In 1974, though, backsides were under attack via California legislation outlawing nude sunbathing. A radical fashion designer and Austrian expat in Hollywood, Rudi Gernreich, had a solution: The thong swimsuit. “The Thong is my response to a contradiction in our society: nudity is here; lots of people want to swim and sun themselves in the nude; also lots of people are still offended by public nudity,” he wrote in a ’70s manifesto, citing Brazilian swimwear, Sumo wrestlers’ mawashis, and thong sandals as references for his then-trademarked design. At the time, Gernreich made his unisex thong swimsuit in black and brown fast-drying nylon, revolutionizing the look of SoCal beaches and the limits of acceptable taste.
The thong is far from Gernreich’s only fashion-world innovation, but it is the one current CEO of the Rudi Gernreich brand Matthias Kind is most intent on bringing back this summer. Launching on Net-a-Porter, Ssense, and Rudi Gernreich’s own e-commerce site is a series of summer swimsuits modeled after the ’70s originals that includes the infamous thong suit. “It’s a very small piece of fabric that perfectly encapsulates and represents Rudi’s world, his principles, and philosophies.