Rudi Gernreich - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia

American designer

Born: Vienna, 8 August 1922. Immigrated to the United States, 1938, naturalized, 1943. Education: Studied at Los Angeles City College,

Rudi Gernreich, 1966 collection: ensemble in a cheetah print that includes coat, blouse, skirt, stockings, shoes, underwear, and helmet. © AP/Wide World Photos.
Rudi Gernreich, 1966 collection: ensemble in a cheetah print that includes coat, blouse, skirt, stockings, shoes, underwear, and helmet.
© AP/Wide World Photos.
1938-41; Los Angeles Art Center School, 1941-42. Career: Dancer, costume designer, Lester Horton Company, 1942-48; fabric salesman, Hoffman company, and freelance clothing designer, Los Angeles and New York, 1948-51; designer, William Bass Inc., Beverly Hills, 1951-59; swimwear designer, Westwood Knitting Mills, Los Angeles, 1953-59; shoe designer, Genesco Corp., 1958-60; founder, GR Designs, Los Angeles, 1960-64; designer, Rudi Gernreich Inc., 1964-68; designs featured in first fashion videotape, Basic Black, 1966; designed furnishings for Fortress and Knoll International, 1970-71; lingerie for Lily of France, 1975; cosmetics for Redken, 1976; also designed knitwear for Harmon Knitwear, kitchen accessories, ceramic bathroom accessories, and costumes for Bella Lewitzky Dance Company. Exhibitions: Two Modern Artists of Dress: Elizabeth Hawes and Rudi Gernreich , Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1967; Fashion Will Go Out of Fashion , retrospective, Kunstlerhaus Graz, Austria, 2000. Awards: Sports Illustrated Designer of the Year award, 1956; Wool Knit Association award, 1960; Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1960, 1963, 1966, 1967; Neiman Marcus award, Dallas, 1961; Sporting Look award, 1963; Sunday Times International Fashion award, London, 1965; Filene's Design award, Boston, 1966; inducted to Coty American Fashion Critics Hall of Fame, 1967; Knitted Textile Association award, 1975; Council of Fashion Designers of America Special Tribute, 1985. Died: 21 April 1985, in Los Angeles.




Bender, Marylin, The Beautiful People, New York, 1967.

Morris, Bernadine, and Barbara Walz, The Fashion Makers, NewYork, 1978.

Faure, Jacques, editor, Rudi Gernreich: A Retrospective, 1922-1985 ,Los Angeles, 1985.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.

Loebenthal, Joel, Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties, New York,1990.

Moffitt, Peggy, and William Claxton, The Rudi Gernreich Book, NewYork, 1991, 1999; London, 1992.

Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York,1996.

Moffitt, Peggy, Rudi Gernreich , New York, 1999.


Steinem, G., "Gernreich's Progress; or, Eve Unbound," in the New York Times Magazine, 31 January 1965.

"Rudi Gernreich," in Current Biography (New York), December 1968.

"Fashion Will Go Out of Fashion," interview, in Forbes (New York),15 September 1970.

Guerin, T., "Rudi Gernreich," in Interview (New York), May 1973.

"Head on Fashion," interview, in Holiday (New York), June 1975.

Lockwood, C., "The World of Rudi Gernreich," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), October 1980.

Kalter, S., "Remember Those Topless Swimsuits?" in People Weekly, 25 May 1981.

Obituary in Newsweek, 6 May 1985.

Rudi Gernreich, 1966 collection: jersey shifts with matching tights and feathered helmets in peacock (left) and a pheasant (right) patterns. (Mule shoes by Capezio.) © AP/Wide World Photos.
Rudi Gernreich, 1966 collection: jersey shifts with matching tights and feathered helmets in peacock (left) and a pheasant (right) patterns. (Mule shoes by Capezio.)
© AP/Wide World Photos.

"Rudi Gernreich," obituary, in Current Biography (New York), June 1985.

Timmons, Stuart, "Designer Rudi Gernreich Stayed in the Fashion Closet," in The Advocate, 25 September 1990.

Shields, Jody, "Rudi Gernreich was a Designer Ahead of His Time," in Vogue, December 1991.

Armstrong, Lisa, "Peggy and Rudi Go Topless," in The Independent on Sunday Review (London), 2 February 1992.

O'Brien, Glenn, "Back to the Future," in Artforum, September 2000.


Son of a hosiery manufacturer, born into an intellectual Viennese family in the 1920s, Rudi Gernreich was to become one of the most revolutionary designers of the 20th century. After fleeing the Nazis in the late 1930s he settled in Los Angeles, becoming an American citizen in 1943. Perhaps because of this geographic detachment from the centers of fashion and the fact that he refused to show in Paris, Gernreich is a name not spoken in the same breath as Balenciaga, Dior, or even Courréges, although Gernreich had just as much influence on women's appearance, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.

Gernreich studied dance before entering the world of fashion and, using as inspiration the practice clothes of dancers, particularly leotards and tights, he produced pared down body-clothes in the 1960s, aimed at what seemed to be the new woman of the era. To cater to this popular construction of femininity, Gernreich attempted to produce a new version of women's clothing, freed of all constraints.

Influenced by Bauhaus functionalism, Gernreich conceived a body-based dressing with coordinated underwear, celebrating the unfettered movement of the body based on his early involvement with Lester Horton's modern dance troupe. This interest in liberating the body from the limitations of clothing surfaced in his early swimwear designs of 1952 in which he eliminated the complicated boned and underpinned interior construction that had been obligatory in the 1950s. He revived the knitted swimsuit or "maillot" of the 1920s, which he elasticized to follow the shape of the body. These experiments were continued in his knitted tube dresses of 1953.

Gernreich was interested less in the details and decorations of clothes and more in how they looked in motion. In the 1950s he was designing relaxed, comfortable clothes fabricated out of wool, jersey, and other malleable materials, usually in solid colors or geometric shapes and checks. During the next decade he went on to use unusual fabrics and bold color disharmonies such as orange and blue or red and purple.

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

Gernreich's freeing of the breasts was a social statement, somehow part of the emancipation of women, and a portent of the unfettering of the breast by the women's movement in the 1970s. Gernreich invented the "no bra" bra in 1964, a soft nylon bra with no padding or boning in which breasts assumed their natural shape, rather than being molded into an aesthetic ideal. He went on to overtly display his sympathy for women's liberation with his 1971 collection of military safari clothes accessorized with dogtags and machine guns.

Gernreich was also responsible for developing the concept of unisex, believing that as women achieved more freedom in the 1960s, male dress would emerge from the aesthetic exile into which it had been cast in the 19th century. He conceived interchangeable clothes for men and women such as floor-length kaftans or white knit bell-bottomed trousers and matching black and white midriff tops, and even, in 1975, Y-front underwear for women. Other designs included the first chiffon t-shirt dress, see-through blouses, coordinated outfits of dresses, handbags, hats, and stockings, mini dresses inset with clear vinyl stripes, and the thong bathing suit, cut high to expose the buttocks. He experimented constantly with the potentials of different materials using cutouts, vinyl, and plastic, and mixing patterns such as checks with dots.

His clothing was part of a whole design philosophy which encompassed the designing of furniture, kitchen accessories, rugs, and quilts—even, in 1982, gourmet soups. His notion of freeing the body was taken to its logical extreme in his last design statement, the pubikini, which appeared in 1982, revealing the model's dyed and shaped pubic hair.

—Caroline Cox

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