As of last week, Cincinnati still hadn’t quite made up its mind whether it was going to get serious about having Spring in 2015. I was tempted to pull up the proverbial covers and nap through another bone-chilling, rainy weekday. But I didn’t.
I needed something to perk me up: something with a pop of color, and maybe a little scandal. So, I treated myself to an afternoon at the Cincinnati Art Museum, despite needing an ark to navigate the Interstate towards downtown.
I wasn’t the only one escaping the weather: all the good spots in the parking lot were gone. The sheets of rainwater succeeded in finding low ground on the inside of my shoes on my run to the museum entrance.
But the point of all this is that I totally forgot about my squeaking wet shoes when I stood in front of the towering block-lettered sign, literally jutting from the wall: The Total Look. It marked the starting point for a nicely-curated trip through the artistry of the 1960s fashion guru, Rudi Guernreich. Oh, and it was a pretty nice way to dry out and warm up, too.
The exhibit is essentially a time capsule for the collective work of designer Gernreich, his model/muse Peggy Moffitt, and Peggy’s husband, William Claxton, photographer. Claxton captured the essence of Rudi’s brilliance as worn by Moffitt and others. Theirs was the intentional rendering of a growing women’s liberation, the “intense social and cultural change” of the decade.
Strolling Down the Avenue, 1960s Style
Walking among the mannequins felt like walking among 30 or so smartly dressed women on the streets of some metropolitan U.S. city. There was no point trying to contain an all-out smile. Mini skirts and mini dresses, playful pants suits, and tailored work suits, even caftans. What an eclectic feminist fashion collection!
Of everything on exhibit, my favorite was the mini dress collection with matching tights. Each mono-colored dress had complementary color stripes traveling from toe to neckline. Raspberry and navy on Granny Smith apple green, mandarin orange on deep purple, you get the idea. And I loved how the patent leather flats were perfect matches with the dresses or tights. Yes, matchy-matchy.
The Signature Head to Toe Look
According to the exhibit program, this “head-to-toe” look was signature for Gernreich, “…. the body as a whole becomes a minimalist painting, unified by pattern and color.” The female figure should be celebrated but also comfortable, with her clothes “shaped to permit ease and motion.” What a far cry from the highly structured, uncomfortable-looking designs of the 1940s-50s (check out some old movies if you don’t remember those starched, tight dresses worn over pointy bras. Ouch.).
Meandering on, I found dresses sporting cutouts, pants suits with popping geometric shapes, and clothes with see-through vinyl inserts in interesting places. And then, the infamous bathing suit: the monokini (as in half of a bi-kini, as in there is no “top”). The monokini doesn’t have the same shock value on a shiny plastic mannequin as it would in person on a person, but there is also a nice photograph (smirk) of Moffitt modeling it.
Gernreich also created a geometric version of a one-piece maillot bathing suit, much less scandalous but still revealing a good deal of skin. He “pared away obsessively at the fabric, revealing more and more of the body. The criss-crossed bands transformed the human form into a perfectly balanced composition of geometric shapes.” Nearby, there is a photograph with Moffitt modeling; it is a work of Pop Art.
I’m not covering it all here. Poster-sized photographs about the designs, culture, key players; an open theater showing the offbeat “Basic Black” short film (Moffitt wearing Gernreich’s designs). I recommend you see the exhibit or check out Gernreich’s work using online search.
Heading home, I sifted through all the ideas I gathered while at the exhibit and narrowed it down to three starters. 1) play with new complementary color combinations for “pop value” in the cube earrings I’m designing. 2) add geometric cutouts to the sterling pendant I’m working on to give it more interest. And, 3) figure out how to get some clear vinyl inserts into my wardrobe. Stay tuned!
The exhibit will remain at the Cincinnati Art Museum in Eden Park through May 24th. There is no admission fee for the museum. Parking is $4.00.
Thank you, as always, for reading my stories.
Do you have a favorite outfit or jewelry from the 1960s? Me too! Come join me in the Comments area below and let’s compare notes.
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Source: Cincinnati Art Museum, “The Total Look: Rudi Gernreich and American Design” program guide, March 2015. Photos, as noted, courtesy of: The Style Sample.