribute to the flowers she said saved her life during the Second World War.
In 1997, Gottex was acquired by Lev Leviev, the owner of The Africa-Israel Group, an international holding company.
After about a year of heading the design team, Gottlieb left the business and set up a new design company under her own name at the age of 85.
Gottlieb sadly passed away at her home in Tel Aviv on November 12, 2012 at the age of 94, but her legacy still lives on at Gottex.
“We always make sure to preserve the Gottex DNA from the time of Lea Gottlieb, the founder of the brand,” explains Gasner, who joined the company 11 years ago.
“For example, the flower motif, the animal skin prints, the quality of the fabrics, the styles, the embroideries, the sparkles, the special and rich techniques, and everything that represents luxury and glamour – all of these were elements that Gottlieb used in her designs,” she continues.
“We give a modern twist to all of these elements, though we still manage to preserve the past.”
Sitting at the busy Gottex stand at Mode City, it’s clear to see that Gottex is still a leading swimwear and beachwear designer, with business growing year-on-year, but this wasn’t the case, admits chief executive Ron Grundland.
“During the period when it was sold, the business went down a little bit because it was going through a transition period,” he tells Lingerie Insight in between meetings with buyers.
“But since then, we’ve changed and now Gottex is back to where it was, and perhaps it’s even better because it’s not only concentrating on making fashion swimwear.”
Indeed, in the last 20 years, Gottex has gradually introduced new brands, including Profile by Gottex, a stylish swimwear label for independent women aged between 20 and 60; Profile Blush, which makes young and fun swimwear in DD+ cup sizes; and most recently, Profile Sport, an athleisure-inspired swimwear brand that launched this season.
The business has also added value to its main Gottex collection, with the addition of shapewear swimwear – also known as Contour – and Essentials, a pared down swimwear collection for women who demand the quality of Gottex swimwear at a lower price point.
“We upgraded the Gottex collection to make it more contemporary and modern, but at the same time we didn’t forget the DNA of Gottex and its existing, loyal customers, by giving them the ability to continue buying the iconic product of Gottex,” says Grundland.
For SS17, the Gottex collection is divided into five inspiration stories.
“We have Vibrant Geo, which looks at geometric prints, mostly in summery, bright colours, but we also have a black and white story with striped patters,” says Gasner.
This story includes two vibrant bead prints, unique strips of textured fabric in black and ivory with touches of gold lurex and braid motifs, and black and white zigzags, designed to flatter the curves of the female form.
“The second inspiration story is Orient Express,” continues Gasner. “Again, this is a very colourful story that focuses on oriental motifs. It features florals, paisley designs and beading.”
The third story is Luxe Garden, which reflects the DNA of the brand and Gottlieb’s famous floral motifs.
This collection features the placement of large, hand-painted flowers in shades of blue, on a royal blue background; a unique 3D print that resembles traditional flock printing on a dark grey background with red, orange and blue flowers; a vivid photoprint of flowers on a mash-up panel pattern featuring graphic motifs; and a luxurious print in shades of blue and turquoise with gold leaves and decorative gold chains, through which the fabric is threaded through.
“The fourth story is Savage Beauty, featuring animal prints. This also reflects our history. This year we have the butterfly and the ostrich feathers,” says Gasner.
Finally, Gottex has created a spectacular capsule collection to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
Named Jewel Box, the new range oozes glamour, using rich materials, including Swarovski crystal and silver lurex fabrics and unique design details, such as a special macramé made of black bindings and crystal beads, and laser-cut embroideries.
It also features gold and pearl accessories and photoprints in metallic shades.
“I loved designing this range because I could do whatever I wanted with it,” enthuses Gasner.
“This is what Mrs Gottlieb used to do – she used to innovate – so for me this was the most fun, to develop the new ideas and the fabrics. It’s been very well received so far – we’ve actually been overwhelmed by the response. At first we thought it would be very niche but now we see that everyone wants it.”