He moved into fashion design via fabric design, and then worked closely with model Peggy Moffitt and photographer William Claxton, pushing the boundaries of "the futuristic look" in clothing over three decades. An exhibition of his work at the Phoenix Art Museum in 2003 hailed him as "one of the most original, prophetic and controversial American designers of the 1950s, '60s and '70s."
He is perhaps most notorious for inventing the first topless swimsuit, or monokini, as well as the pubikini (a bikini with a window in front to reveal the woman's pubic hair) and later the thong swimsuit. He was also known as the first designer to use vinyl and plastic in clothes, and he designed the Moonbase Alpha uniforms on the television series Space: 1999.
He also designed Warners' 1972 "No-Bra Bra," which was made of sheer, stretchy fabric; had no metal wires or clips, and was pulled on over the head. It gave trendy women something they could buy from the bra manufacturers, but it was designed for women who had already stopped buying the industry's products. Like most of Gernreich's creations, it created a brief stir and then quietly disappeared.
In the USA, Gernreich was an influential co-founder of the Mattachine Society, the USA's first gay liberation movement. Although Mattachine's co-founder Harry Hay claimed "never to have even heard" of the earlier gay liberation struggle in Germany, by the people around Adolf Brand, Magnus Hirschfeld and Leontine Sagan, he is known to have talked about it with Austrian & German emigres in America.
Later in life, Gernreich chose to devote himself to cooking and selling soup.
Fashion: Rudi Girl the Look That Shocked the Sixties - Panda-Eyed Peggy Moffitt in Rudi Gernreich's Topless Swimsuit - Is Making a Comeback. Tamsin Blanchard Meets the Model Who Bared All for `Freedom'
Nov 21, 1998; I first spot Peggy Moffitt in Milan, just before the Gucci show. Waiters are doing the rounds with champagne, weaving in and out...