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Rudi Gernreich (Vienna, August 8, 1922 – Los Angeles, April 21, 1985) was a fashion designer and gay activist from the United States born in Austria.
Born in Vienna, Gernreich fled Austria at age 16, when Nazism arrived, later emigrating to the United States, where he settled in Los Angeles (California). As a dancer, he worked in Lester Horton’s company around 1945.
Gernreich entered the world of fashion through fabric design, then working closely with model Peggy Moffitt and photographer William Claxton, extending the boundaries of “futuristic-looking” clothing for three decades. An exhibition of his work in 2003 at the Phoenix Museum of Art established him as one of the most original, prophetic and controversial American dressmakers from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Gernreich is perhaps best known for his design of the first topless swimsuit, the monokini, as well as the pubikini, a bikini with a window in the front to show the woman’s pubic hair, and later the thong swimsuit. He was a great defender of unisex clothing, dressing male and female models with identical clothing and shaving their heads and bodies completely. He also stood out for the use of vinyl and plastic in his designs, designing the uniforms of the television series Space: 1999.
In the 1960s, Gernreich created the “No-Bra”, a bra that was manufactured by Lily of France. It was made only of elastic fabric, without any type of wires or lining; its only metal element closed the bra in the front. In 1972 he also designed the “No-Bra Bra” for Warners, which was made entirely of elastic fabric, without metallic elements, and was worn over the head, like a shirt. It gave modern women something that the bras industry could sell them, but it was aimed at those women who had already stopped buying the products of the industry. Like many of Gernreich’s creations, he created a brief stir and then silently disappeared.
Gernreich was co-founder of the Mattachine Society, the first homophile society in the United States. He supported the organization with money, but did not allow his name to be used, preferring to be addressed as “R.” Another of the co-founders, Harry Hay, was Gernreich’s lover from 1950 to 1952, when Gernreich finished the relationship.
In his last years, Gernreich decided to devote himself to soups, he is credited with creating a recipe for a red pepper soup, a cold soup served inside red peppers and seasoned with caviar and lemon.
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