Why is being a woman’s designer so complicating? Why is fashion so incredibly judged? Why am I worried about the public eye? What if I were to pursue something different, what would that do for me now?
Rudi Gernreich, women’s fashion designer, is the king of taking risks. Allow me to get this out of the way, as someone who does not enjoy wearing dresses as often as you’d thinking, he brought the pant suit from the ground up for women! That is groundbreaking and earth shattering in how much of a ‘scandalous’ movement he had begun.
Who is Rudi Gernreich?
Born in Vienna, Austria in 1922 as Rudolph Gernreich, he was quickly met with tragedy at 16, when his father died. His mother quickly packed their things and they headed for Los Angeles. This happened at the same time of World War II, and Austria was not a good place to be. When you have the ability to make a change, hegemonize it!
Rudi studied at the Los Angeles City College and focused in dance performance, but his interest grew more and more into costume design. He was finally starting his awakening in the fashion world through the shows and performances he was part of.
He met stars and future stars and saw people live and die in their dreams, but that didn’t stop him from giving everyone a chance, and incorporated their talent, in any way, shape or form to his shows. He was inclusive and kind to his people, especially the ones who were willing to work for him. He designed shows, stage costumers, choreography, everything. His only hold back was his sexual orientation that he kept locked away from everyone else, almost like a safe.
Design, Dance, Dating
Rudi was known for his shows, dances, and costumes. Yet, he starts to take a leap of faith into the fashion world shortly after graduating college. He was always looking for something new and creative, so he started with his gender neutral line of garments. They were controversial for the time because men’s clothes were made for men, and women’s for women. Rudi broke that barrier with full force.
Picture this: Los Angeles, 1974, and you’re on the beach. The local news reporters are ranting on and on about how revealing it is to be wearing a swimsuit that is based off of a thong in design. How women need to be covered up and men need to be wearing better clothing, not just what this fashion fascist is designing. You gather your things as he continues to explain how anyone on the beach caught wearing these garments is to be arrested by the beach patrol for nudity and revealing your body. Panic sets in as you realize that you’re wearing the bathing suit that is forbidden, but it looks sooooo good! You trot away happily and feeling confident in how you are making a change in the gendered fashion industry, with something as little as a bikini.
He designed the ‘monokini’ in 1964, and it was designed for men and women. The only problem many conversative-dressing people had with it was that it did not cover the top half of women. Apparently #FreeTheNip was frowned upon, but being patient was the only way for us to have our turn in history. Yet, the startling jump towards creating thongs for men and women, pant suits for women, and even
Rudi kept his dating life a secret as he was in Los Angeles. It was something that wasn’t meant for public eye, especially during the time when any individual was killed on the street for being part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Conversion therapy is active today in 25 of the 50 states (https://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/conversion_therapy). He explored his sexuality in secret, but he had no clue just how powerful his partners were in advocacy for the community, and especially on the UCLA college campus.
Gernreich had a relationship with UCLA French professor, Oreste Pucciani during the last few years of his life. This relationship was the most important and crucial in developing a tight-knit community for the LGBTQIA+ student newspaper Ten Percent and for their foundation ALCU Gay and Lesbian Chapter, and resulted in donations being made in their name after both of their deaths, with Rudi in 1985 and Pucciani in 1999. Their name lives on as they have created an immense change in the community within a major city at an even grander university.
What does today’s fashion look like?
His fingerprints are on everything in today’s fashion. He developed the entire concept behind gender neutral lines and women in suits. Men could freely wear skirts, and there was a new form of self expression. Rudi’s models wore make up to avoid making these people look like men or women. Instead, they were to look how Rudi intended them to be: normal, neutral people. The clothing was meant to be worn by all genders, all sexualities, all identities. This was the first major step into modern fashion that the industry, media, and consumers have ever seen.
I was recently given the opportunity to check out his traveling exhibit when it was in Phoenix for a short amount of time, and it blew me away. It mostly blew my mind at how I am now expressing myself in a way that was once a concept too impossible to grasp. I attended the exhibit wearing a men’s shirt, women’s pants, and the new gender neutral line from Adidas. I knew that just by me being there, wearing this clothing, I was finally freed of the social norms and standing with Rudi.