Peggy Moffitt modeling trompe l’oeil ensemble designed by Rudi Gernreich, Resort 1971 collection. Photograph ©
William Claxton, LLC, courtesy of Demont
Photo Management & Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles, with permission of the Rudi Gernreich trademark.

this exhibit celebrates rudi gernreich's 'fearless fashion'

i-D talks to the exhibit's creative adviser, Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony, about how the groundbreaking designer inspired him.

by Erica Euse
|
May 23 2019, 6:35pm

Peggy Moffitt modeling trompe l’oeil ensemble designed by Rudi Gernreich, Resort 1971 collection. Photograph ©
William Claxton, LLC, courtesy of Demont
Photo Management & Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles, with permission of the Rudi Gernreich trademark.

Rudi Gernreich might best be known for inventing the thong bikini, but his work goes way beyond provocative swimwear. The designer spent his career championing freedom of expression and pushing the boundaries of gender and identity with his feminist and unisex designs. From genderless caftans to pantsuits for women (even before YSL's famous Le Smoking Suit), his groundbreaking work in the 60s and 70s ultimately set the stage for the inclusive fashion movement we have today.

Gernreich immigrated to Los Angeles as a Jewish refugee in the 30s, and spent his life in the US working to inspire social change. He was one of the founding members of the gay rights organization the Mattachine Society, and used his collections as social commentary on political issues like student protests, racial tensions, and war. A new exhibit “Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” at the Skirball Cultural Center in LA, celebrates Genreich's lasting legacy through a look back at his life and work featuring over 80 of his garments, along with accessories, photographs, and interviews with the models who worked with him.

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Peggy Moffitt modeling George Sand pantsuit designed by Rudi Gernreich, Fall 1967 Collection. Photograph © William Claxton, LLC, courtesy of Demont Photo Management & Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles, with permission of the Rudi Gernreich trademark.

Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony and Kenzo, acted as the exhibit's creative adviser and helped design the custom mannequins to better display Gernreich's boundary-pushing garments. To find out more about the exhibit, which is on display until Sept 1, we talked with Leon about Gernreich's designs and what people can learn from his work.

How have you been influenced by Rudi Gernreich in your own career?
Rudi Gernreich really designed according to the landscape that was happening around him. At this time, it was just at the beginning of the women’s rights movement, so he wanted to use his designs to talk about things that meant something to him and his friends. The idea of using your platform to do something to address what is happening in the world is something that I find inspiration in today. He endlessly inspires my work.

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Rudi Gernreich holding bolts of fabric, 1966. Photograph © William Claxton, LLC, courtesy of Demont Photo Management & Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles, with permission of the Rudi Gernreich trademark.

How were you first introduced to his work?
I saw an article about his “mono-kini” in 1997.

How did you get involved in the exhibit?
Jocelyn Tetel from the Skirball Cultural Center asked me what my thoughts were about Rudi and I had told her that I felt really passionate about him because he was an American designer, he was an immigrant, he was gay, and he used his voice, platform and designs to talk about things that mattered at hand. It was something that I really looked up to and in my statement to her, I really encouraged her to do this exhibition about Rudi Gernreich.

Do you have any favorite pieces?
One of the components that I worked on was all of the special mannequins that were used in this exhibition. A lot of the pieces that are exhibited were from the dance performances, so they are very involved. There are pieces that involve two bodies in one outfit. There is a lot of movement involved in the dances, so these pieces are pretty extraordinary.

Rudi invented the thong bikini and I think the thongs being exhibited in the show are extraordinary as well. He also thought about unisex clothing in the 60s as the future of clothing and as we see it today is super relevant. His ideas and vision are even further than the way unisex clothing is looked at today.

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Dancers Loretta Livingston and Kurt Weinheimer in “duotard” costume designed by Rudi Gernreich for the Lewitzky Dance Company’s Inscape production, 1976. Photograph © Daniel Esgro.

What do you think people can learn from Gernreich’s legacy?
To use your platform to do more than just design clothes.