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Swimsuit Queen Anne Cole Speaks Out

Whether you do your swimming at a pool, beach, or swimming hole, chances are Anne Cole has come to your rescue. Our arbiter of bathing suit style, she has devoted nearly 50 years to body parts and how to best show them off. "It's always interested me," she says, "that it took America's space program only ten years to land on the moon, but it took women's swimwear seventy years to move from the ankle to the crotch."

Cole was born thinking this way: her father, silent film actor Fred Cole, saw beachside potential in the family's drop-seat underwear business and founded the Cole of California line in 1925. We have him to thank for bringing body-hugging stretch fabric to swimwear.

Anne herself began "in the back of the factory" as an errand girl, seeing to it that Esther Williams had all the tanks and cover-ups she needed. She stayed with the company, even after Kayser-Roth, and later Authentic Fitness, took over, directing sales out of New York but traveling nonstop six months of every year.

In 1982 she started her own enormously successful line, the Anne Cole Collection. Crisp, refreshingly understated designs are her strong suit. And, as always, she still spends time offering advice in dressing rooms. When Cole narrates department store fashion shows, she ends by saying, "If you have a figure problem, come talk to us. And if you don't, won't you please discuss mine?" We took her up on the offer.

Anne Cole on...

Bathing suit anxiety
Like everyone else, I'm inclined to hide behind a rock. At times I've felt like two grapefruits walking down the beach. Then I figured, no one's looking at me anyway, and I got over it.

French vs. American bodies
French women have short legs and no bosom to speak of, though they use push-up bras to great advantage. Americans have long legs and too much in the breast department. Perhaps we're overfed.

Fear of flying
After 45 years of jetting around the world, I'm still frightened every time I board. Yesterday I flew from L.A. to New York, and the plane was spanking the clouds. I prayed a lot and drank straight vodka.

Hotels that are like home
In London, I stay at the Connaught. It's so old-fashioned, with great staircases and what look like tea cozies on the chairs. I was a regular at the Westbury in New York until it closed for renovations. (It reopens next spring, and I just hope they don't slick it up.) The gym overlooks Madison Avenue. First thing in the morning, I used to spend 40 minutes on the treadmill, watching New York wake up. In Paris, I love the Lutétia, at 45 Boulevard Raspail in the Sixth. It has a turn-of-the-century ambience, spacious rooms--unlike most European hotels--and the perfect location for shopping sprees.

Beach with the sexiest bathing suits
Cinquante-Cinq, or Club 55, in Ramatuelle, just down the road from St.-Tropez. It's the place to see the latest, hottest things on the chicest women. To be fair, its lure might also be the way you're treated there. A pretty girl in short shorts tells you where to park your car. Charming young boys move quickly to get youa mat and an umbrella. For lunch, everyone glides into the outdoor restaurant to eat mussels and French bread and drink Pouilly-Fuissé. There's no equivalent for this anywhere else.But don't go in August.

Prints
People believe suits in printed patterns hide flaws. I came from that school, but I graduated. I like stripes, dots, textures, and, okay, some non-argumentative prints.

Favorite pools
I love the French Riviera's Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, with its cliffside pool and phenomenal views of the Mediterranean. The Grand Wailea on Maui has two main pools--the one open to kids is sprawling and free-form; the other is rectangular, shaded by palms, with exquisitely placed cabanas. A visit to both these pools gives me a complete picture of what Americans are wearing.

Suits she has loved
The classic striped tank, simple and clean. The Johnny Weissmuller- style high-necked tank. My own lingerie maillot, inspired by a fitting model's one-piece camisole. It was the first style in my line, and we've been making it ever since. To me it's the quintessential swimsuit--a simple nothing. In it, a woman is who she is.

Cole of California best-seller
The 1964 Scandal Suit, the first suit with mesh inserts at the waist. It was scandalous because we peekabooed the body--giving a peek of something is much more provocative than exposing it. That suit made the front million worth, the most any suit had sold back then.

A desert-island packing list
One cotton pareo in a tropical print; a Discman with a recording of Ethel Merman singing Gypsy; Katharine Graham's autobiography, Personal History; and my lingerie maillot in bright orange--a very in color, and it might help me get rescued!

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