Monday, September 27, 2010

Rudi Gernreich in the 1950s

Rudi Gernreich for Walter Bass dress and jacket, 1956.

You may be familiar with Rudi Gernreich's swimsuits from the 1960s, or the dresses bearing his name by Harmon Knitwear, but did you know he was making a name for himself as early as 1951?

Gernreich's early forays into the fashion world included stints in theater costume design, advertising and textile design. In 1949, Gernreich tried designing women's fashion for the first time. He produced a collection, but was unable to sell it, as he had no knowledge of manufacturing or production. In 1951, he was hired by Morris Nagel to design for Versatogs, but Gernreich left the job when Nagel insisted he stick to the Versatogs formula. Gernreich later described his stint with the company as a "disaster".

Rudi Gernreich for Walter Bass linen dress with felt jacket, 1954.

Enter Walter Bass, a fellow Viennese immigrant who made women's suits in Beverly Hills. In 1952, he and Gernreich teamed up to produce Rudi's "crazy" designs, which included loose-cut dresses in ginghams and rayons that were tightly belted. The dresses were inventive and unusual for the time.

Rudi Gernreich for Walter Bass wool jersey trapeze dress, 1958.

Jack Hanson owned Jax in Beverly Hills, a store that had an avant garde clientele. He felt Gernreich's designs were perfect for his store, and pushed Gernreich for more. The association between the three, Hanson, Bass, and Gernreich, was a successful one for 7 years.

Rudi Gernreich for Westwood Knitting wool knit maillot, 1959.

At the same time, Gernreich was designing swimwear for Westwood Knitting. When he started with Westwood, women's swimsuits had stiff inner construction with boned linings. Gernreich reintroduced the world to elasticized wool knits that clung to a woman's body without constricting it.

Rudi Gernreich for Westwood Knitting wool knit swimsuit with back cut-out, 1959.

His basic button front maillots were popular design that Westwood Knitting produced year after year. He also experimented with unusual fabric combinations and cut-outs, a precursor to his sensation-making designs of the 60s.

Rudi Gernreich shoes labeled Ruvals, 1959.

In 1958, Gernreich designed women's shoes for Genesco. Those shoes were sold under several brand names, and the partnership lasted until 1960.

In 1959, Gernreich ended his partnerships with Walter Bass and Westwood Knitting to form his own company, G.R. Designs, Inc. (the name was changed to Rudi Gernreich, Inc. in 1964). His company produced semi-custom clothing, which featured several basic designs and a swatchbook. Women could order a style in whatever fabric and color they wanted.

Also in 1959, Gernreich partnered with Harmon Knitwear in Wisconsin to produce his swimwear and a less expensive dress line.

Please note: Biographical information about Rudi Gernreich is copyright of Couture Allure and may not be copied without permission.