Balenciaga evening gownThere 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.

Balenciaga evening gown
Gift of Mrs. Ephraim London, Mrs. Rowland Mindlin, and Mrs. Walter Eytan in Memory of Mrs. M. Lincoln Schuster

Many other designers – including Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges, Yves Saint Laurent, and Emanuel Ungaro, among others – had not abandoned couture, yet they understood that ready-to-wear was the future of fashion. Each of these designers had launched ready-to-wear labels by 1968, and it was largely those offerings that allowed their businesses to thrive. While couture collections continue to fascinate lovers of fashion, the current number of couture clients worldwide is estimated at less than 2,000. High-end ready-to-wear labels – based in Paris and abroad – dominate fashion, and prove that the changes to the industry highlighted in Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 continue to resonate.

Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.
The House of Dior launched a successful boutique line 1947, and although its offerings were much more accessible than couture, they were by no means inexpensive. In order to reach a wider audience, in 1967 the company opened a new, lower-priced boutique called Miss Dior. The store’s opening was hinted at in Women’s Wear Daily two years earlier, when Thelma Sweetinburgh reported, “There are plans ahead for the House of Dior to dress ‘Les Jeunes Filles’ in a special ground floor boutique.”

Miss Dior dress-2
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.

Miss Dior dress
(Philippe Guibourgé)
Gift of Mrs. Walter Eytan
Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.
Emanuel Ungaro coatEmanuel Ungaro worked for Cristóbal Balenciaga and André Courrèges before starting his own label in 1965. Women’s Wear Daily was first to report on the new couture house, later providing the designer’s contact information to French and British journalists. The newspaper emphatically stated that although Ungaro was designing couture, he was certain to “defy labels,” and speculated that he would be “the force to cement the weaker forces tearing Paris apart.”

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.”

Emanuel Ungaro coat-detail
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.

Emanuel Ungaro coat
(Fabric by Sonia Knapp)
Gift of Rodman A. Heeren
Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.
Mademoiselle Arlette dressMademoiselle Arlette clothing was designed by Arlette Nastat, co-owner of and designer for Réal, a high-end Paris boutique. Réal opened on Paris’s rue Saint Honoré in 1957, and, much like Mary Quant’s London shop Bazaar, the styles were designed for young women who had difficulty finding clothing that appealed to their tastes. Nastat was a mere nineteen years old when Réal opened, and the boutique soon boasted an impressive celebrity clientele that included Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Denueve, and Sylvie Vartan. Thanks to its association with French pop singers, Réal also became known as the quintessential yé-yé boutique. Réal’s importance was such that its fashions were featured in the pages of Elle alongside couture creations by venerable labels such as Cardin, Courrèges, Dior, and Lanvin.

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.

Mademoiselle Arlette dress
Ca. 1966
Museum purchase

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.

Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.
Chloé by Karl LagerfeldGaby Aghion founded the label Chloé shortly after she arrived in Paris in 1952. Aghion’s goal was to provide women with clothing that was easily accessible and modern, yet of a much higher quality than typical French ready-to-wear fashion. Aghion’s designs were sold off-the-rack at several boutiques that she herself frequented, but a seamstress trained in haute couture techniques had made them, ensuring that the garments were high quality.

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).

Chloé by Karl Lagerfeld, “Astoria” dress
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.

Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

Fashion and Celebrity in 1960s France

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.

A recording of this presentation will be made available on The Museum at FIT’s YouTube channel. See photos from the event below and on the museum’s Flickr page.

Fashion and Celebrity in 1960s FranceFashion and Celebrity in 1960s FranceFashion and Celebrity in 1960s FranceFashion and Celebrity in 1960s FranceFashion and Celebrity in 1960s France

Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Vinyl Raincoat

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.

Saint Laurent Rive Gauche raincoat
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.

Saint Laurent Rive Gauche raincoat
Fall 1966
Gift of Ethel Scull
Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?

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.

Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.
André Courrèges hat

Courrèges’s designs for accessories were as significant as his garments. The importance of accessories can be traced to his traditional couture training, and specifically to his work under Cristóbal Balenciaga. The unusual, sculptural silhouettes that Balenciaga perfected were enhanced by hats designed to complement and enliven each garment. Courrèges crafted his own hats to similar effect.

The Museum at FIT is fortunate to have a collection of early Courrèges hats worn by fashion arbiter. One example, dating to 1962, is relatively conservative in spite of its use of bright violet leather. It features a shallow brim and a narrow band that ends in a slightly abstracted bow at the center back; its only unusual feature is a crown that slopes slightly upward toward the back of the head.
André Courrèges hat
Donated in memory of Isabel Eberstadt
by her family

André Courrèges hat

Dating to one year later, a hat made from white leather hints at some of the couturier’s more eccentric styles to come. A visor-style brim, accented with a center front bow, is attached to a large, rounded crown that bubbles up and over the head. This style was shown with a simple shift dress in a 1963 issue of L’Officiel. The caption described the dress as made from white jersey, cinched by a suede brown belt, “exquisitely elegant in its sobriety.”
André Courrèges hat
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.

André Courrèges boots

André Courrèges boots
Gift of Ruth Sublette
Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

Sonia Rykiel: The Queen of Knits

Laura (Sonia Rykiel) pantsuitSonia 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.

Laura (Sonia Rykiel) pantsuit
Gift of Mary Cantwell

Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.