Tina Brackenbush was on the slopes at St. Moritz in November 1976 when she saw him: a skier wearing a scuba diver’s wet suit. “We were all freezing and he seemed so warm,” she recalls. “He looked like a turkey, but I knew he was onto something.”
Today so is she. Tina’s improved version of the neoprene wet suit—bright colors, double zippers and jazzy geometric pockets—is the new revolutionary look in ski wear. Her fledgling company, Element One, based in Beverly Hills, has turned into a million-dollar-a-year operation.
It wasn’t all that easy at the start for the Vassar-educated jet-setter. After she returned from St. Moritz to California, she cruised her Mercedes along the Pacific beach until she found a surfer with a sewing machine who could repair wet suits. “We worked 18 hours a day for a week,” she says. “Neoprene doesn’t drape like fabric. It was damned hard.” But that December Tina hit the lifts at Mammoth in her new outfit, “a cotton turtleneck and a ski suit that was only an eighth of an inch thick. The orders began pouring in.”
With a $40,000 loan from her father, Herman Steinberg, a multimillionaire industrialist from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and her husband, Donald, an architect and city planner, Tina was in business. Olympic gold medalist Andrea Mead Lawrence skis in Element One togs; other customers are Merv Griffin, Mac Davis and Barbra Streisand.
Tina, 30, is looking into neoprene outerwear for football players and frostbiters. Though the ski outfit costs $300, it’s machine washable and durable as steel. “These clothes will last for 50 years,” Brackenbush says proudly. “Obsolescence just isn’t built into them.”