Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich

May 9–September 1, 2019

About the Exhibition

Los Angeles fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (1922–1985) introduced the topless bathing suit, the thong, unisex clothing, pantsuits for women, and enough inventive clothing to earn him a worldwide reputation. Yet Gernreich was far more than one of the most prominent fashion designers of his time—his clothing was fearless. His democratic and dynamic fashions continue to resonate today. Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich explores the visionary and progressive fashion ensembles that trespassed rigid social expectations and liberated those who wore his clothing.

Gernreich, a Viennese Jew, immigrated to the United States from Austria in 1938, fleeing the oppressive and anti-Semitic Nazi regime. Beginning with his life in Los Angeles, the exhibition examines the circumstances that enabled Gernreich to grow into a trailblazing designer—from his early career as a dancer for the Lester Horton Dance Theatre to his role as a founding member of The Mattachine Society, a gay rights organization. The exhibition shows how Gernreich dovetailed his personal background with his design vision to advocate for free expression.

The exhibition features over fifty Gernreich ensembles, along with accessories, original sketches, photographs, ephemera, and newly filmed interviews of friends and colleagues. All mannequins for this exhibition were custom produced with flat feet—a deviation from industry standard. Flat feet were a design feature Gernreich emphasized, dressing his models barefoot or in sensible short-heeled or flat shoes. Affirming women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community as full participants in the public sphere, Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich celebrates how the designer utilized fashion to embrace cultural diversity and social inclusion.