The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Expand into a multi-sensory mode of awareness by imbibing visions, charts, explosions inexpressible in phrases alone.

The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Postby admin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:09 am

The Rudi Gernreich Book
by Peggy Moffitt
Photography by William Claxton
Essay by Marylou Luther




Table of Contents:

• Page 1
• Page 2
• Page 3
• Page 4
• Page 5
• Page 6
• Page 7
• Page 8
• Page 9
• Page 10
• Page 11
• Page 12
• Page 13
• Page 14
• Page 15
• Page 16
• Page 17
• Page 18
• Page 19
• Page 20
• Page 21
• Page 22
• Page 23
• Page 24
• Page 25
• Page 26
• Page 27
• Page 28
• Page 29
• Page 30
• Page 31
• Page 32
• Page 33
• Page 34
• Page 35
• Page 36
• Page 37
• Page 38
• Page 39
• Page 40
• Page 41
• Page 42
• Page 43
• Page 44
• Page 45
• Page 46
• Page 47
• Page 48
• Page 49
• Page 50
• Page 51
• Page 52
• Page 53
• Page 54
• Page 55
• Page 56
• Page 57
• Page 58
• Page 59
• Page 60
• Page 61
• Page 62
• Page 63
• Page 64
• Page 65
• Page 66
• Page 67
• Page 68
• Page 69
• Page 70
• Page 71
• Page 72
• Page 73
• Page 74
• Page 75
• Page 76
• Page 77
• Page 78
• Page 79
• Page 80
• Page 81
• Page 82
• Page 83
• Page 84
• Page 85
• Page 86
• Page 87
• Page 88
• Page 89
• Page 90
• Page 91
• Page 92
• Page 93
• Page 94
• Page 95
• Page 96
• Page 97
• Page 98
• Page 99
• Page 100
• Page 101
• Page 102
• Page 103
• Page 104
• Page 105
• Page 106
• Page 107
• Page 108
• Page 109
• Page 110
• Page 111
• Page 112
• Page 113
• Page 114
• Page 115
• Page 116
• Page 117
• Page 118
• Page 119
• Page 120
• Page 121
• Page 122
• Page 123
• Page 124
• Page 125
• Page 126
• Page 127
• Page 128
• Page 129
• Page 130
• Page 131
• Page 132
• Page 133
• Page 134
• Page 135
• Page 136
• Page 137
• Page 138
• Page 139
• Page 140
• Page 141
• Page 142
• Page 143
• Page 144
• Page 145
• Page 146
• Page 147
• Page 148
• Page 149
• Page 150
• Page 151
• Page 152
• Page 153
• Page 154
• Page 155
• Page 156
• Page 157
• Page 158
• Page 159
• Page 160
• Page 161
• Page 162
• Page 163
• Page 164
• Page 165
• Page 166
• Page 167
• Page 168
• Page 169
• Page 170
• Page 171
• Page 172
• Page 173
• Page 174
• Page 175
• Page 176
• Page 177
• Page 178
• Page 179
• Page 180
• Page 181
• Page 182
• Page 183
• Page 184
• Page 185
• Page 186
• Page 187
• Page 188
• Page 189
• Page 190
• Page 191
• Page 192
• Page 193
• Page 194
• Page 195
• Page 196
• Page 197
• Page 198
• Page 199
• Page 200
• Page 201
• Page 202
• Page 203
• Page 204
• Page 205
• Page 206
• Page 207
• Page 208
• Page 209
• Page 210
• Page 211
• Page 212
• Page 213
• Page 214
• Page 215
• Page 216
• Page 217
• Page 218
• Page 219
• Page 220
• Page 221
• Page 222
• Page 223
• Page 224
• Page 225
• Page 226
• Page 227
• Page 228
• Page 229
• Page 230
• Page 231
• Page 232
• Page 233
• Page 234
• Page 235
• Page 236
• Page 237
• Page 238
• Page 239
• Page 240
• Page 241
• Page 242
• Page 243
• Page 244
• Page 245
• Page 246
• Page 247
• Page 248
• Page 249
• Page 250
• Page 251
• Page 252
• Page 253
• Page 254
• Page 255
• Page 256
• Page 257
• Page 258
• Page 259
• Page 260
• Page 261
• Page 262
• Page 263
• Page 264
• Page 265
• Page 266
• Page 267
• Page 268
• Page 269
• Page 270
• Page 271
• Page 272
• Page 273
• Page 274
• Page 275
• Page 276
• Page 277
• Page 278
• Page 279
• Page 280
• Page 281
• Page 282
• Page 283
• Page 284
• Page 285
• Page 286
• Page 287
• Page 288
• Page 289
• Page 290
• Page 291
• Page 292
• Page 293
• Page 294
• Page 295
• Page 296
• Page 297
• Page 298
• Page 299
• Page 300
• Page 301
• Page 302
• Page 303
• Page 304
• Page 305
• Page 306
• Page 307
• Page 308
• Page 309
• Page 310
• Page 311
• Page 312
• Page 313
• Page 314
• Page 315
• Page 316
• Page 317
• Page 318
• Page 319
• Page 320
• Page 321
• Page 322
• Page 323
• Page 324
• Page 325
• Page 326
• Page 327
• Page 328
• Page 329
• Page 330
• Page 331
• Page 332
• Page 333
• Page 334
• Page 335
• Page 336
• Page 337
• Page 338
• Page 339
• Page 340
• Page 341
• Page 342
• Page 343
• Page 344
• Page 345
• Page 346
• Page 347
• Page 348
• Page 349
• Page 350
• Page 351
• Page 352
• Page 353
• Page 354
• Page 355
• Page 356
• Page 357
Site Admin
Posts: 32810
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Postby admin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:11 am


In the twentieth century there have
been a handful of geniuses whose in-
novations have changed the course
of their art for all time:

In painting it was Picasso.
In music it was Stravinsky.
In film it was Eisenstein.
In theater it was Stanislavsky.
In dance it was Balanchine.
In jazz it was Parker.
And in fashion design it was
Rudi Gernreich.

--Peggy Moffitt


Fall 1971, short trompe l'oeil jumpsuit with dog leash belt.


For Rudi

Falling in love again,
Never wanted to,
What am I to do?
Can't help it.

Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Denn das ist meine Weit
Und sonst gar nichts.

Tomer amoureux á nouveau
Je n΄ai jamais voulu,
Que vais-je faire ?
Je ne puis m΄en empècher.


Rudy Gernreich, 1964

I have devoted most of my professional life to Rudi Gernreich. I believed totally in his talent and had the great privilege of knowing him as a dear friend. Through the years we developed as a team. One of the great signs of his genius was that he allowed me to express my talent fully. I never had to hold back when we worked together. I could criticize or suggest without fear that I was overstepping my position. We had indescribable fun together and shared the romance of creativity and collaboration. We always said if he had been a model, he would have been me, and if I had been a designer, I would have been him. During the great times that we worked with each other, an enormous amount of publicity and controversy was created. This, of course, was very positive and helpful at the time; but I have always felt that rudi's great talent was overlooked because of the headlines. I have never felt this as strongly as I do now that he is gone. It is my believe that Rudi Gernreich designed almost everything that can be designed for modern people. His designs are so logical and pure that one design will work for an elderly woman and equally well for a teenage girl. I feel that most people think of his work as of the "sixties" or "trendy," when in fact his work was more universal and classical than that of Chanel.

Rudi Gernreich was an avant-garde fashion designer who started in the 1940s, was acknowledged as an innovator in the fifties, and became a "household name" in the sixties.

He was best known for his design of the topless swimsuit, but the sum of his work and his design philosophy changed the course of fashion and influenced designers all over the world. His concepts have continued to feed the fashion industry, as he invented the modern way of dressing for the latter half of the twentieth century, just as Chanel had done for the earlier part of the century.


Rudi Gernreich was a great fashion designer who:

• took inner construction out of bathing suits;
• was the first modern designer to combine bold, clashing colors;
• used fabric in unexpected ways -- workmen's shirts in chiffon or mechanics' coats in silk;
• designed the first knitted tube dresses;
• was the first to use cut-outs in clothes (portholes in bathing suits and dresses);
• was the first to use vinyl and plastic in clothes;
• adapted "street fashions," such as the "leather look," and applied them to fashion;
• mixed patterns, such as stripes, checks, and dots, in one outfit;
• developed ethnic and workmen's clothes into fashion;
• introduced androgyny -- men's suits, hats, etc., on women;
• designed the topless swimsuit, which freed women's fashion;
• designed the first see-through clothes;
• designed the first soft, transparent bra -- the "no-bra" bra;
• invented "body clothes" based on leotards and tights;
• designed the first stockings to match or go with a dress;
• originated the "total look," which interrelated everything from underwear to hats, gloves, and shoes;
• introduced the military look;
• used hardware (zippers, dog leash clasps, etc.) as decoration;
• did the first designer jeans;
• developed trompe l'oeil clothes (a dress that looked like three pieces but was really one, etc.);
• invented the "uni-sex" look (clothing that could be worn by both men and women -- skirts for men, etc.);
• designed the "thong," the first bathing suit to be cut high on the thighs and expose the buttocks;
• was the first to design men's underwear for women;
• designed the first bathing suit to expose pubic hair, the "pubikini."

Rudi Gernreich was a proponent of reasonably priced clothes and was anti "status" fashion. He was also the first designer since Dior to become a household name throughout the world. The controversy he has caused has continued even after his death. But the fact remains, he changed the vocabularly of fashion for the twentieth century.

--Peggy Moffitt
Beverly Hills, 1991


Rudi at work, Los Angeles, 1966.

Looking Back at a Futurist
by Marylou Luther

Rudi Gernreich bared breasts and pubic hair, shaved heads and bodies, and passed out guns, all in the name of fashion. Clergymen denounced his fashion exploits from the pulpit. His topless bathing suit was banned by the pope, denounced by Izvestia, and buried in an Italian time capsule between the Bible and the birth control pill. To many in the fashion world, Gernreich was a prophet, a seer with 20/20 fashion vision. To his detractors, he was also a prophet: the oracle of ugly.

Gernreich saw himself as two designers. One was a fashion-oriented originator motivated by the need to create modern clothes for the twentieth century -- and beyond. This was the Gernreich who won every major award American fashion could bestow. The other Gernreich was a social commentator who just happened to work in the medium of clothes. In Gernreich's words: "Prior to the sixties, clothes were clothes. Nothing else. Then, when they started coming from the streets, I realized you could say things with clothes. Design was not enough. Probably because of the impact of my topless bathing suit of 1964 I became much more interested in clothes as sociological statements. I feel it's important to say something that is not confined to its medium."


Early 1950s, wool sarong skirt, (photograph © Christa)

Through his designs, Gernreich said a lot of things that were not confined to fashion: that women's bodies deserve to be free of the constraints that have kept them submissive to men; that women's clothes and men's clothes could be interchangeable, thus making the two sexes truly equal; that utilitar· ian uniforms would take our minds off how we look so we could concentrate on how we act; that fashion isn't a tragedy-it's entertainment; that nudity is no longer equated with morality; that how we dress is inextricably linked to how we live; that wit and humor will always have the last laugh on the superserious, sometimes supercilious world of fashion.


1953, black peplum and multicolored checked pants. (photograph © Christa)

The man many consider the quintessential American desigiler was born in Vienna, Austria, on August 8, 1922. He got his first look at the world of high fashion in a dress shop run by his aunt, Hedwig Mueller. In the shop Gernreich called his "sanctuary from the rigid, militaristic atmosphere of school," he spent hours sketching designs for Viennese society and learning as much as he could about fabrics. By the time he was twelve, his fashion sketches had been seen by the Austrian designer Ladislaus Zcettel, who was leaving for London to design film costumes for Alexander Korda, and who later came to America to run Henri Bendel's couture studio in New York. Zcettel offered Gernreich an apprenticeship in London, but his mother felt he was too young to leave home. (Gernreich's father, Siegmund Gernreich, a hosiery manufacturer, committed suicide in 1930 when his son was eight.)

In 1938, just six months after the March 13 Anschluss, sixteen-year-old Gernreich and his mother joined the stream of Jewish refugees and escaped to California. His first job in the United States was working in a mortuary. Gernreich later recalled, "I grew up overnight. There Iwas with all those dead bodies. Eventually I got used to the corpses. But I do smile sometimes when people tell me my clothes are so body-conscious Imust have studied anatomy. You bet I studied anatomy."


Early 1950s, wool coat. (photograph © Christa)

As an art student at Los Angeles City College, Gernreich was close to Hollywood geographically; but though he worked in the publicity department at RKO Studios and once replace a friend who was a sketch artist for costume designer Edith Head, he did not become famous designing clothes for films. Hollywood was to become his home, but not his life.

As the direct result of watching a performance by Martha Graham's modern dance company, Gernreich abandoned art and the movie studios in favor of dance and the theater. While studying with the choreographer Lester Horton, whom he described as "a kind of West Coast Martha Graham," he became less interested in the static details of clothes and more concerned with how they looked in motion.

By the mid-forties, Gernreich was supplementing his dance career with a free-lance job designing fabrics for Hoffman California Fabrics. Realizing that he would never become another Lester Horton, he left the troupe in 1949, went to New York, and got a job with a coat and suit firm called George Carmel. Gernreich described the fashion climate ofthattime: "Everyone with a degree of talent-designer, retailer, editor-was motivated by a level of high taste and unquestioned loyalty to Paris. Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Cristobal Balenciaga were gods. You could not deviate from their look. Once they'd decided on a dropped shoulder line, an American designer simply could not use a set-in sleeve. Once they'd established a hemline you couldn't depart from it by an inch. Seventh Avenue fed on their designs. I was bursting with original ideas, but they were always rejected because they did not fit into the French idiom. After about six months, I began to vomit every time I thought about the imperiousness of it all. I produced terrible versions of Dior. I was finally let go."


Rudi as a young dancer during the early 1940s. (photograph © William Ricco, collection Lilly Fenichel)

In 1951, through the Academy Award-winning costume designer Jean Louis, "the only designer to help me by writing letters of introduction," Gernreich was granted an appointment with New York designer Hattie Carnegie, who told him to go back to California, make some samples, and send them to her. He did, and she responded by sending him checks-"no other communication, justchecks ... Once in a while I'd recognize one ofmycollars or pockets in her designs."

In later 1951 Gernreich took a job with Morris Nagel Versatogs, "a schlock house with a name to match." When he took the collection to New York to show to Lord & Taylor's Marjorie Griswold, she told him the clothes were not for her. Gernreich was especially upset because this was the store that pioneered American fashion (Gernreich's idol, Claire McCardell, as well as Vera Maxwell and Clare Potter were all "discovered" by Lord & Taylor), and its president. Dorothy Shaver, was the first to shatter the unwritten law that all fashion must be French.

The bright side of that trip was Gernreich's first meeting with Diana Vreeland, who was then fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar. "I finally justwent there with a bag of samples. I remember that I got off on the wrong floor and a charming little messenger girl brought me to the right floor and the right editor, who asked, with disdain that's peculiarly instinctive with fashion people, 'What do you want?' When Itold her Iwas a designer from California, she said to show her what I had in my bag. I said I would need a model. She said she knew clothes and a model would definitely not be necessary. Isaid Iwouldn't show her without one. It was a standoff but I finally opened up the garment bag and took out a couple of things. She disappeared and in what seemed to be only a second later came back with word that Mrs. Vreeland would like to see me.

"Her first words were, 'Who are you, young man? You're very gifted.' Itold her about myself, briefly showed her my things, and she said if ever I needed a job in New York to call her."

When Gernreich returned to California, Morris Nagel decided the Gernreich designs were too advanced and asked him to start producing the safe and saleable clothes for which the firm had always been known. Gernreich left.
Site Admin
Posts: 32810
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Postby admin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:11 am


1956, Chinese waiter's jackets in cotton duck. (photograph © Christa, courtesy Life magazine)

In July 1950, while watching a rehearsal at Horton's studio, Gernreich met Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, a 19505 forerunner of today's gay movement. From 1950 to 1951, Gernreich and Hay were lovers and Gernreich became one of Mattachine's seven founding members. (With typical wit, Gernreich suggested calling the Mattachine newsletter "The Gaily Homo Journal.") He and the other founders resigned from the society in 1953 after an ideological schism. In accordance with the Mattachine oath of secrecy, Hay never revealed Gernreich's membership in the society until after the design- er's death in 1985. Since that time, photos showing Gernreich with Hay and other founders have been published in Stuart Timmons's biography of Hay, The Trouble with Harry Hay, Founder of the Modern Gay Movement.

That the man who tore up so many closets with his revolutionary clothes never came out of the closet during his lifetime says a lot about Gernreich and his times. In those years homosexuality was illegal and Gernreich himself had been entrapped before joining the Mattachines. Oreste Pucciani, Gernreich's life partner for thirty-one years, recalls, uRudi told me he was stunned when a guilty verdict was returned. He had insisted on pleading innocent and demanded a jury trial. He told me that he looked in the face of every jury member, and one woman, who had seemed sympathetic earlier and whose support Rudi thought he could count on, turned to the wall to avoid his eyes."

Peggy Moffitt, the designer's model/muse, says she and Gernreich Utalked about sexuality a lot. His clothes were about sexuality. He told me about having belonged to the Mattachine Society, but not in a this-is-a-big-secret kind of way. He often told me that he felt a person's sexuality was understood and there was no way to hide it. I've known many gay men who seem compelled to underscore their homosexuality, as in 'I'II-order-the-roast-beef-but-of-course-I'm-gay: Rudi was not that sort of person. I don't think it ever occurred to him to come out of the closet because he felt his sexuality was self-evident. He wouldn't have called a press conference to discuss his sexuality any more than he would have called one to discuss his brown eyes."


1956, Chinese waiter jackets in cotton duck. (photograph © Christa, courtesy Life magazine)

Pucciani explains Gernreich's reluctance to Uoutu: uTo 'out' yourself is one thing. To be dragged out is something else. Rudi never came out officially. He never felt the need. Until I retired from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1979, I lived by the principle of never make a point of it and never deny it. Intelligent people knew by the way I lived. After my retirement from UCLA I agreed to be interviewed by UCLA's gay newspaper. Rudi knew about the interview, and one morning at breakfast I asked him about it. He told me he thought it was a good interview, but 'why did you let them do It?' I told him that, after all, I was retired, so why notwhat can happen? Then he asked me why I had waited, and I told him it was quite simple-no one had ever asked me. When I asked Rudi why he had never come out, he said with that lilt in his voice he always got when he was joking: 'It's very simple. It's bad for business.'

"After his death, I felt I must respect his point of view. The solution came when the American Civil Liberties Union announced that the estates of Rudi Gernreich and Oreste Pucciani had endowed a trust to provide for litigation and education in the area of lesbian and gay rights. So that was Rudi's posthumous 'outing.'"

In the early fifties Gernreich's career was not proceeding as successfullv as he had honed. After a temporary job designing for a Beverly Hills shop called Matthews, he met Walter Bass, and in 1952 began an eight-year business associa tion. "There was no other chance for me at that moment," Gernreich said of this period. " I just kept running into walls. Then Walter came along and somehow, though we never got along and I knew it would be a doomed association, everything jelled."


1952, first unconstructed swimsuit. (photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)

It certainly did. Through Jimmy Mitchell, his first fitting model, Gernreich learned about Jack Hanson and his little shop called JAX. "I remember telling Jimmy I had to have a Saks or an I. Magnin to get the line off the ground, but she persisted. The three of us met, Jimmy and I showed him the Iin-.nainly loosely cut, tightly belted dresses in ginghams and cotton tweeds-and his reaction was instantaneous. I delivered the first shipment personally and in one hour everything was gone. "

Buoyed by this success, Gernreich took the line to New York. "Walter didn't want to spend the money on the trip so I said I'd pay for it myself and it worked." Sally Kirkland, then fashion editor of Life magazine, persuaded Gernreich to try again with Marjorie Griswold at Lord & Taylor. "This time, she raved and carried on and said she must have the clothes. At one point she asked me if we hadn't met before. I couldn't bear telling her the truth, so I said no. Years later, I told her the story of how we really met. By then we both thought it was funny."

After a year of quick and steady acceptance from stores, Bass asked Gernreich to sign a seven-year contract. "When I saw it I almost collapsed. We'd already had a history of success, but the contract didn't give an ounce in my direction. Iwas terribly annoyed with the way Walter's attorney treated me, and I boasted that one day I was going to be much more important than Mainbocher. I had a great deal of arrogance then and tremendous confidence, but it was shattered momentarily. 'When you're more important than Mainbocher: Bass told me, 'we'll negotiate again: And I signed."

In March 1952, Gernreich created the prototype for the first bra-free swimsuit- a wool jersey with tank top-and its progeny earned him his first design citation, The American Sportswear Design Award, given in 1956 by Sports Illustrated.

Gernreich was to spend much of the fifties freeing women of body-restraining clothes. His knitted tube dress of 1953, which won him his first magazine credit (Glamour, February 19531, was the forerunner of the stretch minis of the late eighties and nineties. The outfit that earned him his first Life magazine credit on April 27, 1953, could be considered the mother of the pop/op offsprings of the sixties. lt consisted of a black felt, cinch-belted tunic over red, orange, and yellow checked pants. It was modeled by Lauren Bacall.

Although he designed his first swimsuits for Bass, the ones that were to make him famous were produced for Westwood Knitting Mills, the firm he signed with in March 1955. From that date to August 1960, there were two Gernreich labels: sportswear for Bass and swimwear for Westwood.

In the fifties, a designer could literally be "magazined" into fame. The media was Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, Mademoiselle, Glamour, Charm, Life, Look, and Sports Illustrated. The message: get the editorial first and the stores and customers will follow.

Gernreich read this fashion script early and well-5o well that Jack Hanson, who gave him his first big order at Jax and who later canceled all orders because of a feud over exclusivity, called Gernreich "a publicity hound."


1953, first tube dress. (photograph © Alex dePaola)

For Westwood, Gernreich introduced wool-knit maillots elasticized to follow the body instead of pushing it up and out. Harper's Bazaar's Diana Vreeland saw them and responded with this telegram to Gernreich: ". cannot tell you how beautifully made, how beautifully designed and how much we adore them. We hope, ifwe can possibly arrange it, to place them in the first suitable spot."

One of those first knitted suits, a tweed maillot with a low V neckline and five-button front was reinterpreted by Gernreich as late as 1959. Buyers knew it first as Style Number 6001, later as Style 601. In 1969 the suit was copied by a Coty Award-winning designer. Gernreich commented, "When a manufacturer does a version of something I've designed, that's very good. It's always a confirmation. When a name designer knocks off one of my bestknown swimsuits, that's outrageous." As late as 1990, Style 601 was still resurfacing in other designers' lines, offering renewed confirmation of Gernreich's talent and of his designs' longevity.


Mid 1950s, camel's hair suit. (photograph © Alex dePaola)

Gernreich broadened his design base again in June 1955 when he designed Sarah Churchill's costumes in No Time for Comedy, and in June 1956 when he introduced his first designs for men. They were called Chinese waiters' coats and were originally designed for the staff of Gernreich's favorite Chinese restaurant, General Lee's Man Jen Low, in Los Angeles's Chinatown. When diners tried to wheedle them right off the waiters' backs, Gerneich decided to produce them as beach jackets, car coats, and at-home shirt-jackets. Life pictured them in its August 6, 1956 issue.

In 1957 Gernreich's design spectrum widened once more when he produced a shoe collection for the Ted Sava' division of the General Shoe Co. Vogue featured his black calf T-strap with matching satin bow in its February 1, 1957 issue. Throughout 1958 and 1959, Gernreich's last two years with Bass, he became more and more involved with accessories, and he came to realize that fashion meant much more than just clothes. Here is an excerpt from a May 1958 letter inviting buyers to his fall opening:

"What is happening today is most curious-no waists, high waists, low waists, slimness, fullness, barrels, triangles-and all of it is right. It is not a silhouette but an attitude which is the important change.

There has been more radical change in the attitude of a face, a leg and foot in the last year than in the shape of the dress. The focus is on head and leg, which makes the dress an accessory. Therefore, to stimulate and strengthen the awareness ofthis attitude Ihave felt the necessity to complete my picture by adding hats to my clothes as well as shoes."

The first hats included plaid sou'westers, floppy-brimmed slouches, fedoras, and a rhinestone-studded cloche that matched a pair of little-heel pumps trimmed in the same glitter. Stockings were added in February 1959-the first in stripes and checks on sheer nylon.

Throughout this period, the only other fashion designer to take out as many superstructures, eliminate as many linings, lighten as many fabrics, and brighten as many colors was Italy's Emilio Pucci.

In 1964 Gernreich was to cite Pucci as one of the reasons behind his decision to introduce the topless bathing suit. On the eve of his fall collection in 1963, Pucci was quoted in a Eugenia Sheppard column in the New York Herald Tribune as saying, "In 10 years women will have shed the tops of their bathing suits completely." Gernreich, who had by then predicted a five-year wait, decided not to let Pucci beat him in the fashion breaststrokes.


1954, white plastic dress. (photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)

Although Gernreich owed his fashion fame to the sixties, he said in a 1972 interview that he really couldn't talk about that decade with pride. "What appalls me is my total involvement with something to unimportant. I find it hard to believe that I once developed collections around Ophelia, George Sand, clowns, cowboys, Kabuki dancers, nuns, 9angsters, Austrian cavalry officers, and Chinese operas. All these imaginary themes are unbearable to me today.

"They were in 1971, too, when Ithought Iwas making a statement in favor of reality by accessorizing the clothes with guns and dog tags. New York publicist Eleanor Lambert set me straight.'Aren't you playacting, too, by dressing models like soldiers?' she asked. In a way, she was right."

Moffitt sees Gernreich's latter-day recantations as totally unnecessary. "His Ophelia look was actually a pretty chiffon dress. His George Sand look was a very wearable pantsuit. All those ideas were pure design. You could still wear them without the fantasy."

Gernreich began the sixties by ending his eight-year association with both Bass and Westwood Knitting Mills. In August 1960, just two months after he was informed that he had won a special Coty Award for swimwear design, he announced that the line he formerly designed for Bass would from then on be produced in Los Angeles under his own company, G. R. Designs, Inc., and that the knitwear would be manufactured by Harmon Knitwear, Inc., of Marinette, yvisconsin, owned by Harmon Juster, formerly of Westwood.

Throughout 1960 and 1961, Gernreich was preparing the way for pop and op. While First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was making the pillbox a national headdress and conducting White House tours in low-heeled shoes and a pared-down, two-piece dress with a high- necked overblouse and slender skirt, Gernreich was paring and baring even more. The January 1, 1961 issue of Vogue illustrated Gernreich's bathing suit/dress with side-cutouts, derived from a Gernreich swimsuit that was identical except for the skirt.

He was also rearranging the rainbow with shocking combinations of pink and orange, blue and green, red and purple. He was rewriting fashion graphics by positioning checks with dots, stripes with diagonals. And he was shaking up the fabric world by bringing vinyl to the beach, Spanish rugs to the coatrack.

Although Gernreich himself described the mini phenomenon as a gradual inch-up, he was baring knees as early as 1961. The June 2, 1961 issue of the New York Times reported, "Rudi Gernreich, California's most successful export since the orange, swings onto the flare bandwagon. Kneecaps show (on purpose), skirts swirl and ripple, clothes fall freely, touching the body only at the bosom."

In June 1962, Gernreich won another design award, this one from Woolknit Associates for "his trailblazing silhouettes and fabric manipulation in knitted dresses." The "little-boy look" was one of his major themes that year, along with reversible sheaths, drop- shoulder sweaters, long-sleeved shirt shifts, shiny cellophane cloth evening suits, and allover feathery fringe dresses.


Late 1950s, cut-out maillot. (photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)

Gernreich's role as a social commentator began to emerge as early as May 22,1963, when he was quoted in the New York Times:

"There is an element of bad taste here in Southern California that is terribly strong. Slacks that are too tight. Decorated basked bags. Bejeweled eye-glasses. Cashmere cardigans with mink collars. Vinyl and gilt mules. You know-the honky-tonk element. "On the positive side, people everywhere today wear a great deal more color than they used to. California and Italy are responsible. Only a few years back a woman wouldn't be seen dead in New York in an orange dress. Customers from the East and Midwest used to see my combinations of brass and shocking pink and run away. Today, they ask for them."

The year 1963 was when "kooky" entered fashion vocabularies; it was the year of pop furs, such as Gernreich's horsehide; the year of little-girl smocks, Garbo comebacks, and safari suits. It was also the year Gernreich won two more major awards-Sports Illustrated's Sporting Look Award in May and the Coty American Fashion Critics Award in June. The latter citation caused one of the biggest fashion ruckuses in history.

As a protest against Gernreich's win, Norman Norell returned his Coty Hall of Fame Award, telling Women's Wear Daily (June 17, 19631, "It no longer means a thing to me. I can't bear to look at it anymore. Isaw a photograph of a suit of Rudi's and one lapel of the jacket was shawl and the other was notched-Well!" The next day he added to the explanations by telling the New York Herald Tribune, "Too many jury members from Glamour and Seventeen who don't get around to high fashion collections are responsible for the Gernreich vote." Bonwit Teller countered by running a half-page ad with this headline: "Rudi Gernreich, we'd give you the Coty Award all over again!"


1956, hostess dress with trompe l'oeil beach jackets. (photograph © Christa)

At the Coty Award presentation, when the winning designers traditionally showed clothes from the collection that earned them the award as well as capsules from their current lines, Gernreich again caused a flap with a white lingerie satin pantsuit he called his Marlene Dietrich suit. When Moffitt wore it during dress rehearsal, members of the Coty jury told her she looked like a Lesbian and asked Gernreich not to show it. He reluctantly acceded to their demands. The next year a similar suit in white slipper satin was shown by that year's Coty Award-winning designer and no one raised an eyebrow. As Moffitt points out, "The beehive hairdo and high heels obviously made the idea acceptable one year later."

The brouhaha that literally became an international incident happened in 1964 with the topless bathing suit. On September 12, 1962, Gernreich predicted to Women's Wear Daily's Los Angeles reporter Sylvia Sheppard that "bosoms will be uncovered within five years" and later repeated the forecast in the December 24, 1962 issue of Sports Illustrated. Here is Gernreich's account of the events that followed: "By 1964, I'd gone so far with swimwear cutouts that I decided the body itself-including breasts-could become an integral part of a suit's design.

"At this time, breasts were growing in dimension, if not physically, cosmetically, and above all, sociologically. They had almost become jokes. Every girl I knew was offended by the dirty-little-boy attitude of the American male vs. the American bosom. To me, the really beautiful breasts belonged to the really young bodies. Baring these breasts seemed logical in a period of freer attitudes, freer minds, the emancipation of women.


1957, swimsuits, including a ladderback version. (photographs © William Claxton)

"I was aware that the great masses of the world would find this shocking and immoral, but I couldn't help feel the implicit hypocrisy that made something in one culture immoral and in another perfectly acceptable. The breast had become a sex symbol not out of some preordained plan of nature, but because we'd made it a sex symbol.

"Because of the Women's Wear Daily statement and the Sports Illustrated headline, people began to ask me if I really meant what I said. The more they asked, the more I began to feel more and more right about the idea. About the end of 1963, Susanne Kirtland of Look magazine called to say she was going to do a trend story along futuristic lines and would like me to make the no-top suit. I said no, that the time was not right. She said, 'Oh, but you have to. I've already had clearance from the front office.'

"At first I thought if I didn't do it, she'd ask Emilio Pucci or someone else because she was so determined to get it done. I thought it would be terrible if someone else took my prediction and made it a reality. I didn't want to be scooped.

"I knew it could ruin my career, could put me right off the map, but my conviction that it was right and my fear of being preempted by someone else led me to say okay. I felt it was a little early, but it would be done in the next couple of years anyway, so I even rationalized the timing.

"The first suit I sent her was a Balinese sarong that began just under the breasts. Susanne said she didn't feel it was stark enough, that it should be bold, almost like an exclamation mark. Although I felt the suit should be just a bikini bottom, that would have been just an evolution of an idea, not a design. So I came up with the strapped suit that later made history, and the back view of it appeared in Look on June 2, 1964. It was photographed in the Bahamas on a prostitute.

"In order to try to avoid sensationalism, [photographerl William Claxton, model Peggy Moffitt's husband, Peggy and I decided to take our own photographs of Peggy in the suit and present them to the fashion press and the news magazines. We agreed to avoid Playboy and the girlie books.

"To our complete amazement, everyone in the fashion world was panicked by it. Sally Kirkland of Life, Nancy White of Harper's Bazaar-no one wanted anything to do with the suit or the pictures. Finally, Carol Bjorkman of Women's Wear Daily printed Bill's front- view picture of Peggy on June 3, and Newsweek printed a back view on June 8.


1957, swimsuits, including a ladderback version. (photographs © William Claxton)

"I had no intention of producing the suit for actual consumption until I talked to Diana Vreeland of Vogue. She was the onlv editor I showed the suit to personally. Peggy was with me, and she was wearing the suit under a little Japanese kimono she had bought somewhere on Hollywood Boulevard. I think she paid eight dollars for it. When Mrs. Vreeland asked to see the suit, Peggy came out in the robe, took it off, and proceeded to model the suit. There was dead silence. Absolutely no response. Ididn't explain anything. As Peggy had her hand on the door to leave, Mrs. Vreeland boomed out in that unforgettable voice, 'Maaaaaaaaaaaahvelous kimono!' A few minutes later she asked me to tell her about the suit, asking me why I did it.
Site Admin
Posts: 32810
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Postby admin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:12 am


1964, brown and black wool-knit suit and stockings. (author's collection)

I told her I felt this was the time for freedom-in fashion as well as every other facet of life. When she asked if I were going to make it for the public I told her no, that it was just a statement.

'This is where you're making a mistake: she told me. 'If there's a picture of it, it's an actuality. You must make it.'

"When I returned to the hotel, I already had calls from Harmon telling me buyers were demanding to buy the suit. We agreed to go ahead with it. Eventually, every major store in the country either carried it or had ordered it and couldn't sell it because of below-the- bible-belt objections from store presidents.

"Melvin Dawley of Lord & Taylor was one of those presidents who wouldn't allow the suit to be delivered. I remember a boutique called Splendiferous immediately took over the shipment. Hess Brothers in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was picketed, and Milgrim's in Detroit had a bomb threat."

The topless became a hard-core news event unequaled in American fashion history.

New York Times, June 22, 1964: "The Soviet government newspaper Izvestia reported on the new bathing suit and added that American fashion was speculating on topless evening dresses. 'The American way of life is on the side of everything that gives the possibility of trampling on morals and the interests of society for the sake of ego. So the decay of the moneybag society continues.'"

Los Angeles Herald Examiner, July 14, 1964: "The suit has been legally approved to Sweden, Germany and Austria. It is banned in Holland, Denmark and Greece."

New York Times, July 2, 1964: "For a brief moment, the mayors of the Riviera had a chance to stand up and be counted as men who would fight to preserve a decent and normal way of life. Women were warned that even if they dropped the tops of their bikinis-all 3 inches-there would be legal repercussions. It was the Mayor of Saint-Tropez who endeared himself to the most indignant. He was reported to have said that if there were signs of trouble he would use helicopters to patrol the beaches and spot offenders."

Saturday Evening Post, October 31, 1964: "Such natural enemies at Izvestia, L'Osservatore Romano and the Carroll Avenue Baptist Mission of Dallas, invoking Scripture and Karl Marx, agreed that it was immoral and antisocial."

New York Herald Tribune, November 16, 1964: "Italy didn't react after the suit was banned by the Pope."

Of the three thousand women who bought the suits, at least two wore them in the public. Carol Doda, a San Francisco entertainer of 39- 26-36 proportions, wore hers while entertaining at the Condor Club. Playboy magazine chronicled her appearance in its April 1965 issue. Toni Lee Shelley, nineteen, was taken into custody by a Chicago policeman for wearing the topless bathing suit at the beach. She was booked on a charge of suspicion of improper attire for bathing. At her arraignment she asked for an all-male jury.

Moffitt describes the sensation caused by her posing in the topless bathing suit: "When Rudi told me he had agreed to create the suit for Look, I asked who he would getto model it. He said, 'You: Isaid, 'ho, ho, ho: Later, because I understood the point of overstating the case for unrestricted expression of freedom, I agreed to pose for the pictures my husband took, but I told Rudi there would be a few rules. Bill, Rudi, and Iagreed that Iwould never wear the suit in public-that this in itself would sentionalize the whole affair. I also refused to pose for another photographer.

Bill first took the photos of me to Life. They told him they couldn't print them because 'this is a family magazine, and naked breasts are allowed only if the woman is an aborigine: Because they'd goofed the story as a news event-and by that time it was really an event-they asked Rudi, Bill, and me if we'd help them present the story as an historical evolution of the breast in fashion history. So we reshot the photo especially for Life, and I covered my breasts with my arms at their insistence.

The photograph of me in that issue-hiding my breasts with my arms-is dirty. If you are wearing a fashion that does not have a top as part of its design and hold your arms over your bosom, you're going along with the whole prudish, teasey thing like a Playboy bunny.

The Women's Wear Daily picture, which I think is beautiful, really shook up Madison Avenue. If the breast stops being a sex symbol- nd it does the moment you uncover it-how could they tease any more in ads? How were they going to sell toothpaste?"

Claxton later took his photos of the topless to Paris Match. He recounts, "They said virtually the same thing as Life-that Paris Match was a family magazine and could not show bare breasts on the cover. I always found it strange that that week's cover photo of the magazine showed a family totally mutilated in a car accident."

The topless controversy still raged as late as 1985, after Gernreich's death, when the Los Angeles Fashion Group staged its Gernreich retrospective, "Looking Back at a Futurist." Moffitt said she would resign as the show's creative director if the topless was modeled on stage at the Wiltern Theatre. She told the Los Angeles limes (August 2, 1985), "Rudi did the suit as a social statement. It was an exaggeration that had to do with setting women free. It had nothing to do with display, and the minute someone wears it to show off her body, you've negated the entire principle of the thing. I modeled it for a photograph, which was eventually published around the world, because I believed in the social statement. Also, because the three of us-Rudi, Bill, and I-felt that the photograph presented the statement accurately. Iwas offered $17,000 in 1964 to let Playboy publish that photograph of me in the suit. I turned it down as unthinkable. And I don't want to exploit women any more now than I did in 1964. The statement hasn't changed. The suit still is about freedom and not display."


1965, geometric tears (photograph © William Claxton)

Sara Worman, then vice president of Robinson's and regional director of The Fashion Group, told the Los Angeles limes, "I can't believe this: it's 1964 all over again. I agree the suit was a social statement-the most prophetic ever made by any designer in the world. It was his most brilliant concept, and from it grew all sorts of things we now take for granted. Why take the single most important idea he ever had-the one that changed the way women dressed all over the Western world-and refuse to show it on a model, when we are showing everything else he ever did on live models?"

Moffitt won. The suit was not modeled. Only photos of it were shown.

The topless also occasioned another Gernreich first: the no-bra bra. It probably did more to change the way clothes fit than any other single item of apparel- intimate or not. Compared with the twin torpedo brassieres of those days (Gernreich compared them to "something you put on your head on New Year's Eve"), the no-bra bra that was made for Exquisite Form was indeed revolutionary, allowing breasts to look natural, freeing women of the padding, boning, and topstltching that characterized bras of that era.. It consisted of two cups of soft, transparent nylon attached to shoulder straps, with a narrow band of stretch fabric encircling the rib cage. By the spring of 1965, the no-bra bra had proved itself a retail success and was quickly followed by the no-sides bra (cut low to accommodate dresses with deep armholes), the no-front bra (cut low to go with slit-to-the-waist necklines) and the no-back bra (anchored around the waist instead of the rib cage).

By the spring of 1965, the no-bra bra had proved itself a retail success and was quickly followed by the no-sides bra (cut low to accommodate dresses with deep armholes), theno-front bra (cut low to go with slit-to-the-waist necklines) and no-back bra (anchored around the waist instead of the rib cage).

The no-bra bra was also to be the catalyst that brought Moffitt to New York, where, at Richard Avedon's studio, she met another modernist of the era, London hair designer Vidal Sassoon. Months later, when he came to Los Angeles, she introduced him to Gernreich. The two became instant friends and collaborators in creating graphic new cuts in hair and clothes.


1966, in London, wearing the "Ringo" Suit (with Dennis Deagan and Sir Mark Palmer). (photograph © William Claxton)

As the Mods and Rockers fought it out for fashion supremacy in London and the Beatles kicked off the Hair Happening, Gernreich saluted Ringo Starr by naming his vested, pin-striped flannel pantsuit of fall 1965 the Ringo look. England returned the compliment when the LondonSunday Times gave Gernreich Its international fashion award for his part in "establishing the current world fashion for the unconstructed look of clothes and influencing American women's fashion through his sportswear and lingerie." Moffitt and Claxton accompanied Gernreich to England to receive the award. Moffitt remembers, "After the show, RUdi, Bill, and I went to Paris. I met Dorian Leigh and she encouraged me to stay there for modeling jobs with her agency. Rudi, too, encouraged me to stay in Europ_he said that it would be good for my career. And so I did, working for almost a year in both Paris and London. Years later, Rudi told me that even though he knew it would be best for me to stay in Europe he was afraid he could not design without me. That was one of the most touching things he ever said to me."

In August 1965, what was to become a long-standing feud with Women's Wear Daily surfaced in publisher John Fairchild's book The Fashionable Savages. In her review of that book, New York Herald Tribune's Eugenia Sheppard wrote, "I think he [Fairchild) underrates Rudi Gernreich, one of the real creators. His objection that Gernreich's clothes are badly constructed is just the point-a rebellion against couture-type fashion that John Fairchild won't accept."

The high price of high fashion was troubling the designer even more than Sheppard suspected. On January 3,1966, Gernreich broke American fashion's unwritten rule that name designers don't sell to chain stores by signing with Montgomery Ward to create a special group of exclusive designs. The agreement lasted several seasons, proving to both Gernreich and Montgomery Ward that original design can be popular at popular prices.


1966, vinyl designs for Montgomery Ward. (author's collection)

During this time, Montgomery Ward asked Gernreich to make a personal appearance at one of their Chicago stores. It was to be a lesson in humility. "It was a completely conventional appearance of a designer in a store, arranged so people could come up and ask questions- you know, harmless. They put a little poster in one of the pillars on the floor, with a picture of me in the background. They had wads of photographs for me to autograph. And they had the area cordoned off with velvet ropes. It was announced that I'd be there between lunch and 2 P.M. At noon, there were droves of people coming up the elevator. I thought I was about to be mobbed. Well, no one came up to me. Not one single person came to see me. And I'm standing there, and finally a couple of ladies came up, and I thought, well, it's going to start now. And they said, 'Where's the ladies' room?' That was all."

In his own collections of that period, Gernreich introduced knitted swimsuits with vinyl-appliqued elastic stockings held by vinyl garters. He designed the first chiffon T-shirt dress. He created helmets that extended over the face, coats with nose-level necklines, swimsuits that looked like turtleneck ski sweaters. And he feather-printed matte jersey in shifts with matching stockings and feather headdresses. He was rewarded with a second Coty Award in 1966.

By September 1966, Gernreich was bringing his strong sense of graphics directly to the body, effecting the first modern tattoos by pasting triangles, squares, circles, and rectangles all over the arms, legs, and torsos of his bikini- clad models. The adhesive ornaments were packaged in plastic bags and accompanied his swimsuits for Harmon Knitwear. Moffitt recalls the evolution of those first body graphics: "When we were doing the Indian collection of 1965, I wanted to wear a caste mark, but I couldn't put lipstick on my forehead because I'd be wearing modern, non-Indian, swimwear one change later, so I cut a circle out of a fuchsia-colored matchbook and put it on with eyelash glue. The decals that were to appear later came from that matchbook idea. The next collection I made little geometric tears out of aluminum foil. Later, when I came back from Europe, Rudi had taken that idea to its ultimate limit by giving me a red bikini bottom to wear and pasting black vinyl triangles over the rest of my body."


1966, vinyl decals and bikini. (photographer unknown)

Later in 1966, Gernreich's clothes were featured in what has come to be known as the first fashion videotape, Basic Black. Claxton tells the story: "After Peggy and I came back from Europe, I was approached by a producer of television commercials who wanted a film so he could show examples of my work-a sample reel, so to speak. I decided to combine the things I knew best-Rudi's'clothes and my photography. Peggy and I wrote a shooting outline for what we considered an abstract fashion film. The next weekend, we rented a studio in New York, and with Peggy, Leon Bing, and Ellen Harth, completed the project in two days. Rudi often showed the film as part of the shows he took to South America and the Orient, and Vidal Sassoon is still using it. I consider it the first film where clothes spoke for themselves, without commentary."

Gernreich's once-grudging recognition by his peers on Seventh Avenue had become by this time so cemented that even Norman Norell admitted he was wrong. "He [Gernreich] has grown in talent," Norell told a Washington Star reporter (September 30, 1966). "Today, I would go along with their giving him the top [Coty] award." Gernreich, the showman, surprised the audience at his October collection by showing a model wearing a belted shirtwaist dress that covered her knees. As if that weren't shock enough, she wore a padded bra, nylon stockings, and spike-heeled pumps with bag and gloves to match. Just as bewildered reporters and buyers started togasp in amazement, out came Moffitt in a thigh-high mini of the same print as the shirtwaist dress and little-heeled shoes. The point, said Gernreich, was that there were no rights or wrongs in fashion-that the spirit ofthat moment was in how clothes were put together.


1966, children's wear in purple wool knit with yellow vinyl dots.

To make sure no one misunderstood his fashion message of 1967, Gernreich opened his resort-spring collection with this statement: "For the first time in the history of the world-at least since the Children's Crusade-the young are leading us. There is now a Power Elite of the young. They are discovering their fashion power just as they are discovering their social and political power.

They are bringing about a natural fusion of person and dress. And what is amusing is that the older people are beginning to revolt. That in itself might have interesting fashion consequences in a few years as the young get older. For more than three hundred years the French woman has dictated fashion. Now at last, the American woman is coming into fashion maturity, fashion freedom.


1965, beige and black wool "Ringo" suit

And nothing, of course, is more limited than freedom. It's the razor's edge, a hairline, the skin of a tooth. It's beauty, but beauty is always ugly at first. It's sex appeal, but sex appeal is always austere. It's art, but minor, not major. "

On June 30, 1967, Gernreich's fashion art became major in the sense that he was elevated to the Fashion Hall of Fame by the Coty American Fashion Critics-the highest award of that time-and received his honor later that year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He also received this kudo from the New York Times: "Virtually everything starting in American fashion appears to have been done first by the 44-year-old, Vienna-born and California-based designer. Best known for the only fad that didn't sell -- his topless bathing suit -- Mr. Gernreich has always had a way of anticipating trends. He is famous for taking things off-or out-of clothes, beginning with an unlined knitted swimsuit 15 years ago and continuing through transparent or cutout dresses in recent seasons. "


Resort 1967, Mrs. Square.

Gernreich's body-works of 1967featuredtunicsand dresses with necklines that plunged to new lows-four inches below a wide leather belt. He called the collection "Beyond the Nave"" By October, the hemline was resting at twelve inches above the knees, and Pierrot, Edith Sitwell, and Dighilev had become Rudi-mentary elements of style.

Bloomers were also a big part of that collection, as were bubble skirts. One of Gernreich's white chiffon dresses with bubble skirt and matching tights went to the White House wedding of Lynda Bird Johnson to Captain Charles S. Robb. Its owner, Carol Channing, became the center of controversy over fashion versus propriety. Shetold Newsweek(December 25, 1967), "I thought it was what you wear to a wedding in the year 1967."

Gernreich's biggest journalistic tribute came on December " 1967, when he, with models Peggy Moffitt and Leon Bing, made the cover of Time, where he was described as "the most way-out, far-ahead designer in the U.S."

Although he continued to expand his design sphere in 1968-firstto stockings for McCallum Boutique,laterto signature scarfs for Glentex and patterns for McCall'_Gernreich was becoming more and more desenchanted with the direction of fashion. In January 1968, he told fashion editors attending his show that "the fashion impact of Bonnie and Clyde is just plain sick. The movie is great-a beautiful, tragic film-but it has nothing to do with fashion as such. Previous historical periods always recur in fashion. However, they must always be reinterpreted. Otherwise there is a flight from reality into costume nostalgia and escapism. History must be used, not just restored."


Resort 1967, Miss Hip.

Gernreich's fashion ideas of that year included Siamese harem dresses that folded diaper-fashion between the legs, clear vinyl bands on knitted dresses and swimsuits, cossack clothes, boots with white feathers, and pantyhose and scarfs printed not with Gernreich's name (so-called signature scarfs printed with designer's names were at the height of their popularity) but an alphabet of scrambled letters that said nothing. As Gernreich put it, "the unsignature scarf."

He proved his seeing powers again in May with a statement that other designers were later to second. "The era of fashion dictatorship is gone," he announced in a news release for those attending his fall collection, "and with it the authoritarian approach to clothes. There is worldwide confusion about everything and this includes fashion. Everywhere structures are breaking down. The confusion can be felt everywhere and the designer must work with it and against it. It's interesting, but it's an awful mess. We have discovered that nakedness isn't necessarily immoral, that it can have a logical and decent meaning. The body is a legitimate dimension of human reality and can be used for a lot of things besides sex. Slowly, the liberation of the body will cure our society of its sex hangup. Today our notions of masculine and feminine are being challenged as never before. The basic masculine-feminine appeal is in people, not in clothes. When a garment becomes sufficiently basic, it can be worn unisexually."

He ended his statement by declaring the skirt was finished, that pants and tunics with tiahts had replaced it. Women's Wear Daily disagreed. Gernreich, not the skirt, was the endangered fashion species, according to a story that ran June 12, 1968. "Rudi Gernreich has boxed himself right into a corner. For years, he's been America's most avant-garde designer and has been praised for it. But this season, Rudi misses with his gimmicks and costumes and jokes of past seasons. His mini tunics over laced-up leg coverings, his layered look which adds pounds and his inflated bloomers don't look today or tomorrow. Rudi says we need fun and games during these times, but his collection looks more like a comedy of errors."

The fun and games stopped on October 16, 1968, when Gernreich announced he was taking a year's sabbatical. In a brief statement to the press, he said, uit's not a big deal. I just think it's time to take off for a while. I just want to rest."


1971, trompe l'oeil wool-knit minidress.

The story behind the decision was more complex: ul had felt for several years that couture was over, that expensive clothes didn't make sense. My own Rudi Gernreich designs were becoming outrageously high. By the time an outfit was complete with matching stockings, shoes, and headgear it was not only expensive, it was difficult to handle in a merchandising sense. Stores weren't geared to sell stockings and underwear in the same department with a dress or skirt, so the total look I believed in was never really totalized.

"I knew I either had to expand in order to bring down prices or stay small and suffer increased prices. The idea of expanding to a much larger business scared me. I didn't want to be a big manufacturer with all the attendant business problems. This was not my calling, not my interest. I felt I had to be experimental at any cost, and that meant always being on the verge of a success or flop.

"At the same time, I had staff problems, difficulties which meant a major change would have to be made. I was at the point of nervous collapse -- overworked, overpressured, fed up. My last collection had been terribly extreme, an absurd kind of statement. Everyone criticized it. And I had become so involved with the business end I couldn't find enough time to design.

"The knits for Harmon were everything I believed in-utilitarian, wearable, priced right-but I wanted out of that arrangement, too. Even though with Harmon, unlike any other manufacturer I've ever worked with, there never had been a problem.

"When I told Harmon of my decision, he was marvelous-very, very understanding. He told me to take three months off and we'd talk again, and assured me that we'd do the Harmon Knitwear line the easiest possible way. He said I'd be foolish to give up our association, and since I already had a collection for him in the works I finished it before I left for Morocco. It was one of the most profitable collections I ever did for him.

"Once I made the decision, there was no more trace of the nervous breakdown. I felt free, relieved. And I rented a dream place, a castle in Tangiers owned by Yves Vidal, president of Knoll International. I traveled through Morocco, also in Europe and was away almost a year. I did the Harmon thing easily, happily, and I never missed a knit collection.

"When I returned, a whole new professional life opened up for me."

It was the fall of 1969, soon after he returned from his sabbatical intent on uncomplicating his design life. It was the year his European counterparts were conjuring up midis to welcome the new decade. The year of moon walks and moratoriums, Right On and Up the Establishment.
Site Admin
Posts: 32810
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Postby admin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:13 am


1971, quilt made for Knoll International.

To Gernreich, it was also the year fashion died. Almost symbolically, Life magazine asked him to take it into the future. Editor Helen Blagden asked Gernreich to project what men and women would be wearing in 1980.

Again, as in the case of Look magazine and the topless bathing suit, Gernreich said no, that it was impossible to predict a visual reality without creating a Buck Rogers caricature. Swayed by the fact that Ufe's special year-end double issue, "Into the Seventies," was also to include speculations on the consequences of moon flight by Norman Mailer and a Louis Harris poll on the social coalitions that would shape the future, Gernreich agreed to do what he considered a somewhat realistic projection of clothes for tomorrow.

"If you go too far away from something plausible you lose just that-the plausibility of it. I really believe you can only see things in your own moment, that you're bound by your time. My ideas for Life were bound by the time, but I tried to take the limit off the time they were meant for by extending it to the year 2000."

Those ideas -- shaved bodies and everyone stripped down to their barest essentials --were synopsized by Life (January 1, 1970, special double issue): "According to him IGernreichl, the nostalgic and 'circusy' look of today's clothes is a sinister sign that we are not facing up to the problems of contemporary life. The clothes of the future will have to be functional. Gernreich foresees a time just ahead when 'people will stop bothering about romance in their clothes: Tomorrow's woman will divest herself of her jewelry and cosmetics and dress exactly like tomorrow's man. Fashion will go out of fashion. The 'utility principle' will allow us, says Gernreich, to take our minds off how we look and concentrate on really important matters. Clothing will not be identified as either male or female. So women will wear pants and men will wear skirts interchangeably. And since there won't be any squeamishness about nudity, see-through clothes will only be see-through for reasons of comfort. Weather permitting, both sexes will go about bare-chested, though women will wear simple protective pasties. The aesthetics of fashion are going to involve the body itself. We will train the body to grow beautifully rather than cover it to produce beauty."

For the elderly, Gernrelch predicted caftan-like coverups. "The present cult of eternal youth is not honest and certainly not attractive. In an era when the body will become the convention of fashion, the old will adopt a uniform of their own. If a body can , no longer be accentuated, it should be abstracted. The young won't wear prints but the elderly will because bold prints detract. The elderly will have a cult of their own and the embarrassment of old age will fade away."


1970, unisex. (photograph © Patricia Faure)

When the article appeared with sketches, Eugenia Butler, an art dealer acquainted with Gernreich, arranged a meeting with Maurice Tuchman, senior curator of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and head of the American art and technology section scheduled for Expo 70, a world's fair thAt tnnk nlace in Osaka, Japan, in 1970. Tuchman asked Gernreich to create a special event for Expo -- an art-in-fashion statement for artists and art press who would be attending the Japan exhibition. In explaining his decision to bring the drawings in Life to life, Gernreich recounted, "I was terribly upset with what was going on. Iwanted people to be disturbed. I felt a strong anti-statement was in order and that a drawing was vague and unreal. I believed that if I translated that drawing into clothes it would be real. It would have an impact. Most people saw the Ufe article as a violent antisex statement. A few thought it was IyricaI, that the unisex statement represented a peaceful getting together. Iwas curious to see how they would react to the real thing. "

He first asked Moffitt to be his model. She refused. "To me, it was perfectly legitimate to project a future thirty to fifty years hence, but then to actually present the nudes seemed questionable. If you're predicting the future and next week show it, it's no longer futuristic. I tried to tell him he would be attacked personally for showing people without hair while he was covering his baldness with a toupee, but I couldn't say it. He justified going ahead with the idea of bringing his sketches to life, but Icould not be a part of it."

After Leon Bing also begged off, Gernreich started his search for a young man and woman who would agree to shave their bodies and heads and accompany him to Expo 70. The woman was Renee Holt a twenty-two-yea....old model, and the man was thirty-year-old Tom Broome, manager of a Los Angeles boutique called Chequer West.

Time magazine chronicled the shaving event in its January 26, 1970 issue: "The first order of business was to shave the heads and bodies of his two models. 'Hair hides a lot: explained Gernreich, 'and body hair is too sexual. I don't want to confuse the idea of freedom with sexual nakedness. Openness and honesty call for no covering of any kind.'

For Thomas Broome, Rudi's male model, the prospect of allover alopecia held no horror: 'I've wanted to shed my hair for a long time. I have this theory that when I do, I will shed other things, too-maybe my inhibitions.' But Holt approached her barber's appointment with anxiety. Fondly caressing her long golden tresses, she said bravely, 'In a way, long hair is a crutch for a woman. Once the hair is short, one may develop other things like the intellect. But I have been thinking what my father will say.'


1970, unisex. (photograph © Patricia Faure)

An hour later, Tom and Renee emerged from under their barber's aprons and entered separate bathrooms to shave off every vestige of body hair. 'You look great, just great: gushed Rudi when they returned. Acosmeticianapplieda thincoatofflesh-colored makeup to their naked bodies, and it was time to Qet into their costumes, such as they were. Both models dressed identically in black-and-white monokinis, covered with white knit bell-bottom trousers and rib-length black-and-white tank tops. Then, while photographers snapped pictures and Gernreich gave cues and directions, the models rehearsed their act for the January 20 showings at both Eugenia Butler's Hancock Park home and, later, at her gallery. Off came the tank tops, Down dropped the trousers. The monokinis slid slowly to the floor. After stepping to one side, Tom and Renee stood silently like statuesor inmates of a concentration camp."

Gernreich's curiosity over how people would react to Tom and Renee turned into shock at the Butler event. While he was leading the models through the crowd-turned-circus, a man suddenly appeared, exposing his genitalia and carrying a mock version in the form of a yellow stuffed pillow. When Gernreich learned that the flasher was Paul Cotton, one of Mrs. Butler's artists, and that she had staged the entire spectacle, he asked her if it were true and she denied it. Later, when she was arrested along with an exposed Cotton while standing in line at the American Pavilion in Japan, Gernreich realized he'd been duped. And when Cotton repeated his performance by appearing totally nude, except for a body coating of silver paint, at the presentation at Tuchman's home near Kyoto, Gernreich realized that he'd been set up again.

Although Gernreich's clothes statements of the sixties drew press response the world over, his anti-statement of 1970 triggered fewer headlines. Women's Wear Daily covered the show in its Arts & Pleasures section. Much of the press was more interested in the failing hemlines of that time than fallen hair.

Los Angeles Times, January 22, 1970: "Rudi Gernreich's Projection 1970 is more philosophy than adamant statement on the future of fashion. It is, in fact, anti-fashion. Behind the shockery of completely hairl.ess bodies and nudity, Gernreich's projection is a sincere probing of what he believes the future may be and how it will affect our appearance."

Los Angeles Herald Examiner, January 21, 1970: "The proceedings were inexplicably joyless. When he was through, much more than clothes and body hair were missing. Gone also were imagination, so-called 'modesty' hangups, traditional male-female attitudes, not to mention the future profits of the world's fashion, fabric and dry-cleaning professions."

Fashion Week, January 26,1970: "Is 2001 any the less beautiful and awesome because Kubrick is not there? No. We are involved in the future. And it may be our salvation that somebody is serious about it."

Women's Wear Daily, January 22,1970: "Designer Gernreich has been on a sabbatical for some months now, recharging his creative batteries. It's a shame he went back to the drawing board too soon."

Gernreich summed up the reviews by saying people had become less easy to shock. "They're used to unusual statements. There are some who are easily rattled, but not as many. I did get some hate letters, but the silent majority was more silent than it used to be."


1973, plastic armor designed for a Max Factor promotion.

Of all those speaking out against Gernreich's bald statement, only one, the Ponce College of Beauty in Pao Alto, California, took any action. The beauty college ran a half-page ad in the Palo Alto Times headlined "Help Stamp Out Rudi Gernreich." The trip to Japan, while not a part of the official Expo program, was financed by Max Factor. Because of the sponsorship, Gernreich expanded his original Life magazine projection to include makeup in a new role as a kind of body protector to shield man from the sun's rays and from the cold. The unisex clothes that were part of the presentation-pants, skirts, bikinis, jumpsuits-were all clothes from previous Gernreich collections. The boots had been made for him by Capezio in 1965. If the clothes looked new and bizarre, Gernreich said it was only because they were worn by two bald people. "This is true of all clothes-who puts them on makes them what they are."

When Gernreich put the clothes for his spring 1971 collection on models carrying guns and wearing dog tags and combat boots, he fired another shot heard round the fashion world. The clothes themselves-previewed in October 1970, shortly after the student killings at Kent State-were basic, wearable knitted separates, but the rifles that the models carried took dead aim at the fashion industry itself.

"Women are on the warpath," Gernreich told press and buyers attending the opening. "They're tired of being sex objects." Then, in a swipe at designers showing the clothes of Russian peasants and other heroines from history books, Gernreich went on, "You simply can't design clothes for Chekhov heroines in 1970! Fashion has got to be relevant to women today. There are no 'escape clothes' in this collection because there is no escape. To desire the past is to negate the present and the future as well."

In keeping with the realism theme of the collection, all the clothes were priced under ninety dollars. And at a time when most major designers were showing the midi, Gernreich kept his hemlines well above the knees.

By fall 1971 Gernreich extended his attack on what he called "the nostalgia cult." "I see the conditions today like this: anonymity, universality, unisex, nudity as fact and not as kick, and above all reality. By reality, I mean the use of real things: blue jeans, polo shirts, T-shirts, overalls. Status fashion is gone. What remains? Something I am obliged to call authenticity. Comfort is the rationale. Good looks deriving more from the person than from the clothes. The clothes are merely an instrument for the individual's own body-message. Prices must be kept down. No more conspicuous consumption. Today, 'expensive' is what 'cheap' used to be: the hallmark of an invaterate vulgarity. And there is at last an awareness of age, true age, that is the sign of a real enlightenment. At last a woman over twenty-five no longer feels a moral Obligation to look like a teenager. A division line between the ages is beginning to appear. This in itself opens countless opportunities."

Perhaps the biggest shock Gernreich delivered in the seventies was that he had nothing more to say about the future. Fashion's leading futurist became the champion of "right now:' Amazingly, he was as alone in the present olthe early 1970s as he used to be when he was predicting the future in the 1960s.

While yesterday-fever gripped most of the fashion world, Gernreich immunized himself and his followers with massive doses of what he liked to call uniforms-simple, functional knitted tops and bottoms that took on the personality of the men and women who wore them. "Do you see any Gernreich signature in these clothes?" he would ask buyers. If they said yes, his face fell. More than anything, he wanted his clothes of that time to be anonymous.

Moffitt recalls a revealing incident of the era: "It was 1972, Bill and I had just moved back to Los Angeles. I was depressed with the fashion scene in New York and wanted to work more with Rudi. He and I were having lunch across the street from the Los Agneles County Museum of Art and were talking about how silly it was that Women's Wear Daily was raving so about Halston showing cardigan sweaters knotted around the shoulders. I said, 'If they think that's so great, why not just build a sweater right into the dress!' Rudi looked absolutely dumbfounded and said, 'How did you know? That's exactly what I'm doing: He then turned very serious and said: I don't want to work with you now. You inspire me, and I don't want to be inspired: Crestfallen, I went home and decided to start a family. Two months later, an effervescent Rudi bounded into my living room and asked me to model futuristic armor that he was going to do for a Max Factor promotion in July. When I reminded him that I would be eight months pregnant by then, he still thought that I could model. That was Rudi. Everything had changed, and now it was okay to be inspired. And while I did not model on that occasion, I continued to work with him after my son, Christopher, was born right up to his final collection in 1981."

Convinced that "the creative part of fashion is gone,· Gernreich believed that the next breakthrough in clothes would be technological. "Once the sewing machine has been replaced or sophisticated, once a designer can spray-on clothes or transmigrate fabrics to the body, new things will happen:' he said in 1971.

"The designer will become less artist, more technician. He'll be like an architect or engineer, with a sound background in chemistry. There won't be a need for sewing machine operators or cutters. Other machines will do this work. So a knowledge of machinery such as computers will therefore be essential.

"When our technology made it possible to put men on the moon everything developed so quickly that people just couldn't face it. They took refuge in the past. The past became the security blanket of the present. Today, no one talks about the present. It's gone to most people. Instead, they're trying to adjust for the future. We used to think only in terms of the present. But today's present is the past and the future is just a fleeting moment in time."

In Gernreich's view, the futuristic, lunar look of the sixties stopped short in the seventies and designers started reverting to the past because the moon was still a remote idea at the beginning of the sixties and it made sense to abstract it as a design theme.

"Once it became a reality, once we saw the possibility of relating to it directly, it became frightening. To most of us, the moon still seems remote and unconnected with our daily problems. In a way, many are bored with the emptiness of the moon. 50m-'ike me-are even turned off by it. Getting a man to the moon was a phenomenal feat. I don't deny that. But the monies spent in accomplishing that feat might well have been spent solving earthly problems. I still feel that the legitimate thing is for right now-not the future, not the past. Maybe when the first space station is an actual fact, there will be a stronger sense of reality about the moon and it will become a realistic influence. Right now, there's no room to playact with the moon."


1974, with perfume made for American Essence.

What there was room to do in the seventies was to continue to produce clothes for the seventies while extending the boundaries of fashion design into other design fields. In the fall of 1971, Gernreich introduced a furniture collection for Fortress-a combination of glass, leather, polished aluminum, including such items as a coffee table simulating a door that was complete with doorknob, end tables that looked like orange crates, and tables that resembled stretchers. In 1971 he created quilts for Knoll International that incorporated all the knitwear graphics he had used in his clothes. They were displayed at the Louvre in Paris. In 1974, the tenth anniversary of the topless swimsuit, he introduced a Rudi Gernreich fragrance packaged in a chemist's beaker and produced under the auspices of American Essence. After a brief success buoyed by his personal appearances, the company failed and Gernreich's perfume, along with the Anne Klein fragrance introduced at approximately the same time, disappeared from the market.

later in 1974, Gernreich created yet another less-is-moreism called the thong. A thin strip of fabric, the thong separated otherwise bare buttocks. There were both male and female versions. Gernreich said he created the thong to provide "the undeniable comfort and pleasure human beings take in nakedness." He considered the thong a compromise between liberty and legality because it offered the freedom of nudism without breaking the law on public shores. Little did Gernreich dream that sixteen years after his creation first hit the beach it would be considered indecent and illegal. In June 1990, the seven-member Florida cabinet in Tallahassee passed a restriction that banned thong swimsuits-those with only a string between the buttocks-on state-owned beaches. The ruling went into effect June 22 and set off a national controversy on whatthe Florida legislators called the case ofthe anal cleft. Even Phil Donahue got into the act when he interviewed two young thong-wearers who had been arrested in Sarasota for violating the law. They modeled their suits on national television.

Also in 1974, Gernreich once more costarred with Bella Lewitzky, with whom he had danced in Salome almost thirty years before, when both were membersof Lester Horton'stroupe. His remarkable costumes forthe Lewitzky presentation of Inscape were often part of the set and part of the plot. For instance, his "Siamese" wrestlers were joined at the skull in stretchable hoods that kept the dancers connected both literally and figuratively. Gernreich continued to collaborate with Lewitzky, designing sets and costumes for Pas de Bach in 1977, Rituals in 1979, Changes and Choices in 1981, and Confines in 1982.

Gernreich's idea of connecting the costumes for Inscape became a fashion pursuit as well: in 1975Gernreich created black nylon-jersey tube dresses fastened to sculptured aluminum jewelry by Christopher Den Blaker. Free-form necklaces, for example, held halter gowns in place and wide bracelets formed cuffs. That same year, Gernreich designed the first Jockey-like briefs and boxer shorts forwomen for Lily of France, predating Calvin Klein's 1983renditions by seven years. Rudi Gernreich cosmetics for Redken Laboratories appeared in 1976, Rudi Gernreich leotards for Ballet Makers, Inc., in 1977, Rudi Gernreich kitchen accessories, towels, and placemats for Barth Be Dreyfuss in 1977, Rudi Gernreich rugs for Regal Rugs in 1978, and Rudi Gernreich ceramic bathroom appointments for Wicker Wear, Inc., also in 1978.

IIhe last Rudi Gernreich knitwear collection appeared in 1981. His last venture outside the world of fashion, gourmet soups, started in 1982 and lasted until shortly before his death. His final design statement was the pubikini, "totally freeing the human body." Eyewitness photographer Helmut Newton reconstructs the proceedings: "Rudi told me about the project and asked if I would take a photo. There was no mention of a final look or anything like that. I said of course. Hesaid to come to his house and he would have a model ready. It was an early afternoon in March. "

The model, Sue Jackson, had been prepared in advance, her pubic hair shaped, shaved, and dyed poison green by Los Angeles hairdresser Rodney Washington, who followed the line Gernreich drew on Jackson's body with a grease pencil. Makeup artist Angelika Schubert created a body makeup and gave the model bright red lipsand nails. Jackson, whose hair also had a streak of bright green, wore atiny strip of fabric that extended in a wide-open V from hips to crotch, exposing the triangle of green-dyed pubes.

"I posed her on the couch and Rudi sat next to her. I remember Rudi putting some green paint or dye on her, and I remember how very excited he was about the design. Since then, I've always thought how that pubikini with the green on the pubic hair was so much newer an expression of nudity than just letting a boob hang out the way Yves Saint Laurent's models did in 1989. It struck me as touching and wonderful that he was so excited at this point in his life."

Gernreich died one month later, April 21, 1985, of lung cancer.


1983, Rudi as guest chef at the Cadillac Cafe, Los Angeles.


I met Rudi Gernreich in 1957 when I was in Los Angeles covering a story for the Chicago Tribune. From then until I moved to Los Angeles in 1969,1 called him Mr. GERN-rike. He never once corrected my mispronunciation. I finally caught on after several calls to his Santa Monica Boulevard headquarters when I heard Fumi, his secretary, answer, "Rudi GERN-rick."

I always felt that anyone kind enough not to have corrected me all those years was someone very special. And Rudi certainly was very special. He wasn't the only designer in the world with vision. But he was the first designer to look beyond the salons into the streets, beyond the beautiful people and the lunch bunch, as they were called in his heyday, to the hard-hatters and the tuna-sandwich crowd.

He was artist, sociologist, economist, humorist, psychic, Leo, and probably the only two-car revolutionary to wear Gucci loafers. Even at the height of his antistatus statements, he drove to work in a big, white '64 Bentley and had a love-hate relationship with his always-ailing '53 Nash Healy.

Christian Dior said he got his greatest fashion inspiration while in his bath or bed, and he compared what he called his incubation period-the two weeks he spent in the country before beginning each collection-to the migration of the eels to the Sargasso Sea.

Gernreich's fashion incubator was his mind. He was as cerebral as he was visual, as smart as he was heart. So were his clothes. They talked, tantalized, teased, tormented, and tickled the imagination. Sometimes they even scared people.

Gernreich was a great wit and punster. He loved playing jokes. In 1972, for example, I remember snickering, then laughing out loud at his spoof of Halston's twin sweater sets -- the then-fashionable affectation of wearing on sweater tied around the shoulders over its twin. Gernreich's takeoffs had four sleeves -- two for the arms and two to tie around the shoulders.


Spoofing the topless in a 1970 advertisement. (Courtesy J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency)

Rudi had a presence, a kind of center-stage persona that belied his five-foot six-inch frame. If he was the center of attention, he purred. If he was not, he either became the center of attention- usually with an amusing story~rhe left. And although his body was strong and compact, he moved with a dancer's grace, even as he became more barrel-chested with age. Gernreich the brilliant colorist always wore black so he could "hear himself think."

He spoke with a stage!American accent, and he expressed himself with ease, eloquence, and often a self-deprecating wit. He loved telling stories. One of my favorites concerned the maid at the Algonquin Hotel, where Gernreich stayed for years. "Poor Mr. Gernreich," he overheard her telling one of the buyers she'd seen many times during his presentations of samples in the suite. "He comes here at least four times a year. He works so hard trying to sell his clothes, showing them over and over, and yet no one ever buys a thing. He always has to pack them up and take them all back to California with him."


TIME magazine cover, December 1, 1967. (Copyright © 1967 Time Warner Inc. Reprinted by permission)

The Gernreich headquarters at 8460 Santa Monica Boulevard was a square stucco saltbox painted khaki-a modern, almost mysterious building. I was always struck by what I saw as the symbolism of that building standing alone on a highly trafficked street just as Rudi stood alone in the world of fashion.

The building's only decoration was the twelve-foot-high carved panel doors on which the designer's name was spelled out in chrome letters-all in sans serif uppercase. Inside, the setting was part Bauhaus, part 2001, part preecology (there was a zebra-skin rug on the floor), part post-status (a single Tshirt with the designer's picture on it was tacked on the wall that was once covered with Gernreich on the cover of Time).

Everything in the showroom was either white (three walls and the floor made of hexagonal bathroom tiles), black (the leather on the chrome-framed Marcel Breuer chairs and sofa), or khaki (one burlap wall). The only color was the green floor-to-ceiling jungle of Schefflera and palm, and the red and green in the lithographs by Carmi.

There were no family photographs, no scrapbooks, no tourist's treasures, no hidden bar timed to open at the stroke of 5:30, not even a gold reproduction of his one millionth no-bra bra.


1976, Rizzoli asked a group of prominent designers to create fantasy clothes for an exhibition. Rudi dressed a couple in bicycle parts. (photograph © William Claxton)

Gernreich's private office was a world of browns-personal, warm browns that contrasted with the more public schematics of the black- nd-white showroom. A Charles Eames chair, leather pig, tortoise-shell telephone, mushroom lamp-all these sepia tones made the room feel like an old Sunday rotogravure section redesigned with modern graphics. The room's only concession to the past was a Mexican chest inlaid with bone. It was brown too, and inside, behind its closed doors, were Gernreich's many awards.

Behind the Moroccan wall that surrounded the home he shared with Oreste Pucciani in Hollywood's Laurel Canyon, Rudi was both open and closed about his relationship with his lover: he readily invited straight guests to dinner parties cohosted by Oreste but was reluctant to discuss his sexuality-at least with me. I "knew" he was gay, and I think he knew I knew, but neither of us ever brought up the subject.

Rudi started each new season by taking the thumbnail sketches he'd been preparing whenever and wherever the idea struck and worked them into detailed drawings, complete with fabric samples and color swatches. Those quick, crude sketches might have been generated by an actual incident witnessed by Gernreich, as was the case in his 1970 swim clothes that came about as a direct result of "watching kids jump into a swimming pool with their clothes on and emerge in a dripping wet cling of sex appeal that made bikinis look almost boring."


1974, the thong. (photograph © William Claxton)

Rudi said ideas often came to him in those moments just before waking or just before falling asleep. He called the experience a bit mystic, an almost trancelike state that he always entered before a collection deadline.

Rudi's most immediate critics were his three fitting models, Jimmy Mitchell, Peggy Moffitt, and Leon Bing. "I care very much what the model thinks," Rudi told me during an interview about their effect on his work. "I work only with models I like and respect, and their reactions are extremely important to me. I'm excited by an honest and instantaneous reaction. If the model is cool, if she says something doesn't feel right, or if it's just okay, I feel I'm not really on the ball. I'm nottoo concerned if she doesn't like a specific design, but I'm very concerned if she doesn't feel comfortable in it."

So how will Rudi Gernreich go down in history? Is he better than Chanel? Dior? Balenciaga? Givenchy? Pucci? Cardin? Courreges? Saint Laurent? Because he never had Paris for a stage, with all its attendant publicity and fashion power, it's difficult to rank him internationally. But his continuing influence on international fashion was evident as late as 1991, when Gernrichian graphics came back into style along with Gernrichian colors, tattoos, shapes, and attitudes. The space-age clothes he first sent up and later shot down were once more rocketing around fashion runways from Milan to New York. All the Gernreich bywords of the sixties- skinny, mini, neo, geo, pop, op-returned to the language of international fashion. The simple, spare shapes that were considered futuristic in 1961 were suddenly "modern" thirty years later. The wit Gernreich brought to fashion was fashionable again. Unisex was in everyday usage. And those historical costumes that looked so dated to Rudi in the seventies were finally beginning to look out of sync to a lot of people twenty years later.

My favorite appraisal of his talent comes from New York Times fashion reporter Bernadine Morris: "Gernreich's big contribution wasn't the cut of a sleeve or a particular color or any of those dressmaking details so dear to the hearts of fashion people who love to return to the good old days which they understood so well. It was a brave new sweeping concept-that clothes should be comfortable. And just the tiniest bit fun to wear."

As for me, Rudi was my first fashion hero. I think he was a genius.
Site Admin
Posts: 32810
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Postby admin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:13 am


1955, the five-button swimsuit, style 6001, probably the most copied swimsuit in history. (Photograph © William Claxton)

The Circle in the Square

Once in Vienna, a little boy went to kindergarten where his teacher told the class to take a sheet of paper and draw a square and inside the square to draw a circle. The boy took his pencil and drew an enormous circle that just touched the edge of the paper all the way around. When he was finished, he proudly ran to the teacher. She looked at his work and said, "But Rudi, you have failed. You didn't follow my direction." And he replied,, "Yes, but isn't it beautiful?"

Years later and on the other side of the world, a little black-haired four-year-old girl put on her older sister's too-big shoes, a long pink dress, and a dark blue cape. She then went clomping through the neighborhood shouting to anyone who would listen, "I'm Snow White!"

Most of this book is a fond pictorial memory of what happened when those two people met.


1955, the five-button swimsuit worn by model Jimmy Mitchell. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)


My first glimpse of Jimmy Mitchell occurred when I was a teenager working after school at JAX in Beverly Hills. One Saturday the most extraordinary couple walked into the store. He looked like a small, handsome version of Peter Lorre, and she looked like a cheetah in human form. It was Rudi and Jimmy Mitchell. Jimmy helped him start his career and remained his friend until his death. She still looks like a cheetah.


Mid 1950s, unconstructed swimsuit based on menswear. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)


Mid 1950s, unconstructed swimsuit based on menswear. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)


Mid 1950s, unconstructed swimsuit based on menswear. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)


Mid 1950s, unconstructed swimsuit based on menswear. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)


1960, modeling a typical Rudi maillot in the window of JAX. (photograph © William Claxton)


When I was a teenager, I discovered a terrific shop in Beverly Hills called JAX. I glanced at a dress in the window and the heavens parted-a giant thunderbolt riveted me to the spot. My life changed forever.

What I saw was a dress that would now be called a caftan. It was short black crepe and had two stripes running from the left shoulder to the hem. One stripe was ochre, and the other was orange. The dress had no bust darts, no waistband. It was as flat as a kimono and was hung on a wire hanger. All I could see was the body that wasn't in the dress. What that dress could do for a body-moving, changing, enveloping, revealing a body. This was designed by someone who loved bodies. This person had to be a dancer. And what a shock it was next to the other clothes of the day. Everything from haute couture to the Sears catalogue was based on Dior's "New Look." Every woman's garment in the world had a million darts, seams, wasp waists, petticoats, shelves to put bosoms in, and cupolas for hips. Even anorexics wore "Merry Widow" corsets to give themselves hourglass figures. And here was this supremely elegant, simple, sexy rebuttal to all of thatthis perfect dress, this completely logical, alluring way to be a woman. This dress on this hanger was all about arms and legs and feet and necks and movement, and yet it was hanging-static-waiting for a body it could enhance rather than dominate and contort.

Looking at that dress, I thought, "I don't know who designed that, but someday I'm going to marry him or something."


1958, plaid sou'wester. (photograph © Patricia Faure)


Feathered cloche. (photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)


Felt cloche cut like bobbed hair. (photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)
Site Admin
Posts: 32810
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Postby admin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:14 am


Rhinestone cloche. (photograph © William Claxton)


1963, men's patchwork sweater in wool knit


Wool-knit checked pants and sweater.


1962, swimsuits in a characteristic Rudi colors in a promotional shot for the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles, with art dealer Irving Blum.


Playing by a friend's pool wearing one of Rudi's wool-knit tank suits designed for men.


Wool-knit cut-out andporthole swimsuits. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)


Barrel-coat Irish linen suits. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)


Single-sleeve gray flannel and silk dress. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)


Black-and-white op art silk dress. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)


Wool-knit "skindiver" swimsuits. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)
Site Admin
Posts: 32810
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Postby admin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:15 am


Blue-and-white tablecloth damask suit with gingham blouse. (Photograph © Tommy Mitchell Estate)



1963, We become friends. I'm wearing one of the patchwork dresses.

The Little Black Dress

In 1963 Rudi and I were showing his line at his suite in the Gotham Hotel in New York. One day a buyer came in and said as I was modeling the line, "I've looked all over the market, and I can't find a good black cocktail dress anywhere." We had one black silk matelasse dress that tied with a self sash at the waist. I put it on and showed it to him. He said, "That's nice." When I returned to change, I had an idea. As Rudi was saying, "Come on, come on, Peggy," I took the sash and tied it over my bodice, obi fashion and went out and showed it to the man as though it were a totally new outfit. Rudi was concealing his laughter as we returned to the changing room. Then I put the same dress on backward, unzipped the zipper all the way down, cinched the sash tightly around my waist, and proceeded to show it for the third time. By this time the buyer was overwhelmed and said, "To think I've been looking all over town for the perfect little black dress and you show me three! I don't know which one to buy!"

Rudi and I exploded with laughter and told the buyer that they were all the same dress. He was the only designer I know whose clothes could be worn upside down and backward and still look wonderful.


Brown vinyl-topped swimsuit with black wool-knit trunks


Wool-knit patchwork bikini


Yellow and orange wool-knit swimsuit with vinyl belt


Black and red one-piece suspender swimsuit


Yellow vinyl swimsuit


1963, black vinyl swimsuits


Fall 1963, Rudi won the Coty Award for this collection. The giant plaid wool suit that so enraged Norman Norell featuring one shawl collar and one notched collar is shown here worn with a reversible horsehide coat. The hats were made by Leon Bennett.
Site Admin
Posts: 32810
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Postby admin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:15 am


Fall 1963, "Chicago" -- big-shouldered tunic over skirt in charcoal flannel.


Fall, 1963, Don Bachardy drawing one of the "Kabuki" dresses in our studio apartment in Hollywood.


Fall 1963, wool-knit "Kabuki" dress. (Photograph © William Claxton)


Fall 1963, wool-knit "Kabuki" dress. (Photograph © William Claxton)


Fall 1963, wool-knit "Kabuki" dress. (Photograph © Peter James Samerjan)


Fall 1963, black-and-brown wool-knit dress with jockey cap


"High Noon" in gray flannel. The fun of this was that the vest was worn over the jacket so that when the jacket was seemingly taken off, one was still left wearing a jacket. The shirt and linings were made of "barber's cape" striped cotton.


Fall, 1963, "Actors Studio" -- big-shouldered pantsuit in tobacco vicuna.



Resort 1963, black-and-white mixed prints in silk crepe.
Site Admin
Posts: 32810
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: The Rudi Gernreich Book, by Peggy Moffitt

Postby admin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:16 am


Resort 1964, from the "Van Dongen" collection -- pink, turquoise, green, and black print silk dress


The white satin "Dietrich" suit that so appalled the fashion committee (because they thought I looked like a Lesbian) that they threw it out of the Coty show.

My Day

When I started working with Rudi in 1962, I was living in Los Angeles. I was both his fitting model and his show model. This involved going to New York several times a year and staying at the Gotham Hotel where Rudi would take a suite to show his line.

My day consisted of getting up around 6:00 in the morning, bathing, washing my hair, having coffee while I put on an elaborate makeup, getting dressed, and going up two flights to Rudi's suite. I would sit and chat with Rudi while he had his coffee and a soft-boiled egg. Our appointments would start around 8:30 or 9:00 and go straight through the day. We would show to buyers and editors, often one at a time, and I was usually the only model. This meant that I had to follow myself. Three things prevented me from going completely crazy from this tiring and boring routine: Rudi was fascinating to be with as a friend and a creator; the clothes were so brilliant that they were always a pleasure to wear; and I entertained myself and the audience by regarding the collection as a play, with each outfit a new act or a new character. This meant that the collection had an emotional beginning, middle, and end, with drama, jokes, tension, and slapstick. In fact, I really didn't model the clothes so much as perform them.

At the end of the work day we would go out together. Often we would socialize with people in the fashion business. Once we went to the Russian Circus. We sometimes went to the movies or plays, but usually we would just go out to dinner. Occasionally we went to great restaurants like Lutece, but more often, we chose quiet, unpretentious places. One of our favorites was a Greek restaurant near 42nd Street called the Pantheon. After dinner, we would walk home through the whores and pimps, and we would sing songs together. Rudi's favorite was Falling in Love Again. And he always sang it at least once on the way home.


Resort 1964, silk "Van Dongen" dress with attached scarves and ruffled sleeves.


Resort 1964, silk "Van Dongen" dress with attached scarves and ruffled sleeves.


Resort 1964, silk "Van Dongen" dress with attached scarves and ruffled sleeves.


Resort 1964, silk "Van Dongen" dress with attached scarves and ruffled sleeves.


Resort 1964, silk "Van Dongen" dress with attached scarves and ruffled sleeves.


Resort 1964, black, white, and red print silk dress


Resort 1964, oatmeal crepe tunic over black crepe skirt


Resort 1964, full-length shot of the "Dietrich" suit in white lingerie satin with white silk blouse
Site Admin
Posts: 32810
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Return to Art & Intellect

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests