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Rudi Gernreich, 1960s Trend Designer, Dies at Age 62

April 22, 1985

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Rudi Gernreich, the fashion innovator who died of lung cancer at the age of 62, was an award-winning designer who in the 1960s pioneered far-out concepts like vinyl clothing, see-though blouses and the topless bathing suit.

Gernreich, who died Sunday, had been admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s hospice unit for the terminally ill in early January, hospital spokesman Ron Wise said.

Born Aug. 8, 1922, the son of a Jewish hosiery manufacturer, Gernreich and his mother fled Nazi terror in Austria when he was 16. They settled in California, where he studied design at Los Angeles City College and Los Angeles Art Center School during World War II. It was only natural that a bit of Hollywood glitter rubbed off on him, but he was not in awe.

″I was always on the fringes of the movie scene,″ he once said. ″At one time I worked in the publicity department of RKO Studios, and once I replaced a friend who was a sketch artist for (costumer) Edith Head. But I hated every minute of it. I didn’t fit in. The beginning of my career was monstrous.″

″He never stopped his artistic pursuits. He was always working at something,″ Oreste F. Pucciani, Gernreich’s longtime friend, recalled Sunday.

Gernreich won several awards from the fashion industry during the 1960s. Among the trends he set were vinyl clothing, knit tank suits, colored stockings, bold and sometimes clashing color combinations, and see-through blouses.

He introduced the topless bathing suit design in 1964 after a published interview in which he predicted U.S. women would go topless on the beach within five years. When the interview drew curious questions, Gernreich said, he decided he better design such a suit before someone else beat him to it.

He sold only 3,000 topless suits at $25 each, but the design thrust him into the international spotlight. He was condemned by Vatican, the Kremlin and many American clergymen. Women picketed stores carrying the suit, and several aspiring starlets clad in the suits were arrested for indecent exposure on California beaches.

″I’d do it again because I think the topless, by overstating and exaggerating a new freedom of the body, will make the moderate, right degree of freedom more acceptable,″ Gernreich said after the furor died down.

A strong believer in unrestraining women’s clothing, Gernreich also designed transparent evening dresses, the soft and sometimes strapless ″no- bra bra″ and swimsuits without supporting linings.

In 1970, after a year-long sabbatical spent in Europe and his Hollywood Hills home, Gernreich returned to the fashion scene to promote the unisex look.

At Los Angeles-based Rudi Gernreich Inc., he unveiled his line of identical clothing for men and women, including skirts and two-piece bathing suits for men. His total unisex look involved shaving the heads of both men and women.

Declaring that ″fashion as we know it is coming to an end,″ Gernreich retired from clothes designing by the mid-1970s, said Pucciani.

Gernreich won the Coty American Fashion Critics award in 1960 and 1966, Coty’s ″Winnie″ award in 1963; and was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame in 1967.

Pucciani said Gernreich is survived by several cousins in Europe, but had no close relatives. Private services were pending, and the body would be cremated, he said.

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