Rudolph Gernreich was born in Vienna, Austria in 1922 where he was raised by his father, a hosiery manufacturer, and his aunt who kept a dress shop in which Gernreich worked as a teenager. In 1938, with numerous other refugees, Gernreich fled to the United States and settled in California. From 1938 to 1941 he attended the Los Angeles City College and the following year studied at the Los Angeles Art Centre School. Working with a dance troupe as both a dancer and costume designer, he went on to do freelance fashion design in 1948.
For a short period, Gernreich worked for a 7th Avenue firm making copies of Paris couture garments. In 1951, he formed a partnership with manufacturer Walter Bass to supply clothes to the Los Angeles boutique, Jax. Although, ultimately he ended up opening his own company called G.R. Designs Inc., which became named Rudi Gernreich Inc. in 1964.
In the 50's Gernreich produced knitted swimwear without the usual boning and underpinning, later developing the concept into knitted tube dresses. Throughout the 60's he proved to be a competent and innovative designer of sportswear for the young market. He also made shirt-waist dresses in luxurious fabrics and reversible cape coats. The fashion contribution he is best known for is the topless bathing suit; with straps from a high waistband leaving the breasts open. The bathing suit, which he introduced in 1964 on his favorite model, Peggy Moffit, scandalized the world.
Gernreich, ahead of his time, often used geometric patterns, narrow stripes and even introduced plastic fabrics in futuristic modes. One of his most innovative creations was the "no-bra" bra made of molded nylon cups attached to shoulder straps and a narrow elastic band encircling the rib cage. The unique design, cut low in the front with deep armholes, enabled women to wear it underneath deep décolleté evening dresses.
Gernreich died in 1985, and in 1991 his favorite model, Peggy Moffitt, and her husband published a book called "The Rudi Gernreich Book" detailing all the fashion ideas of Gernreich and his clothing.
Claxton, William and Peggy Moffit. Rudi Gernreich. New York: Rizzoli, 1991.