Glass reviews Paris Refashioned, 1957–1968 by Colleen Hill

WHILE London started to move centre-stage in youth fashion and culture by the start of the 60s, Paris had started to evolve beyond its couture roots into what we know as fashion today – with the emergence of ready to wear designs, taking influences from street culture, interpreted by style arbiters and showcased in popular press. This phenomenon is the subject of Colleen Hill’s recent book Paris Refashioned, 1957–1968 which accompanies a landmark exhibition of the same name at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. Hill is associate curator of accessories at the Museum at FIT.

Paris Refashioned_Paco RabannePaco Rabanne, dress, circa 1966, gift of Montgomery Ward

Both the book and the exhibition are ambitious in scope. The conclusion of the ‘50s marked the end of Saint Laurent’s short reign at Dior and around this time, a tremendous burst of boldness invigorated couture – with both Saint Laurent and Balenciaga shortening hemlines and producing some of their now classic work (Saint Laurent’s “trapeze” and Balenciaga’s “baby doll”) that heralded the less restrained ‘60s styles – much in the same vein as the chic, easy to wear looks that Coco Chanel had made her signature.

Paris Refashioned_4Pierre Cardin, evening dress, circa 1958, gift of Rodman A. Heeren. Evening dress of cream net embroidered with flowers of chartreuse floss/gilt thread/gilt sequins/crystal beads over nylon stiffening net and cream satin

These nascent styles led to the much bolder, dynamic looks that heralded the decade’s style – from Courreges (a Balenciaga protégé) and his groundbreaking clean, sculptured designs which, along with Pierre Cardin, eschewed the heavy formality of old glamour and instead heralded the Space Age looks of the decade (like Cardin’s famous Cosmos dress made famous by Lauren Bacall in the late ‘60s).

Paris Refashioned_3Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, raincoat, 1966, gift of Ethel Scull. Double breasted coat in bright
yellow vinyl plastic; open round neck with peter pan collar; plastic cuffs. Matching tie belt.

As the ‘60s gathered pace, the impact of pret-a-porter designers (called the stylistes ) whose on-the-pulse fashions eschewed the labour-intensive, traditional couture looks for modern fabrics and materials in precise, daring constructions became undeniable, with celebrities and films a part of this fashion revolution. Emanuelle Khanh,Paco Rabanne, Sonia Rykiel, Gaby Aghion of Chloe (who had Karl Lagerfeld for two decades as their designer) and Nina Ricci were the new guard with Cardin, Courreges and Saint Laurent creating pret-a-porter lines that allowed them to experiment alongside their also evolving couture ateliers. A stunning vinyl raincoat from Saint Laurent summed up the energy and inventiveness of the period (a black version was worn by Catherine Deneuve in the infamous 1967 film Belle De Jour).

Paris Refashioned_2Cristóbal Balenciaga, evening dress, 1968, gift of Mrs. Ephraim London, Mrs. Rowland Mindlin and Mrs. Walter Eytan. in memory of Mrs. M. Lincoln Schuster. (Picture part of the essay Balenciaga in the 1960s by Patricia Mears.)
Long two-tone evening tent dress in silk gazar with off-white collarless cap sleeve bodice, contrast black flared skirt, stitched along curved waistline, with CF black bow; curved scoop hem, short at front, floor length at back

Paris Refashioned_1Chanel, suit, fall 1959, gift of Mrs. Walter Eytan

Packed with stunning images – Betty Catroux striking a pose in the Rive Gauche boutique (for Vogue Paris) being one – the book is also a well-written snapshot of an riveting period in Parisian history – where youth, art, fashion and celebrity collided and led to the emergence of ‘Ye-Ye’ rock and roll girls synonymous with the nouvelle vague, trend-led boutiques a world apart from the old ateliers, and fashion magazines (like Elle) that successfully captured this new-found exuberance.

Paris Refashioned_book_coverParis Refashioned 1957 – 1968  by Colleen Hill. Cover picture: Ensemble by André Courrèges,
Vogue, March 1, 1965 © William Klein / Vogue / Condé Nast Publications, Inc.

The book and exhibition ends in 1968 – the year of the student riots in Paris, which was one of the few reasons Balenciaga felt it was time to close his couture house. At the same time, he had produced his final technical masterpiece – an ivory and black gazar evening dress with a sublimely sloped hemline. Meanwhile, his acolyte Courreges was opening his first pret-a-porter boutique in Manhattan. It was the sign of turbulent times – something that will resonate with every reader as we enter a most tumultuous of periods.

by Ethan Long

Paris Refashioned, 1957–1968 by Colleen Hill (Yale University Press) £35

The Exhibition Paris Refashioned, 1957 – 1968 is on from February 10 until April 15 2017, The Museum at FIT New York, Seventh Avenue at 27 Street NYC 10001-5992

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