Late designer RUDI GERNREICH revolutionised the fashion industry with his creation of the jersey knit dress, patterned nylons, the chemise and, perhaps most famously, with the sexually liberating monokini and the thong. His brand was relaunched in 2015, featuring both new and original designs.
Growing up in Vienna among a politically enlightened Jewish household, and with his father being the director of a hosiery manufacturer, he was introduced to the world of fashion early on. That his Aunt Hedwig, who had a couture salon, took him to Cristobal Balenciaga’s first couture show in 1937, when he was only 15 years old, was a revelation for him.
Under Nazi dictatorship, Gernreich’s family fled their home country for America and ended up in Los Angeles. His decade as a dancer, his appreciation of the body in movement, substantially shaped his aesthetics and, after years spent as a hired gun in the LA fashion scene, he launched his own business in 1960.
In 1964, Gernreich invented the monokini, a breast-baring, close-fitted bottom, with a thin, neckholder strap. The monokini was the first women’s topless swimsuit and caused international media outrage; the Soviet Union denounced the suit as “barbarism“ and stated that it exemplified “capitalistic decay“, L’Osservatore Romano, the daily newspaper of the Vatican, wrote that the topless swimsuit’s “industrial-erotic adventure” would “negate moral sense”. Some US Republicans even tried to blame the suit on the Democrats liberal stance on moral issues. Although meant more as a political statement against the stigma of the naked body, rather than as a functional item of fashion, it went on sale for 24 US dollars in the same year, mainly due to the high demand.
In the spirit of the sexual revolution however, for Gernreich, nakedness was a natural state of being and an emancipated woman would be free to regard her body as just that. In stating that “wherever, whenever, whatever…the bottom line is always human freedom” and that “…all people should be equal, nobody too good, and nobody too bad!”, he was way ahead of his time regarding issues of body consciousness, diversity, and sexual freedom. When Rudi Gernreich died in 1985, he left the intellectual property of his estate to the American Civil Liberties Union.