Installation of Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2019. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020
By Dani Killam

Greetings from my kitchen table in Glassell Park! This is Dani Killam, co-curator of our 2019 original exhibition Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich, here to brighten your day with some safer-at-home style inspiration. 

Fashion designer and humanitarian Rudi Gernreich (1922–1985) was indeed ahead of his time. The first exhibition to focus on his social consciousness, Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich highlighted his forward-thinking designs and inclusive sensibility, which have taken on new meaning in the face of COVID-19. From jumpsuits and caftans, to bathing suits and undergarments, Gernreich’s work promoted ease of movement and comfort above all else. Garments fit for staying in, if you will. 

Clothing has a way of bringing out our creativity and allows us to be our authentic selves. While it feels there is little we can control right now, take comfort in clothing’s power to transcend these uncertain times. Whether you’re getting dressed for a virtual staff meeting or for yourself at home, what we wear and how we present ourselves can lift our spirits and shift our outlook. 

Please join my colleagues and me by donning your best knitwear, geometric patterns, vibrant colors, or whatever else might bring you joy. For those who can, do your part by staying home…  but make it fashion.

Kite dress image

Left: Collection of Peggy Moffitt, Resort 1967. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Right: © William Claxton, LLC, courtesy of Demont Photo Management & Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles, with permission of the Rudi Gernreich trademark.

Feel the joy! Gernreich’s work is known for its comfort, color, and creativity. Here we see his “Kite” dress on display in Fearless Fashion and modeled by Peggy Moffitt. Famous for bringing Gernreich’s designs to life, Moffitt’s movements convey ease and Gernreich’s prints demand attention—a powerful combination.

three fashion images

From left to right: Collection of Peggy Moffitt, Fall 1970. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer; Collection of Peggy Moffitt, c. 1970–1973. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer; Rita Watnick & Michael Stoyla // LILY et Cie, Inc., 1970. Photo by Dani Killam.

I wish I had my hands on a few of Gernreich’s jumpsuits while working from home. The plaid knitwear on the left acts like a second skin and transitions well from a good night’s sleep to sending emails. Just throw on a few necklaces and you’re ready for the day! For those looking to lounge, tuck into one of Gernreich’s caftans. Perfect for the whole family, these pieces were originally worn by Peggy Moffitt, William Claxton, and their son, Christopher, in the 1970s.

Got an essential errand to run? Slip into the black unisex jumpsuit pictured on the right. Its built-in face covering (a design originally intended to combat air pollution) complies with Mayor Garcetti’s face covering mandate. CDC-approved and oh-so-chic! 

flower dress and swimsuits

Left: Skirball Museum Collection, 1965. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Right: Skirball Museum Collection (top left), 1953. Collection of Peggy Moffitt (bottom right), 1963. Audrey Moorehead, Los Angeles, c. 1955–1964. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.

Gernreich’s use of color is potent. Green, pink, purple, yellow—the color combinations found throughout his work are endless and sure to put a smile on your face. I’m in love with his vibrant bathing suits (arguably what he’s best known for). With summer on the horizon, let’s look forward to the sunnier days ahead.

caftan dress

Left: © William Claxton, LLC, courtesy of Demont Photo Management & Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles, with permission of the Rudi Gernreich trademark. Right: Skirball Museum Collection, Fall 1967. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.

Here’s Peggy Moffitt again, modeling the ultimate silk caftan. Roomy enough to accommodate your at-home workouts, throw one on and try holding some of Moffitt’s poses for sixty seconds. On the right, see the same caftan in vivid color. Note the orange jewelry: accessories designer Layne Nielson made each piece by repurposing ping pong balls—proving once again that you needn’t leave home to create a look that lasts.

exhibition team at home

From left to right: Associate Curator Cate Thurston dutifully researching our fall exhibitions; Exhibitions Coordinator Dani Killam (that’s me!) pattern-clashing and comfy as can be; Assistant Curator Laura Mart rocking a bold pattern and bright earrings; Emma Thorne-Christy from the exhibition’s design team working on a #MuseumChallenge recreation of The Cat At Play by Dutch artist Henriëtte Ronner-Knip; Registrar Catherine (Cathy) Aurora all dressed up with nowhere to go. 

Danielle (Dani) Killam, Exhibitions Coordinator, is the co-curator of Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich. She manages the Skirball's traveling exhibitions and acts as courier for each subsequent venue. She received a BA in American history from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and began her career in the museum field working at the FIDM Museum. Her favorite Rudi Gernreich designs are his menswear-inspired pantsuits and anything with pockets.