Debi van Zyl

Rudi Gernreich


Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich

Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA
May 9, 2019—Septermber 1, 2019

Photos: Robert Wedemeyer

The presentation of this exhibition is unusually theatrical, with mannequins modeling his designs in dramatic poses, as if in the middle of a dancea reminder of Gernreich’s association with a well-known interracial and socially engaged dance troupe, Lester Horton Dance Theater. Seductive and Sexy would be the best way to describe not only Gernreich’s fashion, but this beautifully designed exhibition, as well.
—Edward Goldman, Art Talk, KCRW

Beginning with his life in Los Angeles, the exhibition examines the circumstances that enabled Rudi Gernreich to grow into a trailblazing designer—from his early career as a dancer to his role as a founding member of The Mattachine Society, a gay rights organization. It shows how Gernreich dovetailed his personal background with his design vision to champion freedom of expression through his work.

The exhibition features over eighty 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 he emphasized, dressing his models barefoot or in sensible short-heeled or flat shoes, an example of how Gernreich challenged conventional notions of beauty, identity, and gender. He also introduced the “monokini,” the thong, unisex caftans, pantsuits for women. His legacy of visionary and progressive ensembles that transcended rigid social expectations, and his commitment to authenticity above all, reveals how the designer redefined style in ways that continue to influence fashion today.