1955 Alex Colman California Ad
If you know vintage clothing, then you know the Alex Colman label. The California company produced some of the best printed clothes ever, in my humble opinion. I was delighted recently to be contacted by Robert Colman, the son of the founders, and himself a president of the company during the 1970s. He very graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
As far as the Alex Colman’s company contribution to fashion, I would say a few things and not in any particular order and not necessarily regarding fashion. There were probably many fashion lines that from time to time were better designed than Alex Colman.
1. The Alex Colman line was distributed extensively across the United States. Probably more than any other California based company. the only exception might have been Koret of California. Looking back, I would say that the Alex Colman Company was the Liz Claiborne of the 60’s and 70’s.
2. We did a lot for promoting the so called California look. Before Alex Colman, stores would carry, for example in fall, only woolen fabrics from Eastern manufacturers. We were able to show retailers that the lighter fabrics, and for the most part, in the 60’s and early 70’s, it was polyester, were more comfortable and would sell better. We also were able to show the retailers that California manufacturers were not just for brightening up their presentations for resort and summer, that we were, in fact, just as innovative and competitive as their resources in New York or Boston were.
3. Obviously our unique prints set the standard.
4. Another major reason for our success, which had nothing to do with fashion, was a marketing tool, we used, where we would guarantee a maintained markup to our largest retail accounts, essentially guaranteeing that what they bought they would sell or we would take it back. This strategy which is ubiquitous today, as it has been over the last 30 years, was unique in the 60’s and cemented a relationship with the retailers that kept our business growing and growing.
In retrospect, I think, fashion wise, the Alex Colman company was more innovative in the 50’s, when I was not around. I was a great believer that true fashion innovation did not necessarily sell around the country. Our weakest market was metropolitan New York, one of the fashion capitols of the World.
A Store Window Featuring Alex Colman Fashions. Note the above dress, third from left. 1955 Company promotional photo, courtesy of Robert Colman
I would like to add two other thoughts, that contributed to the success of the Alex Colman Company.
1. As the company grew we were able to add some of the smartest and brightest people in the apparel industry. Beginning in the mid 60’s most of the major positons in the company were held by non-family members. Before I left, in 1976, we probably had 5 or 6 designers working on various aspects of the line under the guidance of a merchandiser, who we bought in from Robinsons Department Store here in Los Angeles.
2. The Alex Colman company was of the first companies to start manufacturing, in a major way, in Mexico. By the late 60’s almost 25% of our production came from a factory we controlled in Mexicali. Between buying the fabrics direct in Japan and manufacturing garments in Mexico, we were able to produce a well designed product at a price that was competitive.
I hope the above is helpful. It has taken me back many years.
Again, I’d like to thank Mr. Colman for sharing this important company history with us!
Posted by bbrueg:
This is fascinating. I’ve been interested in the company for years and had no idea the story was so rich. Thanks for this wonderful and truly important piece of fashion history!
Posted by Sydney’s Vintage Clothing:
Posted by KD:
When I began reading this, I thought of a parallel family business – Goldworm… I can’t help but feel a bit sad about the absence of these well-oiled family-run innovators in today’s business world… which makes this label even more valuable in my opinion.
Also want to add that I love the fact Alex Colman not only gained a great reputation in its time; but continues to be collected & worn today because it was based on good construction and durable fabrics – fashion built to last!
Posted by Carol:
Really great interview! I really enoy hearing the history of a business, especially when it’s a family run business, with each member contributing. Mark me as being another fan of the fabulous prints and fabrics!
Posted by Joan:
What a fascinating interview! Thank you Robert and Lizzie. I’m a big fan of the wonderful Alex Coleman prints, and am thrilled to finally know the story behind them. As well as all the other interesting history of the company. Loved reading about the Coleman family, and seeing the photos. Thanks again!
Posted by cemetarian:
I love the prints and the colors and the movement in every Alex Coleman I’ve ever seen. And to think that the internet has brought together such talent and history to blend with the new discoveries being made by the Next Generation of Vintage collectors.
Posted by Joules:
I loved learning about the company history, and Blanche Lefton! Thank you both, so very much.
Posted by Daisy Fairbanks:
Thank you so much for this interview! I do have one question: what was Mrs. Colman’s name? She’s mentioned as the first one to manufacture for the Alex Colman brand, but her first name is not mentioned (other than “mother” which as too sweet!) Both she and Ms. Lefton are also important figures in the company.
Posted by Lizzie:
Great question, Ms. Daisy. Her name was Sade. The company was in operation from 1949 through the middle 1980s.
Posted by Hollis:
Great article Lizzie, and thank you Mr. Colman. Every Alex Colman garment I have found has been wonderfully designed – they really stand out from the ordinary.
Posted by Becca:
I am a fanatic when it comes to reading and learning about the history on companies and it’s people, especially when it comes from the actual source. Wonderful article Lizzie! I give a big heartfelt THANK YOU to Mr. Colman for contributing his information, photos, and the insight on his family!
Posted by Justine:
Lizzie, that was a fantastic interview. I, too, have always loved the Alex Colman prints. I think Robert hit it right on the head when he compared the line to “the Liz Claiborne of the 60’s & 70’s”.
Posted by Bruce Lebowitz:
Interesting article. Lets not forget the traveling salesmen that left at the crack of dawn & distributed to the old mom & pop shops throughout California. 🙂 Harry Lebowitz:)
Posted by June:
One thing that Bobby forgot to mention that had a h-u-g-e emphasis was the importance of all pieces coordinating with each other. Related separates was in its infancy, but Alex Colman fully understood that. They also brought plus sizes for women out of the dark ages… no more were women of a certain size relegated to verticatl stripes, dark navy and black. 🙂
Posted by Alexandra Rembac:
I just got a phone call from my mother telling me to Google Lizzie! I think it’s so great you did this article about Alex Colman California, he was my uncle (Myron Landon, in the picture above is my grandfather and Esther and Irving were my godparents). It’s so nice to hear such kind things about the label and hear so many sweet comments. Just wanted to put my two scents in! Keep doing what you do Lizzie!;)