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SI Swimsuit Founding Editor Jule Campbell Has Died at Age 96

Remembering the iconic first editor of the Swimsuit Issue.
Jule Campbell

Jule Campbell in her SI Swimsuit office in January 1976.

Jule Campbell, the founding editor of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, died on Nov. 19 at the age of 96 in Raritan Township, N.J. A pioneer in the fashion and publishing industries, Campbell was a feminist trailblazer and a brilliantly creative and family-oriented visionary who was ahead of her time.

Campbell championed women from the start of her professional career and revolutionized the fashion industry we know today. After a stint at Glamour, the working mom started as an assistant in the fashion department at Sports Illustrated. In 1964, SI managing editor Andre Laguerre suggested switching up the magazine’s usual lineup of content with a swimwear feature to combat the winter blues, resulting in a six-page feature with Babette March posing in a white bikini on the cover. That was what was considered to be the first SI Swimsuit Issue.

Campbell, the SI Swimsuit founding editor.

Campbell, the SI Swimsuit founding editor.

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Campbell’s groundbreaking vision the following year catapulted the Swimsuit Issue into a cultural phenomenon that featured women in fashionable swimwear, and, with it, she truly invented the supermodel. She was the first to insist on featuring models’ names on the pages of the magazine, which was unheard of at the time. In doing so, she liberated women and gave models an identity, making them just as important as the fashion featured in the pages.

“I wanted them to look like real people that were beautiful, and I think our audience related to that,” Campbell said.

Campbell on location with assistant Julie Stern.

Campbell on location with assistant Julie Stern.

By promoting women in this way, Campbell created opportunities for them outside of just appearing on a printed magazine page. It is largely thanks to her that Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley, Paulina Porizkova, Tyra Banks, Elle Macpherson and Kathy Ireland are the household names and entrepreneurial powerhouses we know today.

Campbell does a quick fit check before a shoot with models.

Campbell does a quick fit check before a shoot with models.

“Jule and SI humanized models,” said Ireland, now the CEO of a $2 billion lifestyle company, as the issue celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014. “With other magazines, our job description was to shut up and pose. What Jule did was give us a voice and an opportunity to speak.”

Her tenacity for championing women extended not only to the models she worked with, but also with fellow women in the workplace. Those who knew her best said Campbell was a kind and empathetic leader who personally invested in the women she worked with, dedicating her time and energy to nurturing and helping them to channel their power.

“Jule Campbell created a hugely storied brand that has led to the success of so many women and brands and individuals,” says SI Swimsuit editor in chief MJ Day. “And it’s not just swimsuit models that she’s impacted; it’s the businesses behind the swimwear industry, as well. Jule was a creative in every sense of the word.”

After 32 years at the helm of SI Swimsuit and more than 50 photo shoots with 154 models, the matriarch of the brand stepped down in 1996. Today, Campbell’s legacy lives on, as SI Swimsuit still prides itself on presenting women in a way that highlights their own personal and unique qualities.

Campbell will not be forgotten. She will be remembered by the SI Swimsuit family and forever revered, as the publication wouldn’t be what it is today without her leadership. Campbell is survived by her son, Bruce, grandchildren Graham and Hannah, Hannah’s husband John Popkowski as well as her daughter-in-law, Jill Campbell.

Jill, who is a filmmaker, is currently working on a yet-to-be-titled documentary of the iconic and modest woman was a motherly figure to many.

Jule Campbell

Campbell with Stephanie Seymour on Nai Yang Beach in Phuket, Thailand, in 1988.

“Jule possessed a magnetism that was born out of contradiction. She lived a glamorous life, traveling every inch of the world working with the most iconic models, photographers and journalists of her day, but what made her special was her deep sense of empathy and the authentic interest she took in the lives of those around her, whether she had known them for 10 minutes or 30 years,” Jill says. “She was at once classically refined and wholly modern, a beauty and a career girl who waited to get married, choosing not to wear a wedding ring because she ‘never wanted to feel beholden to anyone.’”

Jule Campbell

A young Campbell.

For more than three years, Jill has been working on a documentary exploring Jule’s life and career as a woman who broke glass ceilings working in a male-dominated industry by utilizing an intentional and ethical artistic process. Jill has filmed many of the women whose careers Jule helped launch, including models like Banks, Macpherson, Ireland and Carol Alt.

Jule Campbell and Elle Macpherson

Campbell and Macpherson.

The documentary is being produced by Red Barn Productions LLC and executive-produced by EUE/Screen Gems Documentaries LLC. The film is currently in postproduction and is expected to be released in 2024. More information can be found here.