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A Lesson in Bra History

John Kloss intro

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.

Early Years

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.

ABOUT FACE

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.

john_kloss_quote

My thoughts

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!

11 Comments

  1. Reply

    Nicki

    I do remember John Kloss’s bras. The issue for me was that they were completely sheer, so liberated or not… yikes!

    • Reply

      maddie

      The issue for me with that much sheerness is you can see your nipples through blouses/shirts!

      • Reply

        Marie

        And that sheerness was exactly the point! This was the 70s! Women were going braless after wearing constricting undergarments that made boobs pointy and lifted unnaturally high…the Rawhide bra (Named after a TV show’s theme song, “Head ’em up, move ’em out! RawHIIIDE!”). Kloss’ Glossies were better than no bra for those of us with more than a B cup. They supported us in a much more natural way and kept our “high beams” up and forward. The sheerness was more than just a fashion statement, it was a complete break from our mothers’ generation and societies restrictions. We were Liberated! I remember buying my first Glossie. I used my own money, earned waiting tables at Marie Callendars. My Mother, God bless her, ran interference for me and absorbed a lot of grief from my Dad when I started wearing it with tshirts. Yes, they were sheer. Yes, our nipples showed, and poked, through. And that was the whole, glorious point. Much more than a bra, Glossies were a cultural phenomenon.

  2. Reply

    Nancy

    I bought the bras…they were my favorites for as long as they were made. I remember the patterns and bought them. At that time, the knit fabrics that they required were not available over the counter.

  3. Reply

    maddie

    That’s interesting – that he offered patterns with suggested fabrics not available easily to the home sewer. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Reply

    Sue Scott

    I think I had glossies in every color! I loved them. If I remember correctly I bought them through Victoria’s Secret. They might have an archive. I also still have a pattern or two from him. I love them but I am a curvy body they were really made for stick or boy bodies – straight up and down. Hmmm.

    • Reply

      maddie

      Interesting that you bought your glossies through VS!

  5. Reply

    Jen O

    I used the patterns also. Quiana knit fabrics were the best fabrics for those, but there were still alot of tricot jerseys in acetate or was it nylon? As for the glossies, yes, they were wonderful to wear, and I think his influence with those still lives on.

  6. Reply

    Lisa Marie

    I loved my glossies! I wore them through the 70’s and 80’s. When I couldn’t find them in the stores anymore, I was so disappointed. They offered support for my larger bust, were seamless, and shaped everything so nicely. I managed to find similar ones later on at Victoria’s Secret, I think they called them angels, not sure though. The molded cup arrived shortly after and soon it was hard to find unlined bras. Whenever I can find a thinner power net with similar sheen and thickness, I scoop it up and sew it in a pieced cup, with a more rounded profile. Thanks for the blast from the past and congratulations on your success.

  7. Reply

    Bon

    I know I’m a bit late on this but just had to read when
    I saw John Kloss listed with your other history posts.
    I agree 100 percent with the other posts, love, freedom and a little rebellion. That’s how I remember them.
    Now for my two other bits. I also had a JK bra that we called my sunflower bra. It was a front hook with a flower woven in the cup. It was pale beige and had the same unlined natural shape. Raciest bra I ever owned!
    I remember seeing an article on Kloss with a photo. It was in the 70s possibly in the SanFrancisco Cronicle. I can recall a slim thirty-ish good looking man with dark brown hair. I too think it’s quite interesting there’s not much photographic evidence.
    Thanks for the memories reminder!

  8. Reply

    Janet Allen Vandermeulen

    Ahhhh 1974, I was an Executive Trainee at Saks Fifth Avenue and was placed in the Bra Dept as an Assistant Buyer….we sold THOUSANDS and thousands of Glossies: soft-cup, underwire, front-close (such a novelty!) strapless, matching bikini, hipster, brief…there was a bodysuit, a full-slip. The COLORS! Bras were still 90% white at the time, maybe 5% black and 5% beige….John Kloss (well, Lily of France Co.) brought in champagne and bronze and “Dusty Rose” and every season a new fashion color. My boss fought for (and got!) a window display….this was HUGE, there had never been a bra in a Fifth Avenue display window, for any fashion department store. Thanks for the memories!

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