Exhibit features designer who went where style wouldn’t

Jessica M. Kanalas

“Bold” isn’t the name of the exhibition by designer Rudi Gernreich for no reason.

Although obviously representing his design style, the exhibition title isn’t short of describing the designer’s persona as well.

“A lot of what he did made a huge impact,” Museum Curator Anne Bissonnette said. “He paid attention to what people wanted and gave it to them.”

Gernreich’s garments can be found at the Kent State University Museum in Rockwell Hall. The exhibition has been on display since July 3 and will continue through May 31, 2009.

Guests can view Gernreich’s work, including the 1964 topless bathing suit that helped make Gernreich’s name so well-known.

He created the bathing suit among other unisex designs in the ’60s and ’70s. He was a feminist and believed in the equality of women, Bissonnette said.

Born in 1922 in Vienna, Gernreich was raised Jewish by his mother and father. His father committed suicide, and his mother moved him to California, where he worked in a mortuary and learned about the human body.

Upon seeing the dancer Martha Graham perform, Gernreich became a dancer and costume designer. It was this moment that changed his life, Bissonnette said.

Kent State chose to include Gernreich’s designs in an exhibit because he was “comfortable, simple and colorful,” she said.

Caitlyn Curtis, senior fashion merchandising major, said she hasn’t seen the exhibit yet, but she has seen a few of Gernreich’s textiles in classes over the years.

She said his style is “pretty innovative.”

A woman named Marion C. Risman, whom Bissonnette called an intense collector, donated almost the whole exhibit to Kent State.

Gernreich may have become famous for his banned bathing suit, but it is his design style and statement that brings his work to the museum for fashion students and the public to explore the galleries.

For sophomore fashion major Michelle Lunz, having Gernreich and all the other designers here at her fingertips is a luxury.

“Having the museum on campus is really nice if you are really interested in it,” Lunz said. “No other major gets that.”

A quote on the wall of the exhibit sums up Gernreich’s philosophy and the reason for this “bold” exhibit:

“At a certain time in one’s life when the body is no longer very attractive to look at, it should be abstracted,” the designer said in 1979. “You would wear a big robe-like garment with bold patterns to detract from the anatomy of the body that is no longer young or beautiful.”

Contact fashion reporter Jessica M. Kanalas at [email protected].