Lived: September 17, 1918 – November 17, 2012
Why you should know her: An Israeli fashion designer and businesswoman, Gottlieb founded the Gottex company.
Lea Roth was born to a Jewish family in Hungary. Before the start of WWII, she planned on studying chemistry. But when the Nazis occupied Hungary, her husband Armin Gottlieb was sent to a concentration camp. Lea hid from the Nazis, moving her daughters Miriam and Judith from one hiding place to the next. One time, Lea hid from the Nazis in a bouquet of flowers. Another time, she hid herself and her precious girls from an armed Nazi by hiding in a pit behind a house.
Lea, her husband, and their daughters all managed to survive the war. At first, Lea and Armin ran a raincoat factory in Czechoslovakia. But then they made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) in 1949. Lea remembered that “We came with nothing, without money, with nowhere to live. The first two or three years were very, very hard.”
Borrowing money from friends and family, the couple opened a raincoat factory in Tel Aviv. The trouble was, as Lea recalled, in the Holy Land they “saw no rain, only sunshine.”
So, the couple instead founded Gottex (a combination of “Gottlieb” and “textiles”), a beach- and swimwear company that became one of Israel’s top exporters, shipping products to 80 countries.
Being a talented seamstress, Lea began the company by selling her wedding ring in order to buy fabric. Then, armed with a borrowed sewing machine, she became to make swimsuits in the couple’s apartment.
As the expanding company’s chief designer, Lea created beach outfits by pairing bathing suits with matching tops, loose pants, tunics, and skirts. Her designs often had dramatic floral patters, inspired by the bouquet that had saved her from the Nazis.
During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Lea arranged fashion shows for the IDF soldiers. By 1984, Gottex had sales of $40 million, and was the leading exporter of fashion swimwear to the United States – and by the early 1990s, more than half of the company’s business was to the U.S.
Lea Gottlieb passed away in Tel Aviv at the age of 94 in 2012, and will be remembered as not only an Israeli seamstress and businesswoman, but one who clothed such luminaries as Princess Diana, Queen Sofia, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brooke Shields.Tags: Israelis You Should Know