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Articles on Vintage Swimwear > Esther Williams: Actress, Model, Designer, Swimwear Entrepreneur

7 Oct 2007


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October 2007 Newsletter

Esther Williams: Actress, Model, Designer, Swimwear Entrepreneur

Esther Williams & Cole of California
In 1925, Fred Cole, a silent film actor, created a swimsuit line that set the bar for all others to follow.
His suits were gorgeous yet modest, comfortable yet classy, and made any woman, regardless of her size,
feel great in a swimsuit. Fred Cole’s designs lay claim to many of the “firsts” in swimwear, including the backless
and strapless swimsuits, the short overskirt, the boy short, the first true tank suit, and the cover-up skirt.
His suits gained such acclaim that super stars like Marilyn Monroe, Rene Russo and Farah Fawcett were
photographed in them. Swimming beauty Esther Williams became the official face of the Cole of California
advertising campaign. Christian Dior, the world’s most celebrated designer, even paired up with Fred Cole
to create his one and only swimwear line. 

The Esther Effect on Cole
When Esther Williams first became a star, women's swimsuit design was still in its infancy. Lycra and other stretchable materials had not yet been invented, and wool was still a common swimsuit component. The costume designers at MGM had had little practice in designing swimwear for films, and their results, although creative, were often highly impractical. In 1948, Williams was asked by designer Cole of California to endorse one of their swimsuits. This suit, one of the first ever to be made with lastex, was revolutionary: the stretchable material meant that a zipper was no longer necessary. It also meant that the suit fit better and was more suitable for maneuvering in the water. Cole approached Williams independently of MGM and asked her to endorse the suit. At that time, celebrity endorsements were unheard of. While celebrity images were often used in advertisements, such uses were strictly controlled by the studio, and all profits went to the studio as well. After Williams won her fight with MGM to be allowed to make the deal, she made as much money per year from the endorsement as she did from her contract with MGM. Her success opened the door to the multi-million dollar endorsement deals from which today's athletes now profit.

Jantzen advertising 1945

Esther Williams Swimsuits
After her acting career was over, Williams put these design and sales skills to use running her own swimwear company. Now worth $3 million, the Esther Williams Swimsuit Collection produces fashionable, practical suits for women who are not
shaped like fashion models.

These two ads from 1949 for Cole of California swimsuits, feature Esther Williams as a bathing beauty.

 We have a few vintage Cole of California swimsuits in our store here. We also have added some new selections for you to browse.

As always, happy swimming!





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