Designer Rudi Gernreich was one of the few working in the fashion industry of the swinging ’60s who actually changed the world around him through his creations.
Gernreich’s work is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. He was gay, Jewish and one of millions to flee the rise of Nazism around Western Europe in 1938.
One of a Kind
The exhibition explores the designer’s entire career, including his early days as a performer in the Lester Horton dance troupe. And it doesn’t shy away from Gernreich’s orientation, either. At a time when he would have risked career suicide, Gernreich chose to lend his name to the formation of the Mattachine Society — one of the earliest groups in America to stand up for gay rights.
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Fashion devotees will already know his most renowned work. Gernreich introduced the “monokini,” the thong, unisex caftans, pantsuits for women, and enough inventive clothing to earn him a worldwide reputation. Yet he was far more than one of the most prominent designers of his time. His aesthetic was, according to many, fearless.
What You’ll See
Hence the exhibition’s title — “Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich.” Through it, patrons can follow along as Gernreich explores the visionary and progressive ensembles that transcended rigid social expectations and championed authenticity above all.
Not surprisingly, much of his design work runs parallel to his own personal manifesto of freedom. Many of his most beloved creations freed women from the rigid constructions and sharp silhouettes that were in place upon his arrival in fashion. In their place, Gernreich introduced lines that followed the contours of the female form. That won him both praise and relief from women who felt their clothing literally bound them into roles.
Skirball’s exhibition, which runs until September 1, features more than 80 Gernreich ensembles. Included alongside them are accessories, original sketches, photographs, ephemera and newly filmed interviews of friends and colleagues.
Furthermore, every mannequin in the exhibition is custom produced with flat feet — a deviation from industry standard. That women were not meant to always be en pointe was something Gernreich not only recognized, but emphasized. He often dressed his models barefoot or in sensible short-heeled or flat shoes. Illustrating how Gernreich challenged conventional notions of beauty, identity, and gender, “Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” closely examines how the designer redefined style in ways that continue to influence fashion today.
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Last modified: July 17, 2019