About

Rudi Gernreich was a fashion designer and gay activist.

Rudolph Gernreich was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1922. His father was a hosiery manufacturer and his aunt kept a dress shop in which Gernreich worked as a teenager. In 1938 with numerous other refugees, Gernreich fled to the USA and settled in California. He attended the Los Angeles City College from 1938 to 1941 and then spent a year at the Lose Angeles Art Centre School. From 1942 to 1948 he worked with a dance troupe as a dancer and costume designer.

In 1948, he became a freelance fashion designer. He toiled for a 7th Avenue firm making copies of Paris couture garments but really hated it. In 1951, he formed a partnership with manufacturer Walter Bass to supply clothes to Jax, a Los Angeles boutique. Some years later, he opened his own company G.R. Designs Inc. which became named Rudi Gernreich Inc in 1964.

In the 50's he produced knitted swimwear without the usual boning and underpinning and he developed the concept into knitted tube dresses. He was awarded the prestigious Coty Award for American designers in 1960.

In the early 1960s Gernreich opened a Seventh Avenue showroom in New York where he showed his popular designs for Harmon knitwear and his own more expensive line of experimental garments. During the decade he acquired a reputation for being the most radical designer in America; his designs included the jacket with one notched and one rounded lapel, tuxedos made of white satin, and the topless bathing suit of 1964, which reflected the new vogue for topless sunbathing. It was worn by Peggy Moffit, his favourite model.

The "no-bra" bra made of moulded nylon cups attached to shoulder straps and a narrow elastic band encircling the rib cage was another of his innovations. This was cut low in front with deep armholes to be worn with deep décolleté evening dresses. In 1964 corset manufacturers Warner Brothers Co., commissioned Gernreich to design a bodystocking made of flesh coloured stretch nylon.

He was quite creative, he did leggings, designed furniture, stockings, even gourmet soups, as well as clothing for children and menswear.

Gernreich was very much ahead of his time. His boxer shorts for women predated the 80's version by about 8 years. In 1971 he had a Military look collection and showroom models carried rifles. At the time the Viet Nam war was going on. He made today's trends yesterday. He seemed to be 30 years ahead of time.

In the USA, Gernreich was an influential co-founder of the Mattachine Society, the USA's first gay liberation movement. Although Mattachine's co-founder Harry Hay claimed "never to have even heard" of the earlier gay liberation struggle in Germany, by the people around Adolf Brand, Magnus Hirschfeld and Leontine Sagan, he is known to have talked about it with Austrian & German emigres in America.

Rudi Gernreich died in 1985.

In 1992, his favourite model Peggy Moffitt and her husband collaborated and published a book called "The Rudi Gernreich Book" detailing all the fashion ideas of Gernreich and his wonderful clothes. She explained that he was a widely misunderstood fashion prophet, who came up with all today's trends yesterday.

In the year 2000, the city of New York decided to honour American fashion designers by placing bronze plaques along 7th Avenue, the great street of fashion in New York. This has been called the "FASHION WALK OF FAME." Rudi Gernreich was one of those honoured, and here is a picture of his plaque.

The Look

Gernreich studied dance before entering the world of fashion and, using as inspiration the practice clothes of dancers, particularly leotards and tights, he produced pared down body-clothes in the 1960s, aimed at what seemed to be the new woman of the era. To cater to this popular construction of femininity, Gernreich attempted to produce a new version of women's clothing, freed of all constraints. Influenced by Bauhaus functionalism, Gernreich conceived a body-based dressing with coordinated underwear, celebrating the unfettered movement of the body based on his early involvement with Lester Horton's modern dance troupe. This interest in liberating the body from the limitations of clothing surfaced in his early swimwear designs of 1952 in which he eliminated the complicated boned and underpinned interior construction that had been obligatory in the 1950s. He revived the knitted swimsuit or "maillot" of the 1920s, which he elasticized to follow the shape of the body. These experiments were continued in his knitted tube dresses of 1953. Gernreich was interested less in the details and decorations of clothes and more in how they looked in motion. In the 1950s he was designing relaxed, comfortable clothes fabricated out of wool, jersey, and other malleable materials, usually in solid colors or geometric shapes and checks. During the next decade he went on to use unusual fabrics and bold color disharmonies such as orange and blue or red and purple. Gernreich's freeing of the breasts was a social statement, somehow part of the emancipation of women, and a portent of the unfettering of the breast by the women's movement in the 1970s. Gernreich invented the "no bra" bra in 1964, a soft nylon bra with no padding or boning in which breasts assumed their natural shape, rather than being molded into an aesthetic ideal. Gernreich was also responsible for developing the concept of unisex, believing that as women achieved more freedom in the 1960s, male dress would emerge from the aesthetic exile into which it had been cast in the 19th century. He conceived interchangeable clothes for men and women such as floor-length kaftans or white knit bell-bottomed trousers and matching black and white midriff tops, and even, in 1975, Y-front underwear for women. Other designs included the first chiffon t-shirt dress, see-through blouses, coordinated outfits of dresses, handbags, hats, and stockings, mini dresses inset with clear vinyl stripes, and the thong bathing suit, cut high to expose the buttocks. He experimented constantly with the potentials of different materials using cutouts, vinyl, and plastic, and mixing patterns such as checks with dots. His clothing was part of a whole design philosophy which encompassed the designing of furniture, kitchen accessories, rugs, and quilts—even, in 1982, gourmet soups. His notion of freeing the body was taken to its logical extreme in his last design statement, the pubikini, which appeared in 1982, revealing the model's dyed and shaped pubic hair.

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