What would the 1960s be without André Courrèges? He is best known for his mod Space Age designs, but his story began in the 1940s. He studied civil engineering, but he wanted to be a painter. He enjoyed designing but he left before taking his exams. While he was in college, he started designing men’s suits for a local tailor.
In 1948, he left for Paris to design at the Jeanne Lafaurie Couture House. He worked there for 4 years, but he wanted to be able to construct the clothing.
In 1951 when he was 25, Balenciaga offered him a job where he spent a decade learning Balenciaga’s masterful construction and cutting techniques. Balenciaga made him his first assistant and he took charge of his salon in Madrid. While working for Balenciaga, he met his coworker Jacqueline Barrière, who he began calling Coqueline. She eventually became his wife, but not before they left the fashion house to set up their own Paris couture house in 1961. Balenciaga was supportive and offered financial assistance for the duo.
As women began careers and the Working Girl image was popularized, Courrèges introduced trousers for every occasion as part of his collection in 1963. For the time, this was very radical and new, and he was instrumental in making trousers that could be both formal and casual. He was dubbed the Trouser King.
He gave an interview in 1965 after his successful fifth show and said: ''I get my inspiration from simple, natural things. I don't like any form of artificiality, in people or life. I don't make clothes for women who lead an unreal, pampered life, but for girls who go shopping, run for buses, women who have jobs as well as being wives. My clothes aren't particularly feminine - I design for a world where women are often as successful as men, if not more successful.''
Courrèges’ iconic style hit the mainstream in 1965 with his January collection. This collection presented mini skirts, angular mini dresses, and pantsuits made from heavy fabrics. Cut outs and midriffs exposed, and most things worn without a bra were innovative designs not seen before. The clothing was mostly white and silver, and he had the models wear goggles, flat boots, and astronaut style helmets, instantly branding the style as Space Age.
Following his next collection, his designs became widely plagiarized and he decided to stop holding fashion shows. He would design for his individual customers, but in 1967 he launched his haute couture collection Couture Future. The collection was about making couture clothing more accessible. He produced fifteen different designs, in four to five sizes and then had them mass produced himself so they could be sold at a lower price.
He continued designing into the 1970s, with the “Hyperbole” collection that was mass produced. He also released a fragrance for women. In 1972 he designed the uniforms for the Munich Olympics, and in 1973 he launched a menswear line. In 1980 he began licensing his company, and a Japanese firm acquired a majority interest. He didn’t produce a collection in 1985 and this led to him losing his Haute Couture label the following year.
He died in 2016 at the age of 92. The label continued into the 90s and is under new creative direction today.
Paco Rabanne was born Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo in Pasaia, Spain in 1934. His mother was a chief seamstress at Balenciaga’s first couture house. In 1939 she moved the family to France after he opened his Paris house. In the 1950s, Rabanne was studying architecture and made money making fashion sketches for Dior and Givenchy, and shoe sketches for Charles Jourdan.
He began his career in fashion designing accessories for Givenchy, Dior and Balenciaga. He launched his first collection under his own name of 12 pieces in 1966, titled “Manifesto: Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials.”. This collection featured his first plastic dress. He revolutionized the fashion game by using new materials like molded plastic, metal and aluminum jersey. He also experimented with other materials like metal, paper, fiberglass and knitted fur. He also used leather to create garments with a chainmail construction.
Part of the inspiration for his designs was drawn from his belief that he had experienced past lives where he space-traveled to Earth eons ago. He would make these eccentric public statements, including that he had been a prostitute in the time of Louis XV, to have known Jesus in a previous life, and to have been murdered by Tutankhamun. He believed he was 75,000 years old. He would also have “predictions” and insisted that the Russian space station Mir would fall on Paris in 1999.
Despite all of these eccentricities, Rabanne shook up the fashion world with his shows, playing music during the runway walks which at the time was not done, and he casted models of colour for his shows which was also rarely seen at the time. His April 1966 collection featured cabaret stars modeling swimwear made of leather and rhodoïd discs, and was presented at the Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris. He was known as French fashion’s l’enfant terrible. He was a friend of Dalí’s, who once said “There are only two geniuses in Spain: me and Paco Rabanne.’ He dressed many of the stylish women of the time, including Brigitte Bardot, Françoise Hardy, Amanda Lear and Twiggy.
He launched a fragrance in 1968, and collaborated on costume designs for films such as Casino Royale, and Audrey Hepburn’s Two for the Road. His Space Age designs were unconventional and Chanel dubbed him “the metal worker”. He created the Rhodoid Plastic Disk Dress, which the house re-launched in 1996 as a DIY kit, which was housed in a suitcase. It contained 2 pliers, 1 Paco Rabanne label, 750 sequins, 1300 tiny metal rings and an instruction manual.
In 1989 for Barbie’s 30th year, Rabanne dressed the doll in a miniature version of one of his designs.
Through the 80s, Rabanne used materials like crinkled paper, aluminum strips, rough cotton towelling, Perspex, ostrich feathers and upholstery tassels. In the 90s, he was drawn to using softer man made fabrics.
He wrote the book Has the Countdown Begun? Through Darkness to Enlightenment, about his search for spiritual understanding in 1994, and in 2005 he put on a solo exhibition of artwork in Moscow. He continued to be creative director for his fashion house up until 1999.
Pietro Costante Cardin was born on July 7, 1922, near Venice, Italy where his parents were vacationing. He grew up in Saint-Étienne, France. At the age of 14, he became a clothier’s apprentice and learned the basics of fashion design and construction. He left home in 1939 at 17 to work for a tailor in Vichy in France. He made suits for women, and then during the war he joined the Red Cross.
In 1945, he moved to Paris and apprenticed for Madame Paquin after the war, and then for Madame Vionnet’s assistant Marcelle Chaumont. He went on to work for Sciaparelli. From 1946-1950 he designed coats and suits for Christian Dior. He had always been passionate about theatre and costume, and ended up designing costumes based on the sketches of Christian Bérard for the Jean Cocteau film Beauty and the Beast.
In 1950 Cardin began his own fashion house and presented his first haute couture collection in 1953, joining the Chambre Syndicale. This collection showed skirts above the knee for the first time, and saw him introduce Space Age clothing. Knitted white dresses were worn underneath geometric pieces of outerwear, like tubular capes.
In 1954, he opened a women’s boutique called Eve, and introduced the bubble dress, which would become his most iconic creation. In 1955 he introduced the barrel coat, with an oversized wool collar. In 1957, he opened a men’s boutique called Adam, and traveled to Japan to open a store, becoming the first designer to work with Japan. During the 1960s, he allowed his designs to be mass produced in China. He ended up setting up shops there in the 1970s. He embraced the international fashion markets, and in 1983 became the first French couturier to manufacture his designs in the Soviet Union under the Cardin label and opened a 10,000 sq ft showroom in Moscow as well.
In 1959, Cardin launched a ready-to-wear collection for the Printemps department store. He was the first couturier in Paris to do this, and it was frowned upon so much that he was expelled from the Chambre Syndicale. He wanted to democratize fashion so everyone would have access to fashionable clothing.
In 1960, his first men’s collection called “Cylinder” was launched, which included the famous Nehru collar suit. In 1966, The Beatles wore know-offs of this suit on the Ed Sullivan show. He also became the first designer to brand his logo on a variety of items, from clothing to skis, to playing cards.
By the late ‘60s, he was making trouser suits and maxi skirts, and is qutoed saying “The eye is ready for it, now that pants have been accepted”. He also ventured into automotive design and home furnishings. He presented a Simca in which he designed the interior of at the Paris auto show.
Cardin is one of the leaders of the Space Age in fashion. He looked to the future with a large imagination at what could be possible within clothing. He introduced new shapes like circles, triangles, ignoring the traditional way of dressing the female form. This makes him one of the first to usher in the idea of unisex fashion.
In 1985, he told the New York Times “I’m always inspired by something outside, not by the body itself. Clothing is meant to give the body shape, the way a glass gives shape to the water poured into it.” He is also quoted as saying “The dresses I prefer are those I invent for a life that does not yet exist.
Because of his futuristic designs, in 1969, NASA commissioned Cardin to create an interpretation of a spacesuit.
He was eventually reinstated to the Chambre, but he ended up resigning in 1966 and showed his collections in his own venue, the Espace Cardin, which opened in 1971. This space also helped to promote artistic talents in theatre, music, and other forms of art.
He contracted licenses for matches, sardine can labels, aprons, pickle jars and clothing by 1980. He established 500 sales outlets in France alone, and bought the Maxim’s company which sold luxury goods like foie gras and caviar. Cardin had no partners - he was the sole financier and business manager of all of his licensing. He said “I’ve always done what I wanted because I’ve never had a boss.”
Cardin continued designing up until his death in 2020, at the age of 98. He never stopped working and enjoyed his lavish lifestyle and successful business ventures. He will always be remembered for his innovations in design across all channels, never one to stifle his creativity and imagination.
An ode to the original Space babe Barbarella! Costumes designed by Jacques Fonteray.
Roger Vadim adapted Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella comic strip for the screen. Released in 1968, the sexually charged, over the top sci-fi movie starred Jane Fonda. The costumes were designed entirely by Fonteray, and the green shimmering bodysuit worn at the end of the film was inspired by Paco Rabanne’s use of plastic and metal pieces. The costumes consistently used plastic in strategic ways, playing with cut outs throughout the film. Silver was also heavily used, for her capes, cropped tops and bodysuits. The background characters costumes were made up of leather, vinyl, clear plastic, and chains, in silver and black with pops of colour for the women. Anita Pallenberg also has a few iconic looks as the Black Queen. What’s your favourite look from the film?