Posts in the Fashion Films 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.

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.

Masculin féminin and French Youth Fashion

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.

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