Rudi Gernreich (August 8, 1922-April 21, 1985) was a fashion designer and gay activist. Born in Vienna, he fled Austria at age 16 due to Nazism. He came to the USA, settling in Los Angeles, California. For a time, he had a career as a dancer, performing with the Lester Horton company around 1945.
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.
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.