The Utilitarian Thought and Design of Rudi Gernreich

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,” [1] 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. [2] 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.” [3]

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,” [4] Gernreich preferred to design a “garment built specifically to aid the body in its endeavors, a garment designed and structured to work.” [5] A self-proclaimed feminist, by 1969 Gernreich was creating unisex clothes to demonstrate that there was “no distinction between male and female.” [6]

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. [7] 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.

 

Figure 1:  Woman’s knit wool swimsuit, 1957. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2008.24.29.

 

Figure 2:  Label from woman’s knit wool swimsuit, 1957. Label: “Rudi Gernreich Design for Westwood Knitting Mills.” Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2008.24.29.

 

 

Figures 3 and 4: Front (left) and back (right), woman’s knit wool bathing suit, 1957. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2008.24.28.

 

 

Figure 5: Woman’s wool coatdress, circa 1965. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2008. 24.27.

 

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,”[8] lends drama and interest to the simplified shapes.

Figure 6: Woman’s knitwear ensemble (dress and jacket), circa 1965. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2008.24.33a-b.

 

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.”[9]

Arienne McCracken

 

[1] Nicole Archer, “Rudi Gernreich and the Art of Bad Timing,” Textile, 2016, 14:1, 40.

[2] 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.

[3] Zimmerman, 63.

[4] Archer, 40.

[5] Zimmerman, 111-112.

[6] Zimmerman, 85.

[7] 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

[8] Marie Riegels Melchior, Exhibition Review: “Rudi Gernreich: Fashion Will Go Out of Fashion,” Fashion Theory, 2003, 7:2, 227.

[9] Zimmerman, 114.

 

Jonathan Logan: A Company and An Enduring Cachet

One highlight of the Textiles and Clothing Museum’s current exhibit, “Our Favorite Things: Celebrating 10 Years and 30+ Exhibits,” is a Jonathan Logan dress and jacket ensemble. The dark blue velvet ensemble dates from 1949 and was worn as a wedding dress that year.

Figure 1: Ensemble (dress and jacket), dark blue velvet, 1949. Jonathan Logan label. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2016.3.1a-b.

Figure 1: Ensemble (dress and jacket), dark blue velvet, 1949. Jonathan Logan label. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2016.3.1a-b.

 

Figure 2: Detail image of the Jonathan Logan label.

Figure 2: Detail image of the Jonathan Logan label.

The Textiles and Clothing Museum has three Jonathan Logan dresses or ensembles in its collection. Besides the blue velvet ensemble, there is a mid-1950s cotton sateen dress featuring a pink and green floral handkerchief print on a pale yellow background, and a two-piece dress with a black floral print from 1948.

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Figure 3: Cotton sateen dress with belt, circa 1955. Jonathan Logan label.  Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2009.17.2a-b.

 

Figure 4: Two-piece black floral print dress, 1948. Jonathan Logan label.  Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2001.8.1a-b.

Figure 4: Two-piece black floral print dress, 1948. Jonathan Logan label.  Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2001.8.1a-b.

 

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Figure 5: Detail of pattern, two-piece black floral print dress, 1948. Jonathan Logan label. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2001.8.1a-b.

The Jonathan Logan label was one of many successful labels and divisions manufactured and distributed by the Jonathan Logan, Inc., corporation.  The company had been acquired by David Schwartz in 1937,[1] and throughout his tenure as CEO, he worked to make the company “one of the country’s largest producers of women’s apparel,” [2] with over $100 million in sales per year by the early 1960s.[3] In 1960, he decided to take the company public, listing it on the New York Stock Exchange, the first corporation exclusively manufacturing women’s apparel to be publicly listed. [4]

CEO David Schwartz spent his entire career in the apparel business. Throughout his three decades at the helm of Jonathan Logan, he added additional lines and brands to the company. By 1969, Jonathan Logan was known as the world’s largest women’s apparel manufacturer with $250 million in sales and $13 million in net profits. [5]

As an example of just how well-known and desirable a label Jonathan Logan was at the time, a 1961 article on the affluent post-war teenage culture of the day described the importance of dress and appearance to this consumer group by writing that “if [a teenage girl] is considered a good dresser, she wears labels. Her dresses are Lanz or Jonathan Logan.” [6] Throughout most of the label’s existence, it was seen as the “inevitable dress label for a junior miss” and was sold in upscale department and specialty stores. [7]

In 1964, the business was passed to David’s son, 25-year old Richard J. Schwartz, with the elder Schwartz staying on as chairman of the board. Richard Schwartz led the company over the next twenty-plus years. He created over 24 divisions, including Butte Knit, London Fog, Etienne Aigner, Rose Marie Reid, Misty Harbor, Bleeker Street, Villager, and Youth Guild. [8] Eventually, the company would grow to become “a group that had dozens of showrooms and 42 manufacturing facilities and catered to more than 20,000 retailers and clients.” [9] The Butte Knit division, which manufactured knit fabrics and double knit apparel, became one of the corporations’ bestselling divisions and was one of the first movers into the knitwear area.

The Textiles and Clothing Museum also has several garments from Jonathan Logan’s divisions, including apparel with Bleeker Street and Butte Knit labels.

Figure 6: Long-sleeved A-line dress with asymmetrical front closure, 1966. Bleeker Street label. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2015.6.16.

Figure 6: Long-sleeved A-line dress with asymmetrical front closure, 1966. Bleeker Street label. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2015.6.16.

 

Figure 7: Zipper pull detail, long-sleeved A-line dress with asymmetrical front closure, 1966. Bleeker Street label. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2015.6.16.

Figure 7: Zipper pull detail, long-sleeved A-line dress with asymmetrical front closure, 1966. Bleeker Street label. Textiles and Clothing Museum, 2015.6.16.

 

In 1982, although the company was reporting sales of over $400 million a year, revenues had, in fact, fallen from the previous year by 5%. [10] In an attempt to turn around the business, the Jonathan Logan label was for the first time licensed for a line of women’s sportswear to be sold at Kmart. Other changes in its myriad divisions followed suit.  By 1984, United Merchants and Manufacturers had purchased the Jonathan Logan corporation for $168 million after a hostile takeover bid. United Merchants and Manufacturers would go on to sell off pieces of the former Jonathan Logan corporation over time and would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1990. [11]

Even though Jonathan Logan is no longe rmanufacturing garments, the cachet of its eponymous label still draws admirers.  With the explosion of the vintage fashion trend of recent years, the Jonathan Logan label has become sought after by vintage connoisseurs and appears regularly on Etsy and eBay. Bloggers focusing on vintage fashion have also discussed the Jonathan Logan label – one example is the Vintage Inn’s post on the brand.

Arienne McCracken

 

[1] Arthur Friedman, “New York’s Garment Center: It’s Got – Personality,” Women’s Wear Daily, September 8, 2011, accessed February 12, 2017, https://pmcwwd.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/wwd0908_sec3.pdf

[2] “David Schwartz Dies; Clothes Manufacturer,” New York Times, January 1, 1986, accessed February 10, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/1986/01/01/obituaries/david-schwartz-dies-clothes-manufacturer.html.

[3] Rosemary Feitelberg, “Obituary: Richard J. Schwartz, 77, Former Jonathan Logan CEO,” October 4, 2016, accessed February 10, 2017, http://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/richard-j-schwartz-77-jonathan-logan-ceo-tireless-arts-and-medical-philanthropist-10626310/

[4] Sapna Maheshwari, “Richard J. Schwartz, 77; Expanded Jonathan Logan’s Dress Empire,” New York Times, October 7, 2016, accessed February 10, 2017, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/obituaries/2016/10/06/richard-schwartz-expanded-jonathan-logan-dress-empire/HPnm3apMkLdHCM4CoDnbEP/story.html

[5] Feitelberg, “Obituary: Richard J. Schwartz.”

[6] Jessie Bernard, “Teen-Age Culture: An Overview,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 338, November, 1961, 3.

[7] Sandra Salmans, “Jonathan Logan’s Comeback, Inc.,” New York Times, March 20, 1982, accessed February 13, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/1982/03/20/business/jonathan-logan-s-comeback-inc.html

[8] Maheshwari, “Richard J. Schwartz, 77.”

[9] Feitelberg, “Obituary: Richard J. Schwartz”

[10] Feitelberg, “Obituary: Richard J. Schwartz.”

[11] “United Merchants and Manufacturers, Inc. History,” Funding Universe, accessed February 13, 2017, http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/united-merchants-manufacturers-inc-history/

“Our Favorite Things: Celebrating 10 Years and 30+ Exhibits” Opening January 25

Our Favorite Things: Celebrating 10 Years and 30+ Exhibits

Spring 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the reopening of the renovated Morrill Hall, home of Iowa State University’s Textiles and Clothing Museum. To celebrate this anniversary as well as over 30 exhibits mounted during that time in the Mary Alice Gallery, faculty and staff of the Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management (AESHM) have joined with the Textiles and Clothing Museum to guest curate the spring 2017 exhibit, Our Favorite Things: Celebrating 10 Years and 30+ Exhibits.

The Textiles and Clothing Museum is part of the AESHM Department and the College of Human Sciences, and as such, the exhibit reflects the interests of individuals directly and tangentially related to the Museum.

Objects in the exhibit range from a quilt and a dressmaking system from the second half of the 19th century to two outfits from the 1980s. A wide variety of apparel, tools, accessories, and textiles are featured in Our Favorite Things, along with reflections from staff and faculty about their chosen objects.

Our Favorite Things: Celebrating 10 Years and 30+ Exhibits opens on January 25, 2017 and runs until April 8, 2017 in the Mary Alice Gallery in Morrill Hall. The Gallery is open Monday – Friday 11 am – 4 pm. Admission is free.

Below is a sampling of the objects to be displayed:

Detail of quilt, circa 1858, selected by Denise Nichols. Rose of Sharon appliqued pattern. Transferred from the University of Iowa, Department of Home Economics. 992.1.26.

“I discovered a circa 1858 quilt in the textiles collection that just stunned me.  I have fond memories of my grandmother’s quilts.  My mom inherited some of them, and we wore them down to nothing.  The crazy quilts lasted the longest because of the farm fabrics, plus they had extra filling.  This Rose of Sharon quilt is extraordinarily well preserved for its age.  The bright red and green on the white background is stunning.  Now, if only the quilt could talk about its long journey!” – Denise Nichols

 

Cover of dressmaking system booklet, 1896, selected by Dr. Ellen McKinney. Pattern drafting booklet and pattern pieces. Gift of Elizabeth M. Sullivan. 2011.12.3a-e.

“I selected this piece because it represents the history of patternmaking.  At this time (1896), tailors used this type of system to disseminate their tacit knowledge of making patterns to fit individuals to those without such experience.  Today, we have books which explain patternmaking procedures.  However, many procedures are still done ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it.’  In my research, I seek to make such tacit knowledge unambiguous, so computers can be programmed to automatically generate custom-fit garment patterns.” – Dr. Ellen McKinney

 

Detail of ensemble (shirt, pants, and belt), circa 1980, selected by Dr. Kelly Reddy-Best. Satin and silver metallic fabric. Gift of the Iowa Questers Captain Greeley #871 Chapter. 2009.21.18a.

Detail of ensemble (shirt, pants, and belt), circa 1980, selected by Dr. Kelly Reddy-Best. Satin and silver metallic fabric. Gift of the Iowa Questers Captain Greeley #871 Chapter. 2009.21.18a.

“This outfit reminds me of something I wore as a child in the '80s when I played dress up with my friends. I also like to think that if I lived an alternative life in an all-girl punk rock band where we sung about defeating misogyny and sexism this might be an aesthetic that we would adopt!” – Dr. Kelly Reddy-Best

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of man's suit, circa 1985, selected by Dr. Robert Bosselman. Gianni Versace, Italy. Llama and cashmere. Navy blue and yellow houndstooth pattern. Gift of Questers Captain Greeley #871 Chapter. 2009.21.2a-b.

Detail of man’s suit, circa 1985, selected by Dr. Robert Bosselman. Gianni Versace, Italy. Llama and cashmere. Navy blue and yellow houndstooth pattern. Gift of Questers Captain Greeley #871 Chapter. 2009.21.2a-b.

“The Versace suit’s colors and patterning – navy blue and yellow houndstooth – grabbed my attention right away. Even though I never would have worn something like this myself, I was very intrigued. The bold pairing of blue and yellow reminded me of the many universities who have these as their school colors. A pity the suit is not cardinal and gold!

In addition, it is a wonderfully well-made garment, and it was interesting to learn that the jacket is 75% llama and 25% cashmere, which is fairly unusual.” - Dr. Robert Bosselman

 

 

You can view images from previous exhibits here.

Textiles and Clothing Museum
Mary Alice Gallery
1015 Morrill Hall
603 Morrill Rd
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011-2100

Open weekdays 11am – 4 pm
Free admission