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In 1982, she launched her own line, Anne Cole, within the main Cole of California business. Her initial efforts, she told WWD 's Marlow, were aimed at closing a gap in the swimwear market she had discovered. "I wanted to design a swimsuit that had the kind of Calvin Klein tailored-clothes look," she recalled. "I was aiming at the woman who wanted to wear to the beach the same kind of tailored but tasteful and sexy clothes."

Cole scored what would be her biggest hit in 1998 when her label introduced the tankini. A two-piece suit with a top half that covered more of a woman's torso than a standard bikini top, the suit was an instant hit with customers, and was quickly copied by scores of other swimwear manufacturers. Cole's original target customer was a younger, athletic woman, but when she took it to some stores in the Midwest to preview the coming resort collection for a few select customers, she was surprised to discover "all these women in their 40s and their 30s and those who hadn't worn bikinis for a long time were squealing in the dressing room. 'Ooh, look at me. I'm in a two-piece suit' They were taking in a rebirth of their youth," she recounted in the interview with Belgum for the Los Angeles Business Journal . The popularity of the tankini encapsulated Cole's perceptive knack for tapping into women's anxieties about swimwear, and her design philosophy revealed itself in an oft-repeated mantra. "There is no such thing as a bad figure," Belgum quoted her as saying. "There are just bad swimsuits."

Still active in her company though she is in her seventies, Cole even began making in-store appearances for the first time in 2003. Asked by WWD 's Rosemary Feitelberg about her favorite swimwear-scouting spot, she cited a French Riviera haunt called Club 55 as "the chicest beach I've ever been to," she said. "I once saw a woman in a gunmetal gray maillot. I've never forgotten that suit. I love the idea of using fall colors. Maybe they'll finally let me do it."