Rudi Gernreich has been called the “leading avant-garde designer” of mid-century America. Born in Vienna, Gernreich (1922-1985) began his fashion career designing dance costumes, knitwear, and swimwear in 1940s and ’50s Los Angeles, where he had settled following the 1938 Anschluss. In 1960 he founded his own label, and four years later caused a sensation with his monokini, a topless bathing suit famously modelled by Peggy Moffitt and photographed by her husband, William Claxton.
Moffitt, with her distinctive maquillage and five-point cut by the late Vidal Sassoon, enjoyed a long collaboration with Gernreich and is inseparable from our image of the designer’s creative output. Gernreich’s collaboration with Moffitt and Claxton is the focus of “The Total Look: The Creative Collaboration Between Rudi Gernreich, Peggy Moffitt, and William Claxton,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles until May 27th. (Watch a video of Moffitt discussing the collaboration here.)
Although Gernreich closed his company in 1968, he continued to work as a designer. The mirrored jumpsuit pictured above is an example of this later work. The ensemble—a nude chiffon jumpsuit covered with mirror paillettes, with mirrored skullcap and boots—was designed and photographed for McCall’s 1969 Christmas issue, but the photos didn’t make the final cut. (See Peggy Moffitt, The Rudi Gernreich Book [Rizzoli 1991/Taschen 1999], pp. 180-81.)
In the later 1960s, Rudi Gernreich patterns were available to home sewers through McCall’s New York Designers line. The first few designs were modelled by Peggy Moffitt. Here is a selection of the McCall’s patterns: mini dresses in sorbet colours and a windowpane check.
McCall’s 1012 is a full-sleeved dress with a high, draped neck:
Here’s the envelope description: Misses’ dress in two lengths. Three section dress, with long set-in sleeves, may be made in choice of two lengths. Dress is always lined and, when made of sheer fabric, double thickness of fabric is used for dress front, back and neck facing. Sleeves have elastic in hems at wrists. High neckline is fastened at center back with loops and buttons above zipper, and drapes around neck.
McCall’s 1045 is a very full-sleeved, high-collared dress shown with matching cap, wide belt, and boots. Unfortunately the pattern doesn’t include the cap:
The envelope description reads: Misses’ dress in two lengths. Lined dress, with long set-in sleeves, is cut in regular length or mini length. Dress has center back zipper, normal waistline seam, elastic in waistline casing forming bodice blousing and skirt gathers. Pockets of dress and lining fabric are included in skirt side seams. Faced rolled collar sewn to neck edge, is closed with hooks and eyes. Dress is worn with wide self fabric belt. Collar, sleevebands and belt are interfaced.
The dress’ windowpane check is also seen in a wool jumpsuit and jacket “motoring costume” for Fall 1967 pictured in The Rudi Gernreich Book (p. 141).
McCall’s 1047 is a long-sleeved dress with scarf collar:
Here’s the envelope description: Misses’ dress in two lengths. Three section dress, cut in regular length or mini length, has long set-in sleeves pleated into buttoned bands. Dress, buttoned part way in front, has forward shoulder seams. Rolled scarf collar is included in neck facing seam and draped in front. Collar is faced and front opening, sleevebands and collar are interfaced.
McCall’s 1051 is a more structured mini dress with cap sleeves, mandarin collar, and a high, inverted front pleat:
The envelope description reads: Misses’ dress in two lengths. Six section dress, with drop shoulders and center back zipper, may be cut in regular or mini length. Lined dress has inverted pleat and underlay below center front seam and pockets of lining fabric included in side front seams. Armholes are faced and neck is faced. Two-piece faced and interfaced collar is included in neck facing seam. Armholes, center front and side seams are trim stitched.
Gernreich’s modern, sometimes futuristic designs show affinities with op art in their experimentation with colour and new synthetic materials; as Brigitte Felderer notes, his experimental approach treated the body as an abstract design element. (See Felderer’s article in The Berg Companion to Fashion, ed. Valerie Steele [Berg 2010], p. 366.) McCall’s Rudi Gernreich patterns shy away from his wilder side, but still convey the designer’s bold and fun minimalist shapes. Interestingly, when making up the patterns, home sewers’ choices of fabric, hemline, and colour could produce radically different interpretations of Gernreich’s designs.