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Rudi Gernreich and the Monokini

The designs of Rudi Gernreich (1922-1985) are kooky, androgynous, and often wildly impractical. Gernreich made fashion a conceptual art, and a political one. He created mini-skirts for men and tweedy suits for women. His two easiest-to-explain innovations are the topless bathing suit ("monokini") and the thong.

The Skirball Center's "Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich" seems utterly of the moment (more so than the Met's "Camp"). Gernreich was no less grounded in L.A.'s 1960s art scene, a face in the crowd of LACMA's 1968 portrait of the Cool School. In fact, Gernreich may have been the one household-name celebrity sitting on LACMA's steps. That's due to the monokini.
The story of the topless bathing suit begins with Adolf Hitler. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Hitler banned public nudity with an executive order. The Post-Freudian Viennese had taken to exercising in the nude, regarding it as healthy. Among those who fled the N…

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