Jantzen is a brand of swimwear that was established in 1916 and first appeared in the city of Portland, Oregon, United States. The brand name later replaced the name of the parent company that manufactured the branded products. The brand featured a logo image of a young woman, dressed in a red one-piece swimsuit and bathing hat, assuming a diving posture with outstretched arms and an arched back. Known as the Jantzen "Diving Girl", the image in various forms became famous throughout the world during the early twentieth century.
John A. Zehntbauer and Carl Jantzen founded the Portland Knitting Company, the predecessor of Jantzen Inc, in January 1910, in Portland, Oregon. It was a small knitting concern located in downtown Portland, and they produced sweaters, woolen hosiery and other knitted goods in the upstairs space, and sold them in the retail outlet downstairs.
The founders were members of the Portland Rowing Club, and in 1913, the company was asked to provide a rowing suit for use in the chilly mornings on the Willamette River. The story, as told by Zehntbauer in the company paper, the Jantzen Yarns:
"I waited on him and took his order for these rowing trunks, to be made of a stitch like that of a cuff of a sweater so that they would stay up without a drawstring. After he tried them, he liked them so well that he came back for another pair and other members of the club heard about them, saw them and came in and ordered trunks like them. Nearly every member of the club who rowed had a pair. Later on, this same member came to me and asked if we could not make him a bathing suit of the same material .... a suit was made for him and he went to the ocean to bathe in the cold water. When he came back, he came into the store and told us that it was heavy and one could not swim well in it, but that he was well satisfied because it was so much warmer than any suit that he had ever had before and that it made ocean bathing a pleasure. ... this experience gave us the idea that a bathing suit made of this stitch, only in lighter weight, would be an excellent garment. We discussed this between ourselves and decided that we would order a needle bed for our sweater machine that would be fine enough to knit a rib-stitch bathing suit in a weight that would be comfortable. Roy, Carl, Joe Gerber and I were constantly in the water those days, either in the Y. M. C. A. swimming pool or in the river and we began to experiment for our own use on swimming suits made of this fine elastic fabric. We soon developed a suit which we found was the most excellent garment for swimming that we had ever seen".
"After weeks of discussion and searching for a name which we could use as a trade-mark, we were unable to agree upon any of the many names which were submitted to us. We were using the brand P. K. at the time, the initials of the Portland Knitting Company... Both the names Zehntbauer and Jantzen were suggested to us by our friends, but neither of us was willing to use our own name because it did not sound right to us... Combinations were also suggested; one I remember was "Jan-Zen" or to be used without the hyphen, "Janzen. " Another was "Portknit". Up to the very last minute no one could decide to use either of the names suggested, so one day shortly previous to the time Mr. Gerber brought over his proposed advertising program, I was in his office to order stationery which needed to be printed at once, as we had waited as long as possible to make a decision on the trademark before printing new stationery. After a short conference I gave him the order to go ahead and print the stationery using the Jantzen trademark on all of it. The name of the company of course was not affected, being Portland Knitting Company making Jantzen trade-marked merchandise".
Following World War I, a national advertising campaign was launched with advertisements illustrating Jantzen suits placed in Vogue and the old Life Magazine. Jantzen was a leader in promotion of its new product. The cover of the ads featured the "Red Diving Girl" which became adopted as the logo of the company and recognizable worldwide.
It was around this time that the company started to promote the idea of the swimsuit, as opposed to the bathing suit, and the tag-line "The Suit That Changed Bathing to Swimming":
In 1919 and 1920, we advertised Jantzen bathing suits. It was not until 1921 that Mr. Dodson first conceived the idea of using the name “Swimming Suit” instead of bathing suit. Up to this time we had never heard the name “swimming suit” used, and we had been selling bathing suits for years and had come in contact with all kinds of advertising of these garments, which consisted then entirely of newspaper advertising by retailers, or trade paper advertising by manufacturers. So we are certain the name “swimming suit” was never used in advertising. Mr. Dodson was manager of the Broadway retail store at the time, and I remember distinctly the twinkle in his eye as he suggested the use of the name in our advertising. So from 1921 we discontinued the use of the name bathing suits and used swimming suits in all our copy. Since then many manufacturers throughout the world have advertised swimming suits in place of bathing suits.
Jantzen's iconic Diving Girl was designed by Frank and Florenz Clark. She first made her appearance in advertisements in 1920, wearing a daring red suit, stocking cap and stockings, and first appeared on Jantzen swimming suits in 1923. Over the years, the stockings and stocking cap were dropped, and in the late 1940s, the suit became strapless. The whole design was modernized again in the 1980s. The Diving Girl remains a recognized international brand and is one of the longest lived apparel icons.
During the inter-war years of the late 1920s and early 1930s the company established overseas manufacturing facilities and sales teams, notably in Europe. By 1932, Jantzen was reportedly the seventh most known trademark in the world.
In the 1940s, business perked up after Jantzen added sweaters, girdles and activewear to its basic swimwear line. The bikini was introduced in France in 1946 to set the style for brevity in swimwear and became a worldwide fashion classic.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Jantzen recognized that working women wanted attractive beachwear for weekends and vacations. In some resort areas, swim separates, cover-ups, and ankle-length beach skirts completed many swimsuit ensembles. Jantzen began to work with nylon and spandex to add stretch that holds shape. Jantzen also introduced a Trikini, combining a string bikini worn underneath a lacy, semi-transparent maillot.
Ownership and portfolio changes
In 1980, Jantzen was purchased by Blue Bell, and Blue Bell was acquired by Vanity Fair Corporation in 1986. This acquisition was a disaster for Jantzen and led to its demise. In 1995, the company dropped the production of menswear to concentrate on women's apparel, returning to its roots in swimsuits. In 2002, the Jantzen trademark was purchased by Perry Ellis International, Inc. This included the licenses of Nike and Jag Swimwear.