Swimwear Designer News From Gottex Israel

By Israel News Agency Staff

Tel Aviv-----February 16.....Gottex, Israel's leading swimwear-manufacturing company, has won international acclaim. Gottex utilizes advanced production technology and develops innovative, fashionable, and exciting swimwear collections, earning it high esteem among fashion industry professionals and consumers alike in Israel and around the globe.

Gottex was founded in 1949 by Leah and Ermine Gottleib, and quickly achieved worldwide success thanks to its unique, durable, and original designer fabrics and samples. Gottex has led the designer swimwear industry since its inception, beginning with its use of the revolutionary Spandex in the 1960s and progressing to innovative ultra-light materials developed exclusively by Gottex.

Over the years, Gottex has won many important international swimwear awards, among them Designer of the Year in Dusseldorf, the Fashion Prize in Dallas, the Fashion Festival Prize in Cannes, the Industry Prize in Milan, the Needle Prize in Israel, the Textile Prize in Paris, the Swimsuit Collection Prize in Britain, and others.

Africa Israel acquired Gottex in 1997, thus extending its sphere of activity to new and successful horizons.

Following is an interview with Lea Gottlieb, a former chief designer of Gottex Israel.

Gottex was my life but it was often filled with distresses, uncertainties, financial crises, upheavals which I had to overcome," says Lea Gottlieb, chief designer and the powerhouse behind the swim and cruise wear empire she founded.

Now, however, new circumstances, which she refuses to comment on although widely publicized in the Hebrew press, have forced her into retirement.

Characteristic of a generation that believes if you don't talk about something, it doesn't exist, Gottlieb zealously guards her rights to keep silent, conceding only that she is determined to overcome the changes in her life as a result of selling her shares in the company she built just three and a half years after it was taken over by Africa Israel's Lev Leviav.

Gottlieb is already planning a new venture, about which she will not elaborate except to say it will also have to do with creative design.

At 83 1/2, her daughter Judith interjects, Lea Gottlieb is spry, optimistic with bright, twinkling eyes that reached all the way to China and deepest jungles of Africa for inspiration. They are now trained on the Kirov and Bolshoi ballets and the art treasures of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg which Gottlieb dreams of visiting.

The colors and designs of the Russian arts are absolutely astounding she says about the new vista that engages her.

We visited with Gottlieb in her magnificent garden terrace on the 15th floor of her North Tel Aviv apartment - another example of her outstanding taste and creative talent.

We are surrounded by gorgeous tropical trees and flowers, which we learn are tended personally by Lea and her Filipino maid, as the first thing in her morning routine that includes exercise, Tai Chi and meditation.

Quite a change in pace and agenda from that of a busy career woman who was instrumental in putting Israel on the international fashion map.

Her combination of innovative fabrics, design of animal prints in a rainbow of unusual color combinations and shimmering ensembles that became elegant evening wear dazzled world markets and earned her such accolades and titles as "Designer of the Year" in DŸsseldorf and Cannes, and at international fashion events while at home, Lea Gottlieb was acclaimed for years as one of the country's leading exporters, earning millions in a foreign country to the great benefit of the economy.

For more than 40 years, Gottleib's 12-hour day began early in the morning at a desk cluttered with colorful swatches, order charts and drawing board on which she was busy implementing ideas that had been dancing around in her head perhaps all night.

Lea Gottlieb always designed every creation, and dealt personally with fabric makers and markets, visiting her Milan plant periodically and customers everywhere.

Everywhere she became known and appreciated for her good taste, modesty, warmth and curiosity about everything.

Creative design, she told us, is still her passion, although her first love was chemistry, which she studied in her native Hungary. Both mean creating something out of nothing, she says, by combining different elements. Her scientific bent may also account for her perfectionism in her work, which no doubt made for the international success of Gottex.

If she had it to do over, we ask, would she still choose fashion over chemistry as her life's work?

"I think it chose me," she smiles, and indeed it gave her great excitement and satisfaction, she avows, even in hard times.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Lea and her husband Armin, came to Israel as immigrants from Hungary at the end of World War II and picking up where they had left off in Europe, opened a small business for raincoats in tiny premises on King George Street, Tel Aviv.

At the same time, Lea Gottlieb made cotton bathing suits at home, until it became clear that the sunny Mediterranean climate was a far more likely venue for making swimwear than raincoats. They switched to this line, adding cruise wear and cover-ups that soon became the rage as well.

The family business had Lea at the helm, her late husband Armin in charge of the company's administration and finances, her daughter Miriam, now 60, running the Gottex showroom and operations in the US from New York, and daughter Judith, 57, assisting her mother and creator of a line of her own for the local market.

The Gottex story became legend and its collections won fame and fortune around the world, as they were publicized in the most glamorous magazines, seen in episodes of television programs and in show windows of sophisticated department stores.

Gottex albums are filled with names and photos of famous clients, who would visit the Gottex showrooms, not only to buy a suit, but also to meet Lea Gottlieb.

Just six months before her death, Princess Diana visited the Gottex showroom in London to purchase a suit and was outfitted with a kangaroo print maillot for her trip to Australia. Not only did she send an affectionate letter of thanks but a photo of her diving in the Gottex model.

Among many famous Gottex customers throughout the years, were Nancy Kissinger, Jackie Onassis, her sister Princess Lee Radziwill, Barbara Walters, Elizabeth Taylor, etc, etc.

With the Jerusalem Post

Israel News Agency