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Past Perfect

Like wine and cigars, fine clothing appreciates with age. A newly found cache of Rudi Gernreich is cause for celebration.


Like many designers from the past, Rudi Gernreich is gone, but not forgotten. Elizabeth Mason, owner of the West Hollywood vintage clothing store the Paper Bag Princess, celebrated a move to larger quarters and the discovery of a large, pristine collection of authentic Gernreichs with a recent party attended by collectors hip to the fact that some old clothes now dwell in the rarefied world of art and antiques, steadily increasing in value.

Mason has built her business with an eye that recognizes style where others see only moth holes. She scours thrift shops, rummage sales and flea markets throughout the country for treasures, then sells them to a clientele of models, actresses and fashion hounds more interested in pre-worn designer originals than in no-name newborns.

The Gernreich cache, 85 never-worn outfits from the late 1960s and early '70s, were found in their original boxes with price tags attached in the dusty back room of a vintage clothing store in Chicago. It was only fitting that Mason bring them back to California, home of the Viennese-born designer who died in 1985 of lung cancer at 62. Gernreich was best known for the topless swimsuit he created in 1964, but his graphic mini-dresses, gowns and pants outfits, many combining checks with stripes and dots with squares, were typical of the then-popular futuristic look that came to be known as Mod. Matching patterned stockings with dresses was a Gernreich innovation that now looks quaint, but his pairing of bright, opaque tights with short skirts has become a classic.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday August 26, 1996 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 2 View Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Airline uniforms--A caption credited the wrong designer of vintage Pan Am flight attendant uniforms pictured in an Aug. 15 Life & Style story. Evan Picone designed the uniforms.

"I concentrate on clothes from the '60s and '70s because they're very wearable," Mason said. The designers from that era that claim the highest prices at resale are Halston, Gernreich, Leonard, Courreges, Missoni, Pucci and Chanel. "And of course any old Gucci is hot. The bigger the G on it, the better."

Male collectors search for the Lily Pulitzer, Don Loper and Lily Dache labels. "Men say, 'Why would I pay $1,500 for a new designer jacket when the quality of the old stuff is so wonderful?' " Mason said. "Right now, the men are oogling over anything '70s and velvet."

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