Posts in the Fashion Designers category

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.

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.
Emmanuelle Khanh passed away on February 17, 2017, at age 79. That same day, I had conducted a video interview with the fashion scholar Alexis Romano, an expert on Khanh and the French ready-to-wear industry. Alexis and I discussed Khanh’s importance to fashion, and her inclusion in the Paris Refashioned exhibition and book. We were both devastated to learn of the death of this vibrant, outspoken, and talented woman.

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.
Emmanuelle Khanh for ID dress
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.

Emmanuelle Khanh for ID dress
Gift of Sandy Horvitz
Emmanuelle Khanh bag
Circa 1966
Gift of Mrs. Myrna Davis
Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

Emmanuelle Khanh bag