PARIS — Peggy Moffitt, the tireless keeper of Rudi Gernreich’s legacy, has found an appropriately avant-garde partner to relaunch his designs: Rei Kawakubo.

This September will see the retail debut of a Peggy Moffitt/Comme des Garçons label, with Kawakubo reinterpreting and producing anew a collection based on one of his most notorious styles: the topless swimsuit.

This confirms a report in these columns June 3 that Moffitt was near a deal, and concludes her 18-year quest to resurrect Gernreich’s designs. Moffitt has long held a trademark on Gernreich’s name, who died in 1985 at the age of 63.

“I just signed the contract and faxed it over five minutes ago,” Moffitt said Thursday morning from the Beverly Hills home she shares with photographer William Claxton, who is also named in the deal. “I’ve always respected Rei’saesthetic. Like Rudi, she’s an artist.”

Certainly Kawakubo has been a fan for ages. “His invention of the topless swimsuit in the early Sixties was incredibly avant-garde and so beautiful,” she said in a statement. “I have always had the greatest respect for the designs of Rudi Gernreich.”

Under the initial two-year deal, which is renewable, Kawakubo will have access to Gernreich’s vast archive under Moffitt and Claxton’s keep and, with Moffitt, will create a series of minicollections. Two are planned to be in stores next spring.

Milan retailer Carla Sozzani is the third party in the venture. Her store, 10 Corso Como, will distribute the Gernreich-inspired collection via a company called Deici Comme Ltd., a joint venture between the Japanese designer firm and her fashion-lifestyle emporium.

Sozzani called Gernreich “the father of unisex, modern fashion and street style, among many others. He brought fun and life to fashion. Making an exhibition and publishing a book on him, I realized I wished his spirit to continue. It is also about breaking the rules. Who better than Rei?”

Sozzani hosted a show of Gernreich’s fashions in her store-cum-gallery in 1998. It was at that time that Moffitt — who detests flying — went to Europe to meet with manufacturers about reviving Gernreich designs and first met Sozzani. “Last year I get a letter from Carla asking if I’m still in the mood,” Moffitt recalled. “She tells me Rei is interested. Well, of course I said yes.”Yet, it took another few months until Sozzani contacted Moffitt again. Three days after returning from opening an exhibition showcasing the Gernreich-Moffitt-Claxton collaboration at the Phoenix Art Museum in May, the two surviving partners met with Comme des Garçons representatives in their home, providing them with looks, ideas and stories about the designer. “We just fell in love with each other,” said Moffitt.

Adrian Joffe, managing director of Comme des Garçons in Paris, said the first collection of about 20 designs will bow this fall at its boutiques in New York, Paris, Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka as well as 10 Corso Como. It will also be offered to 10 to 15 specialty stores, with by-appointment sales commencing next week.

Joffe said he has not yet priced the line, nor completed his budgets and could not provide sales projections, but said: “I’m pretty confident we can get 15 stores for September, and we are open to increasing distribution later.”

As an introduction, Comme des Garçons will begin selling a T-shirt bearing Moffitt’s image for $120 in July.

As for Moffitt, who will work with her new partners to ensure her old friend’s spirit continues, the team couldn’t be better. “I don’t have any feeling that Rudi or I will be exploited. They definitely mean business. But it has nothing of the ‘quick buck’ feel to it.”

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