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Embrace Fearless Fashion at Phoenix Art Museum Exhibit

Ela Sathern | March 29, 2021 | People Celebrity Events Style culture fashion

Body positivity reigns as Phoenix Art Museum presents a fearless exhibition focusing on Rudolf “Rudi” Gernreich’s designs that challenged perceptions of gendered dress in the fashion world.

Peggy Moffitt modeling an ensemble designed by Gernreich from his fall 1968 collection. PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK
Peggy Moffitt modeling an ensemble designed by Gernreich from his fall 1968 collection. PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK


Rudi Gernreich with models wearing his designs in front of Watts Towers, 1965. PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK
Rudi Gernreich with models wearing his designs in front of Watts Towers, 1965. PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK

“Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich offers a significant opportunity to explore how fashion has the power to effect social change,” says Tim Rodgers, PhD, the Sybil Harrington director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum (phxart.org). “The exhibition sheds light on Gernreich’s life and how his forward-thinking designs responded to and challenged societal pressures and cultural forces that attempted to marginalize him and others. We are excited to share this meaningful exhibition with our audiences in Arizona and to continue our commitment to presenting artworks that present a diversity of thought, experience and action.”

Organized and circulated by Los Angeles’ Skirball Cultural Center (skirball.org), Fearless Fashion will be on display April 7 through Sept. 26, presenting more than 80 ensembles, along with original sketches, letters, personal papers, photographs, press clippings and newly filmed oral histories of Gernreich’s friends and colleagues. Fearless Fashion chronicles Gernreich’s rise to prominence to provide a broader understanding of the life of the late designer— best known for creating trailblazing designs such as the “monokini” topless swimsuit, the thong, unisex clothing and pantsuits for women—and how his work continues to influence fashion trends.


Peggy Moffitt modeling a dress designed by Rudi Gernreich from his fall 1971 collection PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK
Peggy Moffitt modeling a dress designed by Rudi Gernreich from his fall 1971 collection PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK

“My favorite ensemble is the Marlene Dietrich pantsuit,” says Helen Jean, the museum’s Jacquie Dorrance curator of fashion design. “This ensemble was forbidden to be worn on the runway at the 1964 Coty American Fashion Critics’ Awards fashion show because having a woman in a pantsuit at a publicly broadcast event would be too scandalous. It’s unthinkable today, but that’s how closed-minded we once were.”


Rudi Gernreich with Peggy Moffitt modeling the iconic Marlene Dietrich pantsuit, 1964 PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK. RUDI GERNREICH PAPERS (COLLECTION 1702). LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, CHARLES E. YOUNG RESEARCH LIBRARY, UCLA
Rudi Gernreich with Peggy Moffitt modeling the iconic Marlene Dietrich pantsuit, 1964 PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK. RUDI GERNREICH PAPERS (COLLECTION 1702). LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, CHARLES E. YOUNG RESEARCH LIBRARY, UCLA

Gernreich rejected conventional ideas of identity and was committed to promoting gender fluidity, body positivity, and the equality and beauty of all people. “This inclusive approach to humanism and the desire to empower others to define who they are and who they are not through the clothing they choose to wear is something that will resonate with contemporary audiences, many of whom are still advocating for the same issues and rights that Gernreich also fought for through his work, blazing a trail decades earlier,” says Jean.


Gernreich at his office in Los Angeles, 1966 PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK. RUDI GERNREICH PAPERS (COLLECTION 1702). LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, CHARLES E. YOUNG RESEARCH LIBRARY, UCLA
Gernreich at his office in Los Angeles, 1966 PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK. RUDI GERNREICH PAPERS (COLLECTION 1702). LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, CHARLES E. YOUNG RESEARCH LIBRARY, UCLA

The acclaimed designer’s 1964 iconic pantsuit for women is crepe and satin in an ivory color, and creates a dramatic silhouette. “If Marlene Dietrich wasn’t powerful enough in it... how about Jennifer Lopez rocking a very similar version by Chanel at the 2021 inauguration?” notes Jean. “The white pantsuit is striking, it’s dramatic and it has become a symbol of solidarity for women’s suffrage and ongoing rights. We should all get one.” In true J. Lo style, expressing oneself is certainly something to get loud about, and Gernreich’s influence continues to be felt today. Fashion forward, indeed.


Moffitt in a Nehru ensemble designed by Gernreich from his resort 1965 collection. PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK. RUDI GERNREICH PAPERS (COLLECTION 1702). LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, CHARLES E. YOUNG RESEARCH LIBRARY, UCLA
Moffitt in a Nehru ensemble designed by Gernreich from his resort 1965 collection. PHOTO ©WILLIAM CLAXTON LLC/COURTESY OF DEMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT & FAHEY/KLEIN GALLERY LOS ANGELES, WITH PERMISSION OF THE RUDI GERNREICH TRADEMARK. RUDI GERNREICH PAPERS (COLLECTION 1702). LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, CHARLES E. YOUNG RESEARCH LIBRARY, UCLA



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Photography by: William Claxton