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.