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Rudi Gernreich papers, 1891-1993
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID

  • Title: Rudi Gernreich papers
    Collection number: 1702
    Contributing Institution: UCLA Library Special Collections
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 100.0 linear ft. (207 boxes)
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1940-1985
    Date (inclusive): 1891-1993
    Abstract: Rudi Gernreich (1922-1985) was a controversial Austrian-American fashion designer and dancer, created clothes that celebrated the natural shape and movement of the body, including his most famous designs, the topless swimsuit and the thong swimsuit. In addition to fashion photographs, clothing, design materials, and business records, the collection includes portraits of Gernreich, personal materials, Bella Lewitzky Dance Company photographs and business records, awards, and the papers and correspondence of Gernreich’s family, including Oscar Jellinek.
    Language of Materials: English and German
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
    Creator: Gernreich, Rudi, 1922-1985--Archives.

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
    The following box numbers were not assigned: 10, 92, 102, 109, 212-214.
    The following boxes of patterns have incomplete inventories, i.e., some folders are not described: 121, 166-168.
    Boxes 73-75, 81, 82, 88 and 189 are stored on-site at YRL: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Copyright to portions of this collection has been assigned to UCLA Library Special Collections. The library can grant permission to publish for materials to which it holds the copyright. All requests for permission to publish or quote must be submitted in writing to Library Special Collections. Credit shall be given as follows: [c in circle] The Regents of the University of California on behalf of UCLA Library Special Collections.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Rudi Gernreich Papers (Collection 1702). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.


    Rudi Gernreich was an American fashion designer, dancer, and gay rights activist. Gernreich was born on August 8, 1922 in Vienna, Austria. Growing up he loved studying fashion at his aunt’s dress shop. According to fashion journalist Marylou Luther, at age twelve he refused a fashion apprenticeship with an Austrian designer in London because his mother thought he was too young. Just four years later in 1938 he and his mother moved to the United States to escape Nazi persecution. After studying art at Los Angeles City College and designing costumes at RKO Studios, Gernreich joined the Lester Horton Dance Company as both a dancer and designer in 1942. While with Lester Horton he also designed freelance. In 1949 he decided to pursue fashion full time and worked briefly at George Carmel in New York where he struggled because he did not want to imitate Parisian fashion. In 1951, still attempting to gain entry into the fashion world, Gernreich started selling designs to Hattie Carnegie and also worked at Morris Nagel Versatogs, which ultimately proved too conventional for him. In 1952, his success began when he started designing sportswear for Walter Bass, who convinced Gernreich to sign a seven year contract with him. In 1955, he began designing swimwear for Westwood Knitting Mills and in 1956 he received the American Sportswear Design Award from Sports Illustrated for his unconstructed swimsuit, an unlined knit swimsuit that remains influential. With his contract completed in 1960, he stopped designing for Bass and Westwood and began designing for his own company, G. R. Designs, and designing knitwear for Harmon Knitwear. In 1960 he also won his first Coty Award for swimwear design.
    In 1964, after Gernreich predicted the impending emergence of topless swimsuits, Susanne Kirtland of Look magazine urged him to design one (the monokini) for the magazine. He later said he made it for her out of fear that if he did not design it for her then Emilio Pucci would. The swimsuit, which was not initially intended to be sold and was never meant to be worn in public, became so controversial that the Pope banned it. While the suit was sensationalized, Gernreich had meant for the suit to be a statement on liberating women from the hypersexualization of breasts. That same year, Gernreich liberated women from constraining, highly structured undergarments with the introduction of the No-Bra Bra, a sheer, soft bra intended to be comfortable and showcase the natural shape of women. He showed it with a sheer chiffon blouse, intended to be worn only at home.
    Along with designing clothes to allow for natural movement of the body, Gernreich also featured the body in his extensive use of cut outs and sheer materials. In addition, Gernreich was a proponent of color and loved geometric designs, which he also incorporated into his houseware lines. He also was a proponent of what he called the “Total Look” -- selling head-to-toe complete outfits with accessories.
    In 1966, in an unprecedented move, Gernreich, who wanted his designs to be affordable, signed a contract with Montgomery Ward, a chain store. Also in 1966, Gernreich’s designs were featured in William Claxton’s film Basic Black, the first fashion video. In 1967, Gernreich was inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame by the Coty American Fashion Critics.
    The futuristic and androgynous permeated Gernreich’s career. Gernreich introduced elements of menswear into women’s fashion throughout his career, such as menswear-inspired swimsuits in the 1950s, the “Dietrich” suit from his Resort 1964 collection, and men’s style underwear for women designed for Lily of France in 1975. In 1970, he revealed the Unisex Look, a prediction of a future where clothes are minimalist, utilitarian, unisex, and optional. He showed a mixture of men’s and women’s wear on two shaved models, male and female. In 1974, Gernreich designed and named the thong bathing suit for men and women in response to Los Angeles banning nude beaches. Gernreich patented the thong but ultimately stopped enforcing the patent after legal difficulty.
    In 1974, he also began designing sets and costumes for the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company, where he eventually served on the Board of Trustees. He continued designing for Lewitzky, with whom he had originally worked in his Lester Horton days, until 1982. In addition to his work with the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company, throughout his career Gernreich designed costumes and dancewear, designing costumes for television and movies. In addition, Gernreich designed for Capezio, and often showed Capezio shoes with his other designs.
    Gernreich worked closely with the models Peggy Moffitt and Leon Bing, as well as with Jimmy Mitchell early in his career. He also worked closely with the photographer William (Bill) Claxton, Peggy Moffitt’s husband. Katherine Cassidy, who modeled for him in the 1950s, also became close with Gernreich.
    In 1950 Harry Hay recruited Gernreich to help him found the Mattachine Society, an early American gay liberation movement. Gernreich was involved under the pseudonym “R.” and continued his involvement until 1953. While Gernreich was never officially publicly out in his lifetime, in 1988, Oreste Pucciani, Gernreich’s partner of 31 years, endowed a trust in their name for the American Civil Liberties Union in Gernreich’s memory. Gernreich died in Los Angeles on April 21, 1985.
    For further information, see Moffitt, Peggy. The Rudi Gernreich Book. (Koln; London : Taschen, 1999.)

    Scope and Content

    The Rudi Gernreich papers range from ca. 1891 to 1993, with the bulk of the materials from 1940 to 1985. The papers include business correspondence, records, and legal contracts with companies such as G.R. Designs, Harmon Knitwear, Lily of France, Capezio, I. Magnin, and Montgomery Ward. The collection also includes publicity materials such as press releases, press kits, mounted advertisements, and clippings. The fashion photographs range from the 1950s to 1985 and depict fashion shows; seasonal collections; knitwear; woolens; the No-Bra bra; and swimsuit designs, including the monokini, thong, and pubikini. The photographs also include extensive photographs of the Unisex Look; photographs of Gernreich with models; Bella Lewitzky photographs; and photographs taken for Time magazine. The collection includes an extensive amount of clothing and patterns, as well as recipes from his soup business, and a few products such as perfume and a tissue box. The collection also includes portraits of Gernreich taken by photographers including William Claxton, Julian Wasser, Helmut Newton, Jacques Faure, Wallace Seawell; Bella Lewitzky Dance Company business records; awards including several COTY awards; and family papers.
    The family papers range from ca. 1891 to 1979 and are written primarily in German, as well as in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. Among the personal events the papers document include Gernreich’s father, Siegmund (Sigmund) Gernreich’s, time spent serving in World War I as well as the experiences of Gernreich’s family during World War II. The papers, which are mainly from Gernreich’s mother, Elizabeth (Lisl, Liserl) Gernreich née Müller (Mueller)’s side of the family, include the estate papers of Hedwig and Oscar (Oskar) Jellinek, who owned the dress shop Gernreich frequented as a child, and of Marta (Martha) Kautsky née Müller. The papers of Oscar Jellinek may be of particular interest to literature scholars and include a poem, letters, photographs, estate papers, citizenship papers and other legal documents and certificates, and his class schedules from the University of Vienna.

    Organization and Arrangement

    Arranged in the following series:
    • 1. Business records
    • 2. Design work
    • 3. Personal materials
    • 4. Bella Lewitzky materials
    • 5. Family materials
    • 6. Publicity

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 4233073 

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Gernreich, Rudi, 1922-1985--Archives.
    Bella Lewitzky Dance Company.
    Fashion designers--California--Los Angeles--Archives.
    Costume designers--California--Los Angeles--Archives.
    promotional materials.
    fashion photographs.
    business records.