Vintage Details: Rudi Gernreich: 2 Kabuki Dresses, Autumn 1963

It's not often that we get a chance to see two vintage dresses that are from the same collection: similar in design, but different in fabrication.

Rudi Gernreich produced a wide range of innovative designs during his career, but the Kabuki dress remains one of the most recognizable. Designed in 1963 for his Autumn collection, it is a wool double knit with body drape. What made it so unique was the eye popping textile colors and the innovative bodice 'obi' belting across the bustline.

As early as 1954, when in his early 30’s, Gernreich was noted for his colorful, geometric, and unique styling. His styles are highly influenced by the flapper silhouette of the 1920’s, which was a departure from the hourglass look being designed in Paris by Dior. In 1951 he began working for Walter Bass, a California manufacturer. There he became well known for contemporary clothing design.

He created boxy jackets and tight pants and other clothing styles that would become more commonplace in the early 1960’s but were considered bold, sophisticated, and shocking 10 years earlier.

Like Claire McCardell and Bonnie Cashin, he was influenced by Asian garment styles. As a designer he felt that he was a practicing artist, where aesthetics were important. He also believed that a good design need not be discarded after only one season.

Wool knit textiles were produced by Harmon knitwear. In the early 1960's his color sense and ability to manipulate textile graphics were becoming popular. The bold colors and patterns here predict the trend in fashion that would become mainstream by the late 1960's and early 1970's.

And finally, a quick look at the inside construction. The obi section is backed by cotton broadcloth to prevent it from stretching out of shape.

(click on the photos so see enlargements)

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