CR Exclusive: Rudi Gernreich Celebrates Mother’s Day with the Monokini

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In 1964, Rudi Gernreich designed the first topless bathing suit, a sensational yet scandalous piece of swimwear that sent shockwaves worldwide. Over five decades later, the topless swimsuit, dubbed the Monokini, is being celebrated just in time for Mother’s Day. With a special documentary-style video by Alexa Karolinski debuting exclusively on CR, the Monikini and motherhood come into focus. Backed by an original score from Grammy-winning producer Ariel Rechtshaid, the short film features a model wearing the iconic swimsuit while caring for her infant child.

Along with the video, complete proceeds from the Monokini’s sales purchased via Rudi Gernreich’s website will be donated to the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project during the month of May.

When Karolinski saw the topless bathing suit for the first time, she immediately thought of breastfeeding. The design of the monokini fit the idea quite perfectly, from the soft hug of the postpartum abdomen to the high-rise brief and the two thin straps supporting the exposed breasts. The topless swimwear was not a symbol of sex, rather it represented a nakedness that is natural and functional. A celebration of nurturance, the idyllic scene represents Gernreich’s exploration of themes of freedom, utilitarianism, and public/privacy.

“Nakedness must never be exploited. There is nothing wrong with the unclothed body if it is merely a projection of freedom,” said Gernreich in 1965. “But when nudity becomes about commercial exploitation, it becomes crass.”

Rudi Gernreich’s Monokini is now available online and at select stores.

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