Rudi Gernreich in Reigning Men

The FIDM Museum is always thrilled to be a part of fashion exhibitions at other institutions, especially when we can collaborate with our fellow Los Angeles museums! This spring, LACMA's incredible exhibition Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015 showcases the often-overlooked world of historic and contemporary menswear. The comprehensive exhibition features this graphic silk caftan, a striking design from our Rudi Gernreich Archive. Our Curator-on-the-Go Kevin Jones completed another installation job on our behalf (you can catch up on his trip to the de Young Museum here!).


Rudi Gernreich
Bequest of the Rudi Gernreich Estate

Dressing garments for installation is an art form. It is so much more than putting clothes on a mannequin or dress form. Think of it as the difference between a department store display and a museum exhibition; in museums, we adjust the mannequin to fit the clothing, not the other way around. We add layers of padding to a mannequin in order to build a de facto body that properly fits the garment and reflects the silhouette of a particular time period. This meticulous process is worth the effort – it's what makes the ensemble come to life in an exhibition. Don't be fooled by the seemingly simple design of this Rudi Gernreich caftan…when it comes to dressing a mannequin, nothing is as straightforward as it appears! 

Rudi dressing 2

Front view: archival batting is stitched onto the form. Pantyhose cover the arms; pantyhose are useful to hold batting in place, and they add a layer of protection between the mannequin and the object. Note how the padding mirrors the musculature of a man's body – your high school anatomy classes will finally come in handy!

Rudi dressing 1

Back view: a layer of net sewn to the padding high above the waist gives the caftan subtle volume.


Kevin then carefully steamed the caftan, made a few last adjustments, and voilà! The finished look. See this Rudi Gernreich piece and other unforgettable examples of menswear in LACMA's Reigning Men exhibition, open until August 21, 2016.


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