We heard about a possible Rudi Gernreich relaunch in 2012, but nothing happened in the last six years and, for a while, we collectively thought (and secretely hoped) it wasn't happening. Then in the last few days it was finally announced that the label is starting again.
Based in New York, it will operate under the Gernreich trademark name with European entrepreneur Matthias Kind as Chief Executive Officer and stylist Camilla Nickerson and writer and commentator Neville Wakefield as artistic directors.
The first 55-style collection by the label will comprise knitwear (knit dresses, jumpsuits, sweaters...), swimwear and balaclavas. The knitwear is designed in collaboration with Los Angeles-based artist and political activist Lisa Anne Auerbach (Gernreich was into collaborative projects with artists and among his friends there were Ed Ruscha, Frank Gehry, and Dennis Hopper).
The pieces will be sold in Opening Ceremony, 10 Corso Como, Communitie Marfa and in other selected stores as well as via RudiGernreich.com. Retail prices will go from $125 for swimwear to $2,000 for a jumpsuit.
Born in Austria in 1922 and later based in Los Angeles, Gernreich created iconic designs often modelled by his muse, iconic Peggy Moffitt, in images shot by her late photographer husband, William Claxton.
Among them there was the monokini, the first topless bathing suit that sparked a debate about women's rights, equality and sexuality, generating a scandal of global proportion as Pope Paul VI banned it while some of the designer's clothes never made it to France, China, Russia and Greece.
In 1970 Gernreich introduced unisex clothing via an art-meets-fashion event: invited to curate a show about Future Fashion for the Osaka World's Fair, Gernreich came up with an extremely dystopic vision, presenting a male and female model with shaved heads and bodies who lied naked on the floor after removing all their clothes.
The aim of the controversial show was reinforcing the designer's statement about unisex fashion (an idea perfectly embodied also by the wardrobe of the Moonbase Alpha crew that he designed for the 1975 TV series Space: 1999) while shocking people with futuristic predictions that evoked the death of fashion.
This is not the first time Gernreich returns on the fashion stage: Rei Kawakubo did a Gernreich-inspired capsule line in 2003 under the Peggy Moffitt/Comme des Garçons label.
The designer was also celebrated in the 2012 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles entitled "The Total Look: The Creative Collaboration Between Rudi Gernreich, Peggy Moffitt, and William Claxton."
Now, while an exhibition or a capsule collections are perfectly understandable, the relaunch seems to be a rather random and almost naive idea considering the level of saturation reached by the modern fashion industry.
But there are other dilemmas about this venture: sure, the red bodysuit with a black trompe l'oeil bikini seems to be ideal for one of those Instagrammable moments, but most of the images released so far show a terrible lack of imagination (and a heavy derivation) for a label originally launched by a designer who was projected into the future.
Surprisingly enough, for some kind of reason, the team behind the relaunch of the brand opted to focus on knitwear without even thinking of involving a knitwear designer who may have experience in this field and suggest new yarn blends and innovative and futuristic pieces.
Besides, while today we do still have problems when it comes to equality or censorship, we do live in very different times to Gernreich's: there are more "liberated nipples" than there were at the time of the monokini and gender fluid clothes are all over the runways and in our wardrobes.
Gernreich is part of the same historical period of time that generated André Courregès, Pierre Cardin, Mary Quant and Paco Rabanne. Relaunching houses like Courregès and Rabanne didn't sound like a bad idea at first, but these ventures haven't certainly generated any extraordinary profits nor they have allowed the young creative directors heading them to flourish and grow up while working there, while in other cases relaunching a historical house proved more or less a completely pointless and useless business idea (think Schiaparelli's relaunch that has so far proved a mistake of majestic proportions).
Gernreich's relaunch could be considered interesting actually from one point of view only and that's a technical and legal one: the designer had a longstanding alliance with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the intellectual property of his estate was bequeathed to the organization (Oreste Pucciani, Gernreich's partner of 31 years, endowed a trust in their name for the American Civil Liberties Union in Gernreich's memory after the designer died in 1985); Moffitt also retained the trademark on Gernreich's name. It would therefore be interesting to see if Kind had to do a deal with the ACLU or Moffitt to relaunch the brand.
For the rest, despite all the talk about heritage and being relevant for today's audiences, Rudi Gernreich's relaunch sounds like a terrible oxymoron and almost as a criminal offence against a designer who had foreseen decades ago the death of fashion.
There is a story that perfectly sums up the feelings about resurrecting defunct labels: an entrepreneur once showed interest in buying the name of an Italian fashion designer who used to be more known and famous in the '80s to restart the brand. Even though the offer was generous, the designer refused, explaining that it was better to die poor than seeing her name being ruined during the last years of her life. Guess the good thing about Gernreich is that the designer is no longer with us and luckily he won't be able to see this (in)glorious fashion mess.