What recession? asks Frederick Mellinger, Hollywood's unabashed Sultan of Slink. "Our business," he says, "is recession-proof. So it seems. Mellinger, best known as Mr. Frederick of Frederick's of Hollywood, is making more money than ever these days, marketing his sultry, steamy lingerie to ladies with love on their minds. Despite the general hard times for retailers, Frederick's reported that its profits soared out of sight in the 1980 fiscal year. Net income was $1.7 million, 66 percent higher than a year ago, while sales were $32.6 million, up 17 percent.
Mellinger offers no single reason for the startling jump, saying he was surprised when his accountants showed him the final figures. "What our customers are buying from us stems from their emotional needs," says Mellinger, who holds the title of chairman and president of the company he founded almost 35 years ago. "It's the need to feel good and look good. It's the same with cosmetics. Their sales don't go down in a recession either."
Mellinger's most notorious commodity is his catalogue, which is something of a legend for its displays of kinky women's (and lately men's) underwear modeled by young cheesecakes (and hunks).
But while the catalogue with its nearly 1 million customers has given Frederick's its racy reputation, its stores account for most of the sales. The catalogue business brings only 35 to 40 percent of revenues, while its 126 stores in 33 states and 115 cities account for the rest.
Don't look for Fredrick's on the haute-class shopping store strips in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. It's strictly shopping-center suburban, mainly serving the housewife and working woman seeking to spice up their lives.
Though Frederick's is a public company, Mellinger and his family remain the chief stockholders, controlling 62 percent of the approximately 1.4 million shares of common stock.
Mellinger began the company as a simple mail-order house, selling "intimate women's apparel," as he puts it. But his clothes were so popular he soon began retailing them at the same location.
It is unclear what will happen to the company when Mellinger retires or dies. He has two children, neither of whom is being groomed as his heir.
"He runs the company very conservatively, very much like a family business," says Richard Pickup, a Los Angeles-based analyst who follows Frederick's. "I would be surprised if he ever sold out."
A lot of people, observes Pickup, are surprised when they learn Mellinger "isn't a dirty old man. He's actually a fine gentleman. He works hard. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't drink. He's really a pillar of the community."