Biography: “Fashion isn’t a tragedy, it’s entertainment,” declared Rudi Gernreich. From graphic collections inspired by clowns and Kabuki dancers to the “monokini”—the topless bathing suit introduced in 1964—the designer was best known for his avant-garde (and sometimes scandalous) designs. Beneath the spectacle of his clothes, however, was an understanding of color, shape, and the needs of the modern woman, underscored by a thirty-year career in fashion. Born in Austria, Gernreich moved to Los Angeles in 1938 as a Jewish refugee. The young Gernreich became a professional dancer, which provided him with an understanding of the body and an interest in how clothing moved. By the end of the 1940s, he quit dancing to focus on fashion, and worked for dress manufacturers in California and New York. “I was expected to turn out collections based on Dior and Fath, but I was ready to burst with new ideas,” he recalled. In 1952, the clothing manufacturer Walter Bass gave Gernreich his first opportunity to design original creations, followed by a line for the Beverly Hills-based luxury boutique JAX. From early on, Gernreich’s work focused on liberating women’s bodies. In particular, his soft, simple women’s bathing suits opposed the prevailing fashion for more structured styles. Gernreich established his own company in 1960, and also began designing a lower-priced line for Harmon knitwear. Although his topless bathing suit was an extreme example, Gernreich’s bold fashions frequently made news. Sheer, unstructured “no-bra” bras, dresses with provocative cutouts in clear vinyl, pant suits with androgynous styling, and op art-inspired patterns in striking color combinations were among the most influential of his designs. In 1967,Time magazine proclaimed Gernreich to be “the most way-out, far-ahead designer in the U.S.” Although Gernreich closed his company in 1968, he continued to design. In 1970, he produced one of his most conceptual collections, featuring barely-there, “utilitarian” clothes that were intended to be unisex. The clothing represented Gernreich’s vision of the future of fashion, in which he believed nudity would be equated with freedom, rather than sexuality. The designer continued to show thought-provoking collections until his retirement from fashion in 1981. Always adventurous, he embarked on a second career—as a maker of gourmet soups—before dying of cancer in 1985.