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
This raincoat is one of the earliest Rive Gauche designs. It highlights the playful, vibrant aesthetic that characterized many 1960s creations for the label. Made from bright yellow vinyl with crocheted wool sleeves, it cost $90 U.S. dollars in 1966 (the equivalent of $675 in 2017). Saint Laurent intended his Rive Gauche designs to be more fun than luxurious – but, as the journalist Marilyn Bender wryly observed in her 1967 book The Beautiful People, “Like the goose that lays golden eggs, Saint Laurent has pretty expensive notions of fun.” Nevertheless, Rive Gauche was a great success. Saint Laurent’s designs for the label were widely covered by both the French and American fashion press, and he opened a New York boutique in 1968.
Gift of Ethel Scull
Brigitte Bardot’s impact on fashion was firmly established in 1959, when she married fellow actor Jacques Charrier in a full-skirted, pink gingham gown by Jacques Estérel. While the look of the dress itself was not innovative, the use of humble cotton fabric for a bridal gown flouted tradition. Only one month after her wedding, the New York Times reported, “You can’t buy a yard of checkered gingham in Paris, not even enough for kitchen curtains, since Brigitte picked the fabric for her wedding dress.”
Catherine Deneuve’s 1960s style was defined by her relationship with Yves Saint Laurent. She wore the designer’s clothing on- and off-screen, such as his original “le smoking” suit and a gown from his renowned “Pop Art” collection. She also owned some of Saint Laurent’s more subdued styles, including a navy wool pea coat with brass buttons from 1966. The Museum at FIT’s collection houses an example of this same design.
Françoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan were associated with a musical genre known as yé-yé, which took its name from English-language songs that included the words “yeah, yeah, yeah” – most famously, the Beatles song “She Loves You.”
Gift of Doris Strakosch
Similar to the way the term “mod” in England and the United States, yé-yé became used as a term to describe various aspects of French youth culture. Particular clothing styles were identified as yé-yé fashion, including trench coats, striped t-shirts, and flat, Mary Jane-style shoes. Two trench coats included in the Paris Refashioned exhibition – one from Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the other from André Courrèges’s ready-to-wear line, Couture Future – were selected to represent an aspect of the yé-yé style.
Right: trench coat by Couture Future (André Courrèges), circa 1968
Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2017 The Museum at FIT
Saint Laurent had previously experimented with color-blocking while he was working for the house of Christian Dior, but he was not the first designer to be inspired by Mondrian: several years earlier, the American milliner Sally Victor had created a series of hats that took their cue from his paintings. Nevertheless, Saint Laurent’s colorful, geometric dresses became some of his most famous – and copied – works. Saint Laurent himself licensed his design to Vogue patterns, and cheap, mass-manufactured imitations of the style proliferated during the 1960s, as evidenced by the fashions worn to promote the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado at the Detroit Auto Show that same year.
Gift of Igor Kamlukin from the Estate of Valentina Schlee