European Fashion Heritage Association

Journal Designers

Dare to impress


The edgy designs of Rudi Gernreich

Rudolf ‘Rudi’ Gernreich is considered among the first designers who openly used fashion to make social statement and to speak in favor of equality and sexual freedom. Active in the 1960, his creations featured materials such as vinyl, plastic and artificial fibers, using simple and daring patterns, often featuring cutouts and bold and daring constructions.

The list of items for which he is said to be first designer is quite long: the thong bathing suit, the swimsuit without a built-in bra, the so-called No Bra, and the topless monokini. All of these creations made headlines, also thanks to the efforts and strategies put in place to communicate them.

For four times he was the recipient of the Coty American Fashion Critics Award. He also experimented with media, producing what is regarded as the first fashion video in 1966: “Basic Black: William Claxton w/Peggy Moffit”, featuring model Peggy Moffitt, who sort of became the face (and body!) associated with his creations.

In 1968 Gernreich closed his company but continued his work as a designer. From the beginning of his career, Gernreich also designed costumes for various film productions: in 1960, he was in charge of Eva Marie Saint’s wardrobe in Otto Preminger’s film Exodus; in 1970 he designed “Dress Codes” of the new decade for the January issue of Life magazine. Interestingly, he also declared his idea of future fashion was linked not to a binary definition of gender, but instead to a non-diversity, and worked on the concept of “unisex.”

His activism did not stop at fashion design: Gernreich was in fact a founding member of and financially supported the activities of the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest LGBT organizations established in the United States.