Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fredericks of Hollywood new CEO and history

Fredericks of Hollywood gets a new CEO Thomas Lynch, and if you are curious about the brand that invented the push-bra bra keep reading.

In wake of the new CEO I have done some research on the brand, and I also interviewed their photographer Steve Erle on Model Talk Radio here.

Here is what I found about a man named Frederick Mellinger, who founded Frederick's of Hollywood. So you might now know what Victoria's Secret is, or if there is a Victoria, but there sure of hell was a Frederick of a brand called Frederick's of Hollywood. Except the brand started in NYC, or what would become the brand started in lower Manhattan.

Underwear Model Frederick Mellinger's racy creations made his business a star.
By Paul Lukas
February 1, 2003
FORTUNE Small Business) – There's no denying it: "Mellinger's of the Lower East Side" just doesn't have the same ring as "Frederick's of Hollywood." But the clumsier name, unglamorous though it may be, provides a truer glimpse of the origins of one Frederick Mellinger. This Hungarian-American tailor's son from lower Manhattan revolutionized the lingerie industry and created an iconic sex brand along the way.

Mellinger's story begins in the Depression, when he was working for a mail-order operation and suggested selling black lingerie instead of just the standard white. Sadly, the world wasn't yet ready for black underwear--or at least Mellinger's bosses weren't--and he was promptly fired for proposing such scandalous merchandise. He ended up in the Army, where his fellow soldiers displayed racy Hollywood pinup posters in the barracks. Mellinger quizzed them and found, as he'd expected, that they wished women would upgrade from white underwear to something more exotic.

Buoyed by his informal market research, Mellinger left the Army and returned to retailing, opening a Manhattan shop featuring lacy passion fashions (including, of course, black lingerie). But newspapers refused to carry his ads, decrying the illustrations as pornographic. Undaunted, Mellinger countered by running cagily worded classified ads ("Bare Illusion Panties: To wear under your prettiest things when you want to feel extra alluring and just a little naughty too!") that soon caught the attention of Broadway showgirls and dancers. These performers, tired of the boring undergarments at Macy's and Gimbels, became Mellinger's best customers.

But Mellinger soon decided the real action was out west, so in 1946 he moved and reinvented his business as Frederick's of Hollywood, catering to Tinseltown starlets and wannabes alike. He got a break during a 1947 buying trip to France, where he saw a then-startling sight: a bikini. He brought back a large shipment, which sold out almost immediately and resulted in a customer's being arrested on Venice Beach for indecent exposure. It generated tremendous publicity (newspapers carried photos of the bikini-clad woman being led away in handcuffs), and business soared.

But Mellinger wasn't merely a retailer. He was intent on improving intimate apparel. Thanks to his research and innovations--which at one point included hiring a team of industrial designers from the Army Corps of Engineers--Frederick's of Hollywood became known for a number of American lingerie milestones. They included the first padded bra (1947), push-up bra (1948), padded girdle (1951), push-up bikini (1958), and thong panty (1981). Along the way came the tawdry but playful accessories for which Frederick's remains best known: the stiletto-heeled boots, the outrageous wigs, and, of course, the crotchless and edible panties.

Mellinger--or Mr. Frederick, as he became known--remained involved with the company until his death in 1990.

After this death the NYTIMES reported this:

Mr. Mellinger said his success came because ''sex appeal is always in style.'' Born in the Lower East Side of New York City, Mr. Mellinger got his start when he lied about his age - then 14 - to get a clerical job at an ''intimate apparel'' firm, where he learned the art of mail-order merchandising.

In 1946, Mr. Mellinger opened Frederick's Fifth Avenue in New York, a mail-order business selling products that his World War II Army friends told him their girlfriends would like. A year later Mr. Mellinger moved the store to the West Coast, where the bright purple Art Deco-style headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard became a landmark.

The company went public in the 1970's and is traded on the American Stock Exchange. There are now 160 Frederick's stores, and sales topped $80 million last year, said Ellen Appel, a publicist who has worked for Frederick's.

Enhancing 'the Good Parts'

Mr. Mellinger was the guiding spirit of the company, designing brassieres with names like ''Rising Star'' and ''Cadillac,'' and learning French, Spanish and German to deal with European suppliers personally.

''He truly revolutionized lingerie in this country,'' Ms. Appel said. ''When other people were making traditional, white, boring lingerie, he was making very glamorous lingerie.''

''Our clothes cosmetize a woman's body,'' Mr. Mellinger said in an interview in 1983. ''They don't just cover the body, they take the good parts and enhance them.''

I don't know about you, but I like learning about where brands come from in the first place.

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