With her trained dancer’s knowledge of the relationship between fabric and body, clothing and movement, Gernreich’s clothing was never constricting. They always returned “to nature”, as a contemporary journalist put it. “True contemporary,” reads a 1955 advertisement for Joseph Magnin, “Rudi Gernreich mixes textures, colors and volume with finesse. He challenges you to try his craft and makes you feel completely exciting and new when you’ve done it.
When founding RG Designs in 1960, #Gernreich cited American visionaries Claire McCardell and Martha Graham as major influences, explaining that they taught him the “common denominator of all forms of design…rhythmic simplicity”. “He achieved this syncopation through proportions, color blends, and sometimes, Op-like patterns and prints, and all with soft fabrics. But Gernreich did not see himself as a conductor, rather he believed that the wearer brought clothes or music to life.
At first, the laid-back, active, and outdoor aspects of his designs were associated with California, which had a booming fashion industry at that time. They also anticipated the sportswear splits that defined the 1970s, but overall Gernreich’s work is an expression of the young, free and unconventional spirit of the 60s. “Fashion comes from the streets now,” he told the Tribune-Gannett News Service in 1967. “Young people say ‘We’re people, not men and women.’ There’s no gender confusion. It’s a social change.
In 1964, Gernreich started a revolution from within by creating the No-Bra bra for Exquisite Form. Back then, bras were form-enforcing heavy artillery. Gernreich’s second-skin design was made of a bias-cut sheer nylon mesh with thin spaghetti straps (although they only ran up to size 34B). The idea was to follow the natural shape of the body. Over time, Gernreich would get rid of it, introducing adhesive vinyl patches, flip flops, and later arguing for lack of foundation. “As a designer, he is one of the most powerful forces in American fashion and probably the greatest enemy of modesty,” one author noted at the time. Gernreich had not only introduced the monokini, but was big on miniskirts, and made extensive use of cutouts, all of which were worn well by his muse Peggy Moffitt.
In 1968 Gernreich took a year off. Back in business, he began to focus more and more on interiors and food, reducing his fashion output somewhat. When working on clothing, his interest was in comfort, authenticity and unisex clothing. Always forward-thinking, he experimented with fused fashion, with sound-, heat- and laser-secured seams, according to The Daily Press.