To many, Rudi Gernreich may be most notorious for his monokini, the topless bathing suit he created in 1964, but his impact on fashion and social mores goes far beyond the apparently prurient. Described as “work[ing] outside fashion’s normal grammars and temporalities in his ongoing attempts to change not just a silhouette, but people’s minds,”  Gernreich aimed to free bodies from unnecessary encumbrance throughout his entire design career. Starting his career as a designer in 1948, it is not surprising that he was adamantly opposed to Dior’s 1947 New Look.  Indeed, even Gernreich’s early designs were quite relaxed and unstructured compared to the mainstream and/or couture fashions of the day. He would remain “an inveterate believer in non-décor and simplified body covering. His pragmatic approach to clothes meant utility, ease, comfort, sensibility.” 
Instead of items of apparel being used to constrain the body or mold it into an artificial shape to create “a hyper-feminine aesthetic of immaculate inactivity,”  Gernreich preferred to design a “garment built specifically to aid the body in its endeavors, a garment designed and structured to work.”  A self-proclaimed feminist, by 1969 Gernreich was creating unisex clothes to demonstrate that there was “no distinction between male and female.” 
The objects in the Textiles and Clothing Museum (TCM) collection include two bathing suits from 1957, several garments dating from the mid-1960s, and a dress from approximately 1975.
The two bathing suits in the collection illustrate how much Gernreich had done by the mid-1950s to create a “nothing-inside-it-but-you” bathing suit.  Both suits are fairly simple one-piece suits made of knit wool fabric. The black bathing suit’s only adornment is four large white buttons on the front. The red suit is just as minimalistic, although its button adornment is found on the back of the suit.
Figures 3 and 4: Front (left) and back (right), woman’s knit wool bathing suit, 1957. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2008.24.28.
Most of the remainder of the Gernreich garments in the collection feature woolen knits, streamlined shapes, and very little adornment, speaking to his desire for utilitarian shapes and designs. Gernreich’s use of color, often described as a “Pop Art sensibility,” lends drama and interest to the simplified shapes.
Figure 7 (left): Woman’s knit wool dress, circa 1965. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2008.24.46.
Figure 8 (center): Woman’s knit dress, circa 1965. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2008.24.32.
Figure 9 (right): Woman’s knit dress, circa 1975. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2008.24.31.
All of the Gernreich designs in the TCM collection were collected by Anne Eggenberger Zimmerman (1942-2007). Throughout her life, Zimmerman worked as a strategic communications professional, managing communication programs for large corporations, and she also had an enduring love of fashion. Her UCLA Master’s thesis focused on four leading American fashion designers – Gilbert Adrian, Claire McCardell, Norman Norell, and Rudi Gernreich. Zimmerman aptly summed up Gernreich’s design aesthetic when she noted, “Gernreich clothes [are] consistently clean of line, simple to slip on, and most of all fun and functional to wear.”
 Nicole Archer, “Rudi Gernreich and the Art of Bad Timing,” Textile, 2016, 14:1, 40.
 Anne Eggenberger Zimmerman, “Four American fashion designers; Gilbert Adrian, Rudi Germreich, Claire McCardell, Norman Norell” (Master’s thesis, University of California at Los Angeles, 1974), 63.
 Zimmerman, 63.
 Archer, 40.
 Zimmerman, 111-112.
 Zimmerman, 85.
 Marylou Luther, “Topless Creator Gernreich Dies: Fashion World Saw Him as Its Most Innovative,” Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1985, retrieved February 26, 2017, http://articles.latimes.com/1985-04-22/news/mn-21986_1_fashion-industry/2
 Marie Riegels Melchior, Exhibition Review: “Rudi Gernreich: Fashion Will Go Out of Fashion,” Fashion Theory, 2003, 7:2, 227.
 Zimmerman, 114.