MoCA Museum of Contemporary Art

The Total Look

26 Feb - 27 May 2012

William Claxton
The Creative Collaboration Between Rudi Gernreich, Peggy Moffitt, and William Claxton
26 February – 27 May, 2012

This exhibition will celebrate the remarkable collaboration between the great fashion designer Rudi Gernreich, his model and muse Peggy Moffitt, and Moffitt's late husband, the photographer William Claxton, who created the distinctive images of Moffitt activating Gernreich's designs. The exhibition will feature selected looks from Moffitt's definitive collection, with films and photographs by Claxton of Moffitt modeling the clothes. "Fashion will go out of fashion" is one of Gernreich's many memorable declarations, but his designs continue to resonate, looking contemporary 50 years after they were made. Gernreich told Moffitt about a dream he had shortly before his death in 1985. "I had a dream last night that I was in a graveyard and I saw my own tombstone. I went up to it and it said, 'He was always 10 years ahead of his time."" "He was wrong of course," Moffitt recalled, "he was always 30 years ahead of his time." Gernreich, Moffitt, and Claxton were central figures in the Los Angeles art community in the 1960s and "70s, and were known for their friendships and collaborations with other artists. Gernreich"s work incorporates and prefigures many of the innovations of pop, minimal, and performance art. The exhibition will be curated by Cameron Silver, the fashion historian and founder of Decades, in collaboration with curatorial coordinators Ethel Seno and Jhordan Dahl. Christopher Claxton, the son of Moffitt and Claxton and the Director of the Claxton Archive has helped to coordinate the presentation of the photographs and films. The exhibition will be designed by Marmol Radziner.

Rudi Gernreich (b. 1922, Vienna, Austria; d. 1985, Los Angeles) arrived in Los Angeles as a refugee in 1938 at the age of 16, six months after the Anschluss. His first job in the United States was as an assistant at a mortuary. Commenting on this experience, Gernreich recalled that he "grew up overnight." "There I was with all those dead bodies," he said. "Eventually I got used to the corpses. But I do smile sometimes when people tell me my clothes are so body-conscious I must have studied anatomy. You bet I studied anatomy!" Gernreich studied art at Los Angeles City College, worked in the publicity department at RKO Studios, and once replaced a friend as a sketch artist for costume designer Edith Head. After watching a performance by Martha Graham's modern dance company, he abandoned art to study with the choreographer Lester Horton, whom Gernreich described as "a kind of West Coast Martha Graham." As Marylou Luther wrote in the introduction to Moffitt and Claxton's book on Gernreich, "he became less interested in the static details of clothes and more concerned with how they looked in motion."

Gernreich remained engaged with the dance community and later designed costumes for Bella Lewitzky, one of his fellow dancers in the Horton company, but by the late forties, he had returned to fashion design. Drawing on his experience with dance, Gernreich predicted that "the aesthetics of fashion are going to involve the body itself. We will train the body to grow beautifully rather than cover it to produce beauty." After a short period on Seventh Avenue, where he became disappointed by the way the fashion business looked to Paris rather than America for inspiration, he returned to Los Angeles. Working for sportswear and swimwear manufacturers like Walter Bass and Westwood Knitting Mills, Gernreich started to receive recognition and awards for innovations such as the first knitted tube dress and the first unconstructed swimsuit, but he was frustrated by the required commercial compromises. Gernreich solidified his stature as one of the preeminent independent American designers when he started his own company in 1960.

Peggy Moffitt (b. 1937) was Gernreich's favorite model and muse. Her profound dialogue with Gernreich enabled her to embody his design aesthetic, not just to model it but to perform it. Her unique modern look and her innovations in the art of modeling continue to inspire a younger generation and have made her a fashion icon.

William Claxton (b. 1927, Pasadena, California; d. 2008, Los Angeles), America's preeminent jazz photographer, who is also known for his celebrity/personality photographs and album cover designs, was married to Moffitt. He began photographing Gernreich's work in 1957 and documented every single collection from 1962. Claxton's film, Basic Black: William Claxton w/ Peggy Moffitt (1967), which will be featured in the exhibition, is considered the forerunner of fashion film.

The exhibition also celebrates the collaboration between Gernreich, Moffitt, Claxton, and the legendary hair designer Vidal Sassoon. Moffitt met Sassoon at a photo shoot for the "No Bra" bra at Richard Avedon’s studio in 1965 and later introduced him to Gernreich. Sassoon's modern hair design became a key element in Moffitt's unique look and Gernreich’s distinctive "total look."

The Total Look: The Creative Collaboration between Rudi Gernreich, Peggy Moffitt, and William Claxton is presented by M∙A∙C Cosmetics.

Additional support is provided by Dr. Gabriel Chiu - Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery, Inc., Matthias Kind, Sally and Michel Perrin - Perrin Paris 1893, and Eugene Sadovoy.

The care and restoration of the collection is generously provided by Margaret's Cleaners.

Generous support for MOCA Pacific Design Center is provided by Charles S. Cohen.

Tags: Richard Avedon