Just like Rudy Gernreich, John Kloss was a lingerie designer who wasn’t on my radar until recently. I found out about him when my dad was giving me his two cents on my bra designs. “Look up John Kloss,” is what he texted me. He’s not the most verbose of the family. I don’t listen to men’s opinions about lingerie often. Like they know what it’s like to have boobs? Tell them to wear a thong and then get back to me. But I’m glad I listened to my father… this time.
John Kloss studied architecture at Cass Technical High School and then fashion design at Traphagen School of Design in New York. At the age of 20, he apprenticed with American designer/couturier Bob Bugnand in Paris – an incredible opportunity for such a youngin. Bugnand was the chief designer for Jacques Heim and Robert Piquet before branching off on his own in 1957. He had a salon on East 62nd Street in New York, where he took custom orders from wealthy women. After being measured, the women chose the fabric for the design they wanted. Their order was shipped to Bugnand’s work room in Paris, and within three weeks, the completed garment(s) was back in New York for the final fitting. Bugnand offered a great service to US women – the chance to wear French designs without traveling across the Atlantic. After Kloss’ stint with Bugnand, he turned down an offer to work
with Nina Ricci and instead, designed for Lisa Fonssagrives. Before Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, Fonssagrives ruled the modeling world and is credited by some as being the first supermodel. If you’ve never heard of her name, look her up. What a strikingly beautiful woman. In 1968, Henri Bendel provided Kloss with the John Kloss Room, making him the first designer to have a boutique of his own clothes. Kind of like today’s shop-in-shop. During the 1960s, Kloss’ designs were modern and sculptural, using fabrics such as cotton brocades and bright colors such as amethyst, ruby and lime green. The picture to the right is an advertisement from the January 1966 issue of McCall’s Magazine. The models are wearing Kloss’ futuristic designs to promote a frost-free refrigerator.
In the 1970s, his aesthetic experienced a complete about face. Total 180. He began using matte jersey, crepe de chine and other fluid fabrics to make clothing that moved with the wearer. Additionally, he added small details such as tiny rows of buttons and edge trimming/closures to add just a touch of visual interest. The image to the right is a pattern he did for Butterick later in his career, but you can see the difference between these silhouettes and the ones from the 1960s. His designs were eventually adapted into lingerie and nightgown, and in 1974, he released his most famous product while working for Lily of France – a bra that appeared not to exist called the glossie. A reaction to the “ban the bra” movement, a movement Rudy Gernreich was also combating, it was made from stretchy, sheer, glittery nylon/spandex fabric. With a deep plunge, front closure and underwires, the bra provided support for women who needed it, but wanted a braless look. It was simple, clean and seductive. Kloss received two Coty awards for his lingerie designs – one in 1971 and the other in 1974.
Under various licenses, he continued to design lingerie, loungewear, hosiery, and even tennis wear. In the 1970s and the 1980s, he produced a line of home sewing patterns for Butterick and McCalls. While his sewing patterns sell for pretty cheap, his garments do not. A yellow, pink and orange mini dress, pictured here, sold at an auction for quite a hefty price. Kloss died of carbon monoxide poisoning the year I was born – 1987. Ironically, he was survived by his mother who lived in Pompano Beach, where I grew up.
I find it interesting that there are hardly any photos of Kloss’ work; I still haven’t found a picture of him. Google his name and you’ll find mostly images from Ebay and Etsy listings of his sewing patterns, which was an after thought of his career. In an industry where almost everything has been designed, the limited amount of images is odd to me.
Additionally, as an aspiring lingerie designer, teacher, or whatever the hell I am these days, I’m finding inspiration from a man who I’ve seen very little of; I’m holding onto a small vision of what he did. As a very visual person, not having much of a visual is ironic. (Picture to the left is a vintage strapless glossie. It doesn’t have a front closure, but the cups are a sheer fabric like Kloss’ original design. Pictured above a glossie currently for sale on Amazon).
It’s comforting that Kloss’ career was not linear. He started in architecture, switched to finance (he briefly worked on Wall Street), then went into fashion. Within the industry, he did modern, then fluid. He did garments, then lingerie, then sewing patterns. During a presentation I attended recently, the speaker said to not view your career as a straight line. You’ll go forward, then to the right, then to the left, then make a u-turn, and that’s okay. If you try to stay on a straight path, you probably won’t end up where you want. What she said wasn’t novel or new, but I often forget that when things don’t go the way I planned. I thought my book would be a hit; it wasn’t. I didn’t expect much to come about from my bra workshops; it is a total success. Kloss’ life reminds me to be fluid, let life roll and don’t blame myself if a plan doesn’t unfold. Like love, you have to put yourself out there and see what catches. Whatever falls through, don’t take it personally and move on. The reason may not be you; it may be life’s way of taking control of the wheel.
Have you heard of John Kloss? Did you ever own a glossie? I want to learn more about the designer, but there isn’t much information available about him, so tell me what you know in the comments below!