On March 21, Colleen Hill, curator of Paris Refashioned, 1957–1968, presented on the influence of popular culture on 1960s French fashion for The Museum at FIT’s Fashion Culture program series. Through an examination of style icons such as Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy, the 1966 Jean-Luc Godard film Masculin Féminin, and Elle magazine, Hill showed how the overlap between music, films, and media helped to shape the dynamic fashion industry during this era.
Yves Saint Laurent launched his ready-to-wear line and corresponding boutique, both called Rive Gauche, in 1966. Translating to “Left Bank,” the name Rive Gauche indicated the boutique’s location in relation to the Seine river, a part of Paris with a large student population that was known for its Bohemian sensibility. Rive Gauche centered strictly on mass-produced, ready-to-wear clothing, and as such, one might imagine that its offerings were designed to be affordable. Saint Laurent himself proclaimed that Rive Gauche fashions were designed for young women “from 15 to … still young at heart,” but his prices were in fact better suited to wealthier – and somewhat older – women.
This raincoat is one of the earliest Rive Gauche designs. It highlights the playful, vibrant aesthetic that characterized many 1960s creations for the label. Made from bright yellow vinyl with crocheted wool sleeves, it cost $90 U.S. dollars in 1966 (the equivalent of $675 in 2017). Saint Laurent intended his Rive Gauche designs to be more fun than luxurious – but, as the journalist Marilyn Bender wryly observed in her 1967 book The Beautiful People, “Like the goose that lays golden eggs, Saint Laurent has pretty expensive notions of fun.” Nevertheless, Rive Gauche was a great success. Saint Laurent’s designs for the label were widely covered by both the French and American fashion press, and he opened a New York boutique in 1968.
Gift of Ethel Scull
As little as ten years ago, the 1966 film Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? was a hard-to-find treasure. While I was in graduate school, one of my professors managed to turn up a copy, dubbed in Swedish with English subtitles (the film was originally in French, as you hear in this clip). We eagerly watched this witty satire of the 1960s fashion industry, which opens with a runway presentation of clothing made from sharp, shiny sheets of metal. After the models are dressed in garments that are literally bolted into place, they gingerly glide out to be viewed by the fashion press, who respond with such statements as “Brilliant! Uncomfortable, but what can you do?”
While Polly Maggoo is easier to find today, watching it is no less spectacular. It was the first feature film written and directed by William Klein, a notable photographer whose work for Vogue was selected for the cover of the Paris Refashioned publication. Klein’s firsthand knowledge of the fashion industry certainly helped him to craft his parody. The opening scene, in particular, recalls the introduction of Paco Rabanne’s first fashion collection, also from 1966, titled “Twelve Dresses in Unwearable Materials.” Rabanne crafted clothing from plastic discs bound with metal jump rings (a nod to his background in jewelry making), yet these avant-garde garments were infinitely more wearable than Polly Maggoo’s farcical metal sculpture dresses. In spite of its amusing exaggerations, the film offers a perceptive glimpse of changes to fashion during the 1960s, when even the basic means of constructing a garment – a needle and thread – was being challenged.
Donated in memory of Isabel Eberstadt
by her family
Donated in memory of Isabel Eberstadt
by her family
In 1964, Courrèges introduced his “Space Age” styles, which firmly placed him among the most forward-thinking of couturiers. While white, sculptural hats were integral to the head-to-toe look, Courrèges’s shiny white boots became one of his most popular and enduring designs. Made with a peep toe and cut-outs around the shin, the boots were fastened up the center back with Velcro. Relatively new to the commercial market, Velcro was also being used by NASA to anchor items inside its spaceships. It is clear that Courrèges directly connected his design to developments in space travel.
Gift of Ruth Sublette
Sonia Rykiel’s earliest designs were sold under the label “Laura,” the name a Left Bank boutique owned by the Rykiel family that had opened during the 1950s. Rykiel began designing for Laura early in the next decade, and her initial intention was to create a perfectly fitted sweater that would suit her slender figure. She sent the sample design back to her manufacturers in Italy several times, each time asking for it to be remade in a smaller size. The result was remarkably narrow, with high armholes, and it was cut short at the waist to give the illusion that the wearer had longer legs. Manufacturers were skeptical that the design would do well, but it quickly caught the attention of fashion editors. It became known as the “poor boy” sweater, and it is considered one of the most important designs of the 1960s.
Rykiel’s mastery of knit clothing earned her the nickname “The Queen of Knits.” The Museum at FIT has an impressive collection of her early designs, including this pantsuit made from double knit wool jersey. The jacket’s plush faux-fur trim belies what is otherwise an informal design: its loose fit, button-front closure, and patch pockets appear to take more inspiration from a casual cardigan than a traditional suit jacket. This design highlights Rykiel’s ethos that clothing should not be designed for a certain occasion or time of day—an idea that took root during the 1960s and continues to resonate today.
Gift of Mary Cantwell
The links between fashion and celebrity culture during the 1960s are most often associated with London, with stars such as the Beatles and Twiggy becoming international sensations. Yet there was a vibrant and influential youth culture in France as well. Film stars including Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve became fashion icons, as did singers such as Françoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan.
Brigitte Bardot’s impact on fashion was firmly established in 1959, when she married fellow actor Jacques Charrier in a full-skirted, pink gingham gown by Jacques Estérel. While the look of the dress itself was not innovative, the use of humble cotton fabric for a bridal gown flouted tradition. Only one month after her wedding, the New York Times reported, “You can’t buy a yard of checkered gingham in Paris, not even enough for kitchen curtains, since Brigitte picked the fabric for her wedding dress.”
Catherine Deneuve’s 1960s style was defined by her relationship with Yves Saint Laurent. She wore the designer’s clothing on- and off-screen, such as his original “le smoking” suit and a gown from his renowned “Pop Art” collection. She also owned some of Saint Laurent’s more subdued styles, including a navy wool pea coat with brass buttons from 1966. The Museum at FIT’s collection houses an example of this same design.
Françoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan were associated with a musical genre known as yé-yé, which took its name from English-language songs that included the words “yeah, yeah, yeah” – most famously, the Beatles song “She Loves You.”
Gift of Doris Strakosch
Similar to the way the term “mod” in England and the United States, yé-yé became used as a term to describe various aspects of French youth culture. Particular clothing styles were identified as yé-yé fashion, including trench coats, striped t-shirts, and flat, Mary Jane-style shoes. Two trench coats included in the Paris Refashioned exhibition – one from Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the other from André Courrèges’s ready-to-wear line, Couture Future – were selected to represent an aspect of the yé-yé style.
Right: trench coat by Couture Future (André Courrèges), circa 1968
Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2017 The Museum at FIT
A screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966 film Masculin féminin in July 2014 rekindled my love for 1960s French fashion, and eventually inspired me to organize Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968. Although I had watched the film numerous times, viewing it on a large screen at The Museum of the Moving Image, rather than a small home television, made a profound difference. I could suddenly catch many details that I had previously missed – including (most important to me) a better view of the fashions.
The film stars Chantal Goya, a real-life singer who was part of the yé-yé scene. In an instance of art imitating life, Goya plays Madeleine Zimmer, a young woman who is building her career as a pop singer. In my earlier viewings of the film, I had never paid close attention to Madeleine’s wardrobe. I was too intent on examining a different yé-yé singer: Françoise Hardy, who makes a notable cameo in a head-to-toe look by André Courrèges, including his famous white, peep-toe boots. Dating to spring 1964, the ensemble was very likely Hardy’s own (she frequently wore Courrèges’s fashions on- and offstage).
It was not until I began working on this project that I noticed something peculiar about one of Goya’s ensembles, a jacket with a boldly striped patch pocket and a scarf to match. Upon closer examination, it became clear that the pocket was emblazoned with the initial “C,” while the scarf featured a “G.” Months later, as I was flipping through an issue of Elle, I came upon the design in a color photograph. It was, quite shockingly, bright red with white stripes. Designed by Daniel Hechter, the style was sold at La Knack boutique for 360 francs (scarf included), where clients could purchase the garments with their own initials. Chantal Goya was evidently wearing clothing from her own closet for the film. It is probable that some of the film’s viewers recognized this ensemble, which was not only created by a prominent ready-to-wear designer and sold in a trendy boutique, but was also featured in the pages of a widely read fashion magazine. Further connecting the film’s plot to the vital French youth culture of its day, this research discovery deepened my appreciation for Godard’s poignant film.
Khanh began her career in the fashion world by modeling for Balenciaga, an experience that soured her opinion of the esteemed world of couture. “Balenciaga treated us like chairs and I think the fact that he couldn’t care less about us women reflects on the way he created dresses,” Khanh recalled. She launched her own line of ready-to-wear fashion after quitting Balenciaga in 1960, and soon became a fashion star in her own right.
Her regular inclusion in Elle magazine was perhaps to be expected, given its emphasis on fashion-forward ready-to-wear, but she was also a darling of Queen (then the trendiest fashion magazine in Britain), American Vogue, and Mademoiselle. The yellow-and-white dress that I selected as the “poster girl” for the Paris Refashioned exhibition dates to 1966. It was featured in Mademoiselle and was donated by one of the magazine’s editors. I use it as a way to introduce visitors to the newfound status of French ready-to-wear during this era.
Khanh’s clothing style during the 1960s featured a masterful blend of hard-edged geometry and softly curving lines that was manifestly her own. Her personal appearance was also distinctive, and already included the oversize glasses that she would popularize and market to millions of consumers (we can thank Emmanuelle Khanh for making good vision look chic). She was a true individual – a savvy designer and businesswoman who helped to shape the fashion industry as we know it today.
Gift of Sandy Horvitz
Gift of Mrs. Myrna Davis
Saint Laurent had previously experimented with color-blocking while he was working for the house of Christian Dior, but he was not the first designer to be inspired by Mondrian: several years earlier, the American milliner Sally Victor had created a series of hats that took their cue from his paintings. Nevertheless, Saint Laurent’s colorful, geometric dresses became some of his most famous – and copied – works. Saint Laurent himself licensed his design to Vogue patterns, and cheap, mass-manufactured imitations of the style proliferated during the 1960s, as evidenced by the fashions worn to promote the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado at the Detroit Auto Show that same year.
Gift of Igor Kamlukin from the Estate of Valentina Schlee
A “head to toe” look, including hats and shoes, was essential to 1950s couture. Roger Vivier’s ten-year collaboration with the house of Dior made history: not only was Vivier the first shoe designer to create footwear especially for couture collections, he was also the first to be openly credited for his work. His name was prominently featured alongside Dior’s in the press, in advertisements, and on the insoles of a line of ready-made shoes—an unprecedented move that placed a shoe designer and a couturier on equal ground. This immensely successful collaboration between designers remains a template for similar partnerships today.
Gift of Arthur Schwartz
René Mancini established his business in 1950, and specialized in custom-made shoes for prominent couturiers. He was one of several designers to produce footwear for Chanel, including her signature spectator pumps. He also made shoes for collections by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent. The stiletto heels that dominated the 1950s fell out of fashion during the next decade in favor of more practical and youthful styles.
Gift of Lauren Bacall