WCK3 in Gernreich dance wear.
My most excellent buddy- dancer, choreographer, professor of Dance Studies- WCK3, didn’t just know him, they have history together. I don’t think I even know all the details even now. WCK3 was a senior dancer & rehearsal director for the modern dance troupe- the Bella Lewitzky Company.
Do I have your attention boys & girls? This story is important. This story is fabulous, & this story is true. A little Viennese gay baby boy- Rudi Gernreich was born on this day in 1922. Jewish Rudi fled Austria at age 16 to escape the Nazis. He migrated to L.A. & became a dancer with the Lester Horton company. In 1974, Gernreich co-starred again with Bella Lewitzky, with whom he had danced in Salome 30 years before, when both were members of Horton's troupe. His remarkable costumes for the Lewitzky presentation of Inscape were part of the set & part of the plot. His "Siamese" twins were joined at the skull in stretchable hoods that kept the dancers connected both literally & figuratively. Gernreich continued to collaborate with Lewitzky, designing sets & costumes for Pas de Bach in 1977, Rituals in 1979, Changes & Choices in 1981, & Confines in 1982, all danced by the beautiful WCK3 in his dancing prime.
60 years ago in L.A., Gernreich, with his lover at the time- Harry Hay & others, formed the Mattachine Society, probably the first gay rights group in the country. Some later criticized the designer for not coming out after taking those amazingly brave early steps, but most of us now could barely imagine how difficult and dangerous it was to do so: you could lose your job, your friends & family, even your life. He did not come out, until after his death, when the estate of he & his partner of 31 years- Oreste Pucciani, provided an endowment for ACLU in their names. Oreste Pucciani, chairman of the U.C.L.A. French department was instrumental in bringing Sartre to the attention of Americans.He was a pivotal figure in the gay rights movement.
Hay & Gernreich, are the main characters of the play The Temperamentals by Jon Marans, with Thomas Jay Ryan playing Hay and Michael Urie (with whom he shares ths birthday) as Gernreich; after workshop performances in 2009 the play opened to rave reviews off Broadway in spring 2010.
Rudi Gernreich was the first to use cutouts in clothes. He was the first to use vinyl & plastic in clothes. He Introduced androgyny: men's suits & hats on women. He designed the first see-through clothes. Gernreich designed the first soft transparent bra--the "no bra "bra. He invented body clothes based on leotards & tights. He used hardware such as zippers, & dog leash clasps as decoration. He did the first designer jeans. He designed the 1st thong bathing suit. He was the first to design men's underwear for women.
Rudi Gernreich spent most of his productive life entirely aware that clothes were ideas in material form. His innovations embraced the new concept of lifestyle & in his soft bathing suits ,thongs, body clothes & tube dresses, in his unisex looks & signature, playful witty look, celebrated the removal of restriction and conformity.
Gernreich seemed to understand that a piece of clothing could embody a larger sense of freedom and liberation. It had to have something to do with his being gay, & of course being a dancer must have informed his vision of how a dressed body should float with naked ease in & around every situation.
I love 1960s conceptualist fashion. High Art fashion. Its not just fashion; it is a way of life. Life as theatre. Today in the stereotypical gay lifestyle & queer fashion is being appropriated by straight culture. Gay S&M fashion once an underground subculture, has gone mainstream. Slings are a home decor accessory. Rudi Gernreich was cutting edge, but today would he be cutting edge? The real queens of the past: Rudi Gernreich, Quentin Crisp, Joe Orton, Jean Genet, Truman Capote, Jean Cocteau were so brilliant, they defied fashion convention, they were not subservient to it. I hope that Rudi’s friend WCK3 is lounging around his apartment, enjoying his coffee in a purple thong or one of the famous unitards.
The Temperamentals 2010
The Original Mattachine Society