Thursday, January 24, 2008


Rudi Gernreich

Rudi Gernreich

Rudi Gernreich (American, born Austria, 1922–1985). Dress, ca. 1969. Black wool jersey and silver metal zipper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Funds from various donors, Isabel Shults Fund, and Millia Davenport and Zipporah Fleisher Fund, 2005 (2005.261).

Rudi Gernreich was originally trained as a dancer. Often working with colorful double-knits and jerseys, Gernreich predicated his designs on the notion of the body in movement. Although Gernreich was sometimes aggressively revolutionary in his polemic, his collections invariably conveyed an attitude of youthful, forward-looking optimism. Much of his interest in boldly patterned effects coincided with the aesthetics of Pop Art, but he was also concerned with a utopian blurring of the divisions of gender, age, and class. Newsworthy designs such as his “topless” bathing suit for women, bottomless bathing suit for men, and unisex ensembles might be seen to have their basis in the philosophies of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social movements centered on the healthful, natural expression of the body, but in Gernreich’s imagination the designs took on a space age minimalism and a no-holds-barred 1960s approach to liberation.

Like some earlier conceptualizations of futuristic dress forms, Gernreich’s designs referenced classical and medieval precedents. Tunics worn with matching narrow trousers, boots, or colored hose appeared in many of his collections. In this example, only the spiraling seaming of metal zippers ornaments a minidress that could also be worn as a tunic. The zipper, especially with a large O-ring attached to its slider, was a favored modernist ornament of the time and appeared on the center front of dresses and as decorative closings on pockets. Gernreich angled the line of the zippers to introduce a spiraling dynamic to his reductive design, and, with his trademark subversive wit, suggested the possibility of the garment’s ability to zip apart into narrow bands in a speedy deconstruction.

Comments (33)

  1. Laurie Aron Says:

    So the lowly, functional zipper, the one that gets stuck on parkas or you can’t reach on the backs of dresses, becomes a cool spiral decoration and potent sexual symbol what with the easy to unpeal aspect. Its easy to see the dancerly side–spiral as pirouette.

    Strangely, it reminds me of being a child in the 1960s when due, quite possibly to Rudi Gernreich’s influence, I had a jumper dress with a zipper that ran sideways across the front finished with a an o-ring pull.

  2. Kirche Says:

    Did anyone watch “Project Runway” last night when a contestant was praised for having used a zipper as trim? Hmmm, maybe not so innovative afterall since Gernreich’s been around since before the 1960’s. Just proving that old adage, “Originality is merely a lack of research.”

  3. Laurie Aron Says:

    “Originality is merely a lack of research” is great! Alternately, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”

    Only there is that fine line in fashion where ideas are referenced, riffed, reedited, subverted, etc. Can’t say for “Project Runway” as I didn’t see it.

  4. Kurt Sharp Says:

    Beauty has many forms-and fashion often precedes the curve. The exhibit is full of beatiful objects representing incredible craft and meticulous care- both in their creation by the artist and their preservation, curation and artful juxtaposition.
    Transformative is the word that springs to mind.
    The making a sheath from a single twisted length of material, of using a simple material and tucking the length in multiple rows or inserting a contrasting fabric in in a complicated curve are all related to revealing the body beautiful. Gorgeous!

  5. Laurie Aron Says:

    When did those multiply-zipped leather motor cycle jackets come in? Was that an influence on Gernreich? Somehow, I see James Dean in something rather less aggressive, yet compared to motorcycle jackets, Gernreich gentles the zipper considerably.

  6. mac Says:

    viva la little black dress!

  7. Jeweler Says:

    Isn’t this clever! It reminds me of something a Japanese friend of mine once told me. She said that in feudal Japan when women regularly wore kimonos, if a man wanted to quickly undress a woman he would pull hard enough on her obi to make her spin, causing the outer kimono to fly open. I certainly don’t know if it is true, but this is the first Western garment that I’ve seen that evokes the same idea.

  8. Jessica Alba Says:

    I love how you can zip and unzip your dress!!!!!! So cool!!!

  9. Dr. Fate Says:

    Simply put, this is a beautiful piece … it is subtle, yet assertive in a way that screams against the current complacent media drenched commonplace appetites. I love it, its like a revolution!

  10. james ward Says:

    The unladylike and showy closure, the downtown fabric, the promise of a dramatic unveiling…all add up to a dress that’s dada to the core. The zipper turns a sweet and youthful silhouette into a “happening.” And, unlike Gernreich’s monokini and pubikini, his relatively unfitted zip-mini is so abstract that the sexual content (so explicit in the earlier swimwear) is gainsaid. The single long zipper doesn’t create the sensual modeling line today’s designers might have insisted on. He used irony to take women’s fashion down a different avenue.

  11. Ashlee Brown Says:

    This simple black dress from afar appears to have just a silver stripe wrapping around the body of the dress. It isn’t until you look closely do you realize it is a zipper. I think this piece is so amazing because it is using something like a zipper which is normally a functional piece of the garment as decor. The dress is truly inspiring because it makes you appreciate the way the lines on a dress compliment the lines of a woman’s body.

  12. Danielle Says:

    I loved this dress. It is a classic black dress with a twist. The zippers add style to a basic dress. Although it may be considered a one time wear because of the added detail..still an amazing dress!!

  13. Megan A Says:

    I thought this dress was very interesting. Along with other people, it reminded me of the dress in Project Runway designed by Jeffrey. Just by adding zippers in a spiraling manner, it gives the dress a completely different look and shape. I studied Gernreich in one of my dance classes and this garment definitely supports his influence of body in movement.

  14. Rachel Bauer Says:

    I was so delighted to see a dress designed by Rudi Gernreich in this exhibit! I have always been inspired by the shock value that this designer had to offer, such as the explicit bathing suits. In this design, his use of zippers was innovative and daring. Not many designers had approached the zipper medium in this way before. I just think that something so creative is utterly amazing, and to change the simple black dress in such a way that it is not classic at all, but completely modern and chic, is competely genius.

  15. Brianna Thomas Says:

    I am in love with the design of the texture and the zipper sets the
    design apart. I love Chanel and i;ts clothes.

  16. Marina Says:

    Simple, classic, timeless. The zippers add a suprising hardness to the clean lines of the dress. This would be fabulous with a pair of leather platform booties, ala Olsen twins.

  17. Alyssa Maire Says:

    I love the simplicity of this dress. The zipper spiraling down the body makes the dress visually intresting.

  18. Charlotte Fequiere-Esser Says:

    When I imagene myself in that dress I me walking down the runway.

  19. bull_city Says:

    The dichotomy of the long sleeves and short skirt, the basic black and the bright zippers, the plain fabric and the functional (or not functional) zippers — this dress seems quiet at first but then gets loud and noticed. I love it.

  20. grace Says:

    I think that outfit is stylish and I would wear it with black legings and Uggs. Grace, age 7

  21. Pierson Says:

    My favorite. The simplicity of it… I love the unexpected use of the zipper as the main focal point- brillant!

  22. percy Says:

    these dresses are so interesting to look at and study. it really shows you what people wore through out’s interesting to see what people wore and wear.

  23. Arianne Says:

    some of these dresses are so different from what we wear today.some are wierd and some are wide. some of them look like Cinderella would’ve worn them.

  24. KATIE Says:


    LOVE IT!!!!!

  25. Jacqueline Says:

    This is gorgeous! I love it so much it is really like something I would like to own! It matches my style all black all the time. My mom loves this one too! I bet it would suit me wonderfully.

  26. natalie Says:

    i love the zipper i think this is the baest one out of the fashon section. i love it i never saaw any thing like it.!!!<3333333333333333333

  27. The Barnettes Says:

    I am reminded of the great 21st century philosopher who said, “Can you feel the beat?” . . . . . . . and that philospher was me.
    - Hank Barnette

  28. meimi1995529 Says:

    I REALLY like this dress. It’s GORGEOUS!!! Kinda reminds me of those zipper up bags that you can unzip completely int peices. I wonder if you can do that with this dress…

  29. shaquisha Says:

    this musem is awsome but the only thing is you should make it to where we can use the computer for anything you know to look up stuff and everything well g2g peace

  30. Mabverick Says:

    This fascinating dress reminds me of an earlier version, designed by Charles James in about 1934. His dress was called the “Taxi Dress” and featured the then new-fangled zipper in its construction. The Taxi Dress zipper spiralled continuously around the wearer’s body from top to bottom, and if I remember correctly, the dress was two separately constructed pieces, held together by this zipper. I should love to actually see a Taxi Dress in person just to see with my own eyes how exactly it was done!

  31. J Says:

    Ok, this is a nice dress, but is quite simple. Some of the other dresses are hidious! The older dresses are the best, but the modern ones are mostly just plain weird.

  32. Leigh Says:

    I think this dress is so cool! I mean how many dresses zip up?

  33. Megan Says:

    What happens if someone unzipped it?

Comments are closed.

E-mail It