There are a number of reasons I decided to conclude Paris Refashioned in 1968. One was a consideration of aesthetics: by this time, the hard-edged geometry of earlier designs was giving way to softer, more eclectic styles influenced by the hippie movement. Even more important, however, were changes to the fashion industry itself. Cristóbal Balenciaga, the reigning leader of Paris couture, closed his house in 1968, lamenting that it had become impossible to design true couture.
Although he was clearly frustrated, Balenciaga’s work from the 1960s is exceptional. A dress from The Museum at FIT, created just before Balenciaga’s retirement, provides an example of the canted hemline he refined over the course of the 1960s. When the wearer moved, the dress would swing to create a perfectly conical shape. When she stood still, the fabric fell into soft vertical folds. A video from the same period offers a glimpse of the designer’s stunning work in motion.
Gift of Mrs. Ephraim London, Mrs. Rowland Mindlin, and Mrs. Walter Eytan in Memory of Mrs. M. Lincoln Schuster
Philippe Guibourgé designed the Miss Dior clothing, which initially comprised sixty-eight styles of dresses, coats, and suits, in addition to a full range of separates and accessories. These designs were well-priced, resolutely practical, and casual: not a single formal evening dress was to be found. The House of Dior had purchased a factory in which the garments were made, ensuring that they were of better quality than many other ready-to-wear offerings being manufactured in France.
The pride that Dior took in its new venture is best evidenced by a shirtdress dating to 1967, also featured in Elle, made from red and blue silk emblazoned with the words “Miss Dior” in an allover pattern. This early example of branding speaks to the importance of a consumer’s ability to “buy in” to a luxury brand at relatively little cost – a concept that would become more fully developed during the next decade and beyond.
Gift of Mrs. Walter Eytan
Some of Ungaro’s most compelling creations were made in collaboration with textile designer Sonia Knapp. Although Knapp was an established textile designer, she had never made couture fabrics prior to working with Ungaro. She quickly rose to the challenge, and her colorful, fluid designs – which often conveyed her interest in Abstract Expressionism – were said to “wake Ungaro up.”
The soft lines of the fabric Knapp designed for this coat echo its curved lapels and rounded patch pockets, while simultaneously contrasting the coat’s hard-edged, A-line silhouette. The garment’s immaculate construction – best exemplified by the perfectly-matched fabric – demonstrates that there remained a place for couture craftsmanship within 1960s fashion. Yet Ungaro also understood the increasing importance of ready-to-wear: in 1967, he launched a readymade line called “Emanuel Ungaro Parallèle.” The label’s offerings allowed Ungaro to design in a relaxed and lighthearted matter.
(Fabric by Sonia Knapp)
Gift of Rodman A. Heeren
Several designs from Réal, including styles worn by Vartan, were also produced in the United States. There, they were adapted and marketed by the Seventh Avenue businessman Andrew Arkin, and sold under the name Mademoiselle Arlette. Fashion journalists praised the Mademoiselle Arlette designs for offering the yé-yé look to an American audience. The brand was featured regularly in Mademoiselle magazine, which was known for featuring the latest French-designed ready-to-wear.
This Mademoiselle Arlette dress was recently acquired by The Museum at FIT for inclusion in Paris Refashioned, and it exemplifies the label’s vibrant, girlish aesthetic. It is narrowly cut, with dimensions only scarcely wider through the hips than through the bust. This markedly underscores the slender, youthful body type for which it was intended.
At the encouragement of Maïme Arodin, editor of the influential fashion magazine Jardin des modes, Aghion relinquished her role as the label’s sole designer and began to recruit a number of new talents to carry Chloé forward. These designers included Christiane Bailly, Maxime de la Falaise, Graziella Fontana, Tan Giudicelli, Gérard Pipart, and Michèle Rosier. Of Aghion’s many successful hires, none gained more recognition than Karl Lagerfeld, who began working for the label in 1964. His sense of fantasy and exuberance, as well as his creative reinterpretations of historic styles, soon came to characterize the Chloé brand. His impact was such that he was frequently distinguished as the creator of a certain garment in a way that the other Chloé designers were not (the credit line “Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé” appeared in Vogue Paris as early as 1965).
Gift of Melanie Miller
This is Lagerfeld’s 1967 “Astoria” dress, which took inspiration from Thomas Malory’s book Le Morte d’Arthur, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley in 1893. The full-length, high-necked, and long-sleeved design stood out in a period of micro-mini, body-revealing styles, but Lagerfeld’s unique design sensibility is even more evident in the floral motifs hand-painted by Nicole Lefort. The expanse of ivory silk crepe used to make the dress acted as a canvas for an array of colorful, stylized flowers that swirl around the entire garment – so precisely rendered that they look screen-printed, rather than hand-painted. Chloé’s ready-to-wear revolution had truly come into its own.
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
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