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Jule Campbell, SI Swimsuit Founding Editor, Has Died at Age 96

Saying goodbye to the iconic editor of the Swimsuit Issue.
Jule Campbell

The founding SI Swimsuit editor in her office in January 1977.

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

From the beginning of her career, Campbell championed women and changed the fashion industry for the better. After working briefly at Glamour, the working mom got her start as an assistant in Sports Illustrated’s fashion department. When SI managing editor Andre Laguerre suggested changing up the magazine’s typical content with a swimwear feature in the mid-’60s, what was considered to be the first SI Swimsuit Issue was born. The multiple-page feature, designed to help combat the winter blues, featured Babette March posing on the cover in a white bikini.

Jule Campbell

Campbell does a quick fit check with SI Swimsuit models on location.

In 1965, Campbell’s remarkable ideas catapulted the Swimsuit Issue into today’s cultural phenomenon, featuring women in fashionable swimwear. She insisted on including model’s names in the magazine, a step that helped liberate women, giving models an identity and making them just as important as the fashion featured in the publication.

Throughout her career, Campbell helped create opportunities for women outside of just appearing in the pages of a magazine. It is largely thanks to her promotion of women in such a way that Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley, Paulina Porizkova, Tyra Banks, Elle Macpherson and Kathy Ireland are all iconic names today.

“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.”

Jule Campbell

Campbell takes a break between shots.

While Campbell stepped down from her role in 1996 after 32 years at the helm of SI Swimsuit, her legacy lives on today. More than 25 years later, the franchise still prides itself on highlighting women and celebrating their personal and unique accomplishments.

Campbell will be greatly missed and will always be remembered fondly. She is survived by her son, Bruce, grandchildren Graham and Hannah, Hannah’s husband John Popkowski as well as her daughter-in-law, Jill Campbell.

For more than three years, Jill, a filmmaker, has been working on an untitled documentary of Jule’s life and work, and describes Jule as a mother figure who connected to so many women both personally and professionally with ease.

Jule Campbell

A young Campbell.

“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,’” Jill says. 

The film will explore Jule’s life and career as a woman who broke glass ceilings in a male-dominated industry. Jill has interviewed many of the women whose careers Jule helped launch, including models like Tiegs, Banks and Macpherson.

Jule Campbell and Elle Macpherson

Campbell and Macpherson.

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

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