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.
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
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