Sep 18, 2017 | By Theresa Yee
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May 18, 2012
60s icon Peggy Moffitt is shown on nowness.com, rocking her Vidal Sassoon five-point cut and graphic eye makeup, talking about her experience as a muse and model to designer Rudi Gernreich. She captured the 60s in the famous William Claxton (Moffitt’s husband) photo of her wearing a Gernreich topless monokini bathing suit. “Peggy is a true innovator, an extension of the pop art aesthetic,” says Museum of Contemporary Art Director Jeffrey Deitch. “She invented a new approach to modeling; she brought to it her background in modern dance, and her understanding of and connections to the art world.”
Some excerpts from the video and other interviews:
“The shot [Claxton photo] seen around the world. Think of something in your life that took 1/60th of a second to do. Now, imagine having to spend the rest of your life talking about it. I think it’s a beautiful photograph, but oh, am I tired of talking about it.”
“Those pictures are the second shoot Twiggy ever did. And the photographer asked me to help her. I’m trying to show her about light and I decided oh, I’ll be Madonna and she’ll be my Baby Jesus.”
“A friend of mine, Billy Pene Du Bois, was doing a series of children’s books on the seven deadly sins. He came to pride and he wanted it to be a girl but he thought, ‘How can you illustrate that?’ And I said, well, she can look in a mirror, she can walk down a street and look at her reflection in store windows, look into rain puddles. And he went off and made it about me wearing Rudi Gernreich clothes. I love his first line, ‘Pretty pretty Peggy Moffitt was born with dark brown, well-cut hair and dolls’ eyes.’ I love being born with well-cut hair.”
Excerpts from a Philadelphia City Paper interview with Peggy Moffitt interview in 2001:
City Paper: Were you always as confident as you looked in some of those photos? You seem as defiant and haughty as his [Rudy Gernreich] clothes.
Peggy Moffitt: I never thought or think myself as a beautiful woman. Models always seemed to be “selling” themselves and quite at ease with it. But modeling was cornier back then. Now it’s all tits and ass. … So I used whatever I could — my movement, my talent — to take my mind off of whether I was pretty or whether I was selling myself.
CP: The work you did together was never exploitative of human form, of feminine attributes, or of the fact that he was gay. How is it that you both kept if from being so?
PM: The whole topless thing could’ve been a disaster. I didn’t want to do it when he asked me. I am a puritanical descendent of the Mayflower. I carried that goddamned Plymouth Rock on my back. … When I did give in, I did so with a lot of rules. I would not show myself on the runway that way. I’d do it only with Bill. Since Rudi would never ever have enough money to do this, I did it for free. But I had final say on everywhere it went photographically. Not Playboy. Not Esquire. I didn’t want to be exploited. Not ever. In fact I made quite a scene when in Los Angeles, several years back, the curators of a Rudi exhibit wanted to make another woman go topless in the monokini he had designed for me. I protested because that’s equally exploitative. It wasn’t just about me. It’s about women. I think Rudi and I kept from being exploitative — a real precedent then — because I cared how you do a thing rather than what you do. Everyone was outraged anyway. But at least we did it with, excuse the word, class.
Excerpts from Nowness interview with Jeffrey Deitch:
What made Rudi Gernreich, William Claxton and Peggy Moffitt such an unusually creative trio?
Jeffrey Deitch: Peggy was not just a model. She was truly a muse, part of the creative process. She actually talked with Rudi about the design. And then Bill Claxton really understood, not just the clothes, but the sociological implications of how Rudi was changing the perception of woman’s role, of the new part of the sexual revolution. Claxton captured that. His photographs are also Pop. He had a background in dance, sensitivity to music, he was the greatest jazz photographer. His ability to capture that image is a major cause of all this. They are all essential; one can’t function without the other.
Why was the head-to-toe Total Look important?
JD: Well, that’s part of the vision. Rudi was one of the first ones to design leggings to coordinate with jewelry and shoes, to extend the design. Say to extend a stripe on the dress into a stripe on the legging. He’s not just designing a dress. It’s an entire attitude, a whole fashion language.
What do you think of the 60’s?
JD: It’s the foundation of the world today. Rock ‘n’ Roll music… Or fashion that liberates the body and celebrates a modern approach to life. A sense of personal liberation. All that comes out of this moment in the 60’s. It’s fascinating. And also, of course, it represents that period of idealism that in a sense that no longer exists. A lot of the effects have enhanced our lives, though not all of the utopian ideals have come to fruition.
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