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November 22, 1991 - Image 51

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-11-22

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

BUSINESS

Empire
Unmentionables

of the

Now celebrating its
45th anniversary,
Frederick's of
Hollywood has built a
$98 million business
on bras and bustlers.

ELIZABETH APPLEBAUM

Assistant Editor

os Angeles —
Cheese boards
don't stand a
chance.
Monogrammed
towels? Oh, please.
And don't even think
about strawberry-scented
shampoos or cute cat pins.
The mail-order business is
a booming industry, and
catalogs are filled with all
these items plus more.
But can anything really
compare to a brochure offer-
ing a wig called wild cat,
men's please release me
underwear and women's
panties by the name of the
living end and name that

L

thong?
The source of such tan-
talizing temptations is
Frederick's of Hollywood,
the famed lingerie business
which this year is
celebrating its 45th anniver-
sary. Based in California,
the company has 190 stores
nationwide, including four
in the Detroit area and an-
other four throughout the
state.
Also home to a thriving
mail-order business that
sells dresses, leisure wear
and hose, Frederick's last
year saw net sales of
$98,573,000.

The man behind all those
naughty nighties and slinky
shoes is the late Frederick
Mellinger, who believed
"fashions may change, but
sex appeal is always in
style."
Born in New York's Lower
East Side in 1913, Frederick
Mellinger found his first job
in an intimate apparel store
when he was 14. He lied
about his age to get the job.
Soon after, Mr. Mellinger
— known to his colleagues as
"Mr. Frederick" — joined
the U.S. Army, where he
served for three years. It was
there he discussed his plan
for an intimate apparel shop,
an idea that readily appeal-
ed to his fellow soldiers.
In 1946, Mr. Mellinger
opened his first mail-order
store in New York. Called
Frederick's of Fifth Avenue,
the business was located in a
small loft with only a desk.
Mr. Mellinger based his
underwear designs on the
kinds of things his soldier
friends had said their
girlfriends might like.
One year later, in 1947,
Mr. Mellinger moved to
California, renaming his
business Frederick's of
Hollywood. The storefront
was decorated in purple,
prompting residents to label
it "the purple palace."
Mr. Mellinger also began

Frederick
Mellinger with a
bevy of
bewigged
beauties from
the company's
catalog.

studying French, German
and Spanish so he could
work with clients abroad.
There was no business
quite like lingerie in
Hollywood, it seems, because
Frederick's positively thriv-
ed in its new home. Mr.
Mellinger began advertising
in both men's and women's
magazines and extended his
store's goods to include false
eyelashes, wigs and high-
high-high heeled shoes. He
introduced the first pushup
bra, the first front-hook bra
and the first fashion
bustiers, made popular in
recent years by consummate
artists like Madonna.
Among his new additions,
too, was the French bikini,
which saw its U.S. debut at
Frederick's of Hollywood in
the 1950s. Although the
bikinis included 6"-high
panties and a fully covered
top, they were considered
scandalous.
One customer, her midriff
exposed in her Frederick's

French bikini, was arrested
for daring to wear the gar-
ment on a public beach in
California.
Mr. Mellinger himself was
responsible for many of the
business' most memorable
product names. He dubbed
one brassiere rising star, an-
other cadillac. One of his
1940s bra ads carried the
headline: "Paris Points the
Way — No Flats Here."
Throughout the years of
high-fashion changes, from
the French bikini to the liv-
ing end, Mr. Frederick's ap-
proach was to make lingerie
sensual.
"Sensuality is the force
behind our fashions," he
said. "The company designs
each undergarment,
whether it's a baby-doll
nightgown or pushup bra, to
make a woman more allur-
ing to a man and more at-
tractive to herself when she
looks in the mirror."
Located on Hollywood
Boulevard, its front door

graced by bright-pink awn-
ings, Frederick's in 1989
added a lingerie museum. It
includes a retrospective of
the store's fashions and a
celebrity lingerie hall of
fame, where visitors can
view the bras, nightgowns
and underthings of the rich
and famous.
Included in the exhibit are
a black-and-gold bustier
belonging to Madonna, a
peach-colored nightgown
worn by actress Cybill
Shepherd, and Lana Turner's
black slip. "Jeffersons" star
Isabel Sanford's bra is on
display, as is one belonging
to Katey Sagal of "Married
With Children."
But there's more. Much
more. Check out the old-
fashioned bustier of that
congenial "Gunsmoke"
hostess, Amanda "Miss
Kitty" Blake, and the
feathery lounging gown of
Mae West.
Men's wear is not ne-
glected in this Hollywood

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

51

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