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
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