‘Think of it as the birth of modern fashion.’
The life and times of serial avant-gardist Rudi Gernreich.
By Tim Blanks
Photographs by Robi Rodriguez
Styling by Karen Langley
There was a time when Rudi Gernreich was the most famous designer in the world. When he launched the monokini, his topless bathing suit, in 1964, even the Vatican weighed in with an opinion. ‘An enemy of the church,’ railed Pope Paul VI. But that particular cause célèbre wasn’t the only one over a three-decade career in which Gernreich literally reshaped women’s fashion with his elevation of knitwear, transformation of swimwear, and, more than anything, invention of the ‘no-bra’ bra, without which it would be hard to imagine contemporary womenswear. Then there were minis and cut-outs and thongs and pre-Calvin briefs and boxers for women, a whole repertoire of liberated body-consciousness years and years before it occurred to anyone else. Rudi could even lay claim to the first fashion video, when his clothes were the focus of Basic Black, a seven-minute short created with his iconic muse Peggy Moffitt and her photographer husband William Claxton in 1967.
Gernreich wasn’t a prophet without honour. Awards came often in the 1950s and 1960s. The monokini was tucked away in a 1965 time capsule between the Bible and the Pill, definitive of its era. In 1967, Gernreich made the cover of Time, one of just a handful of designers to receive that accolade in the magazine’s 96-year history (others include Schiaparelli, Dior and Armani).
Being able to conceive of his relevance 150 years later could actually be construed as a major compliment to his enduring modernity.
After all, there was, is and will be no one like him.
Celebrate the continuation of the legacy and permanence of the avant-garde icon with System No. 13. Click to buy.