A few weeks ago, I posted a knit dress that I couldn’t help but feel was perfect for the end of summer/beginning of fall:
See the full post here
This dress was a Rudy Gernreich. He was one of the first designers to use cutouts, vinyl, and plastic in clothing. He’s infamous for his monokini.
I fell in love with these knit dresses (once loved by Goldie Hawn!) through a vintage friend who loved the recent museum showing she saw of his work. Rudy was considered unconventional and trendsetting in his day, and while he may not be the name you think of when you think of 1960s fashion, Gernreich was a driving force in many ways and a designer you should know.
Rudy Gernreich (originally spelled Rudi) was born in Vienna, Austria to a manufacturing family (an only child, his father died by suicide when Rudy was 8); but Rudy “stayed” in the family business and learned high end fashion and fabrics at his aunt’s dress shop. He did all the sketches for her clients, and was even offered a fashion apprenticeship in London at 12, which he turned down as his mom thought he was too young to leave home.
In 1938, Hilter and the Nazis took over Austria and Rudy and his mother fled for the safety of America. They settled in Los Angeles, where Rudy sold his mother’s pastries door to door, worked at the morgue, and after attending both Los Angeles City College and Los Angeles Art Center School returned to his first love, clothes.
Even though Gernreich loved clothes, he took a round about way to designing his own looks. He started as a dancer and costume designer, when his dreams of becoming a choreographer was dashed he was a fabric salesman for a while, then finally began designing clothes. In the 1940s and 50s fashion was dominated by Paris and the looks that Dior, Balenciaga, etc were producing-Gernreich hated these looks and felt very pressured to stay close to these styles. (Fun Fact! Gernreich refused to show in Paris throughout his long career!) Gernreich began designing his own clothes (avant-garde) and signed a deal with William Bass, INc and JAX boutiques. (He also began designing swimwear for Genesco Corp).
Rudy founded his own firm in 1960. Some things Rudi Gernreich, INC is known for? The first fashion video (Basic Black in 1966), knit wear (from dresses to more experimental garments to unisex clothes), one of the first brands to sell directly to chain stores (a contract with Montgomery Ward), seasonless fashion, the first swimsuits with built in bras (and the removing of boning and a more clinging fabric), the non-sexualization of clothes (as an old dancer, Rudy believed in function and movement, not the sexulization of the body), the first thong bathing suit, and innovative design.
From topless swimsuits to knit dresses that stand the test of time, you may not know Gernreich or own one of his pieces, but his work has influenced everything you put on.
During his life, Rudy was inducted into the Coty American Fashion Hall of Fame, won multiple design awards from Sports Illustrated, Coty American Fashion Critics, Council of Fashion Designers of America, and more. He was admired by his peers as being innovative, avant-garde, and putting the clothes first. Since his death, his works have been featured in exhibits in multiple museums and books.
Gernreich died in 1985 of lung cancer, surrounded by his life partner, Oreste Puccinani. (Gernreich never made his religion or his sexuality a focus point as he felt that both were obvious)
And you can search his works at museums from the Met to the Skirball.
You can also visit his website here