November 17, 2012
Israeli businesswoman and fashion pioneer Leah Gottlieb passes away at the age of 94 in her Tel-Aviv home. Gottlieb, known as the “queen of Israeli fashion” was the chief designer and co-founder together with her husband Armin of Gottex, a company known all over the world for its swimsuit designs.
Gottlieb was born in 1918 in northeast Hungary where she was raised in poverty by an aunt. She met her husband shortly before the outbreak of World War II, when she worked as a bookkeeper at his family’s raincoat factory, which he was running. When the Nazis occupied Hungary, Armin was sent to a Labor Camp and Leah and the couple’s two young daughters spent several years in hiding in and around Budapest, including in a pit behind the house of a Christian who had been helping them.
Armin survived his time in the forced labor camp and the two were reunited after his liberation. The couple started another raincoat factory in Czechoslovakia before deciding to move to Israel in 1949. Leah recalled, “We came with nothing, without money, with nowhere to live, the first two or three years were very, very hard.” (Kershiner, Isabel, “Honoring Survival, and Gifts to a Nation,” New York Times, May 6, 2008.) Leah sold her wedding ring to buy a sewing machine and began making children’s clothing.
After three weeks, they moved into an abandoned apartment in Jaffa and they began to try and recreate their raincoat manufacturing business. They soon realized that with Israel’s lack of rain, producing raincoats was not going to be economically viable and in 1953, Leah began designing and creating swimsuits. They named their company Gottex (a combination of Gottlieb and textiles) and it soon took off. Leah’s unique designs were known for injecting a sense of glamour and fashion into swimwear and within seven years, the company was one of Israel’s top textile exporters. In 1984, the company reached $40 million in sales. The photo shows Gottlieb at work in the Gottex factory in 1980.