by Shira Yavor
My Making History project is inspired by a black and white photograph of a model wearing a dress/raincoat with cutouts and a flower motif designed by André Courrèges (Note 1). This image included the caption: “André Courrèges, Dress, photographed by William Laxton, 1960s.” My research included examining garments from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. I also considered the prominent cultural and social forces of the sixties, since fashion captures shifts in culture, being a fugitive form of applied art (Garner 145). Part 1 will present my research. Part 2 will outline the process of remaking the garment.
André Courrèges was a French designer (1923-2016), and launched his fashion house in Paris in 1961. He has been described as the designer who best captured the space age (Garner 40). DuPont developed textiles which were used for moon suits, and these new materials inspired cosmic silhouettes and a new futuristic style. The space age can be compared to a child exploring parts of the world that are seen for the first time (Topham 156) and this aspect can be linked to Courrèges’ youthful designs.
Courrèges clothes were often made for childlike figures. Chanel compared his designs directly with childrenswear (Guillaume 16). Childrenswear definitely had an impact on womenswear, and the influences went both ways. 1960s costume for girls followed the styles that women were wearing. Girls’ dresses became less fitted, more A-line, and shorter. Pants became suitable for girls to wear at school and not only for play in the late 1960s, when pantsuits became more acceptable for women (Tortora, Eubank 574).
Courrèges designed two lower priced lines directed at a younger market: Couture Future, targeted towards 30-40 year olds for 1/3rd of couture prices and Hyperbole, a less expensive line for 20 year olds, available for approximately 1/5th of couture prices (Lynam 203).
In the 1960s, the younger generation was looking for something new and shocking in fashion, and the miniskirt fulfilled that need (Garner 145-147). While Courrèges took credit for the miniskirt, Mary Quant said “the girls in the street” were the ones who wanted this style, so neither designer can really take full credit for it (Lynam 198). The look Courrèges wanted to create emphasized freedom, from the silhouette to the styling. Courrèges saw the body as “a whole”, and therefore did not want to separate the upper and lower body with a waistline (Guillaume 7). Instead he made clothes that floated over the body. The garments Courrèges created were “easy to wear” (Guillaume 4). He, like his contemporaries, Paco Rabanne and Mary Quant, sometimes incorporated industrial materials such as Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Velcro ® and various plastics into designs. Courrèges said: “At first vinyl used to crack” (Guillaume 15). Mary Quant also initially struggled when working with PVC, since the material would stick to the sewing foot and the seams were weak (Handley 106).
To better understand the construction of Courrèges’ garments, I visited the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and examined two Courrèges Paris pantsuits, both of orange knit to study how these garments were constructed and finished.
In the first example, the Courrèges pantsuit consisted of a zippered jacket and matching bell bottom pants with cuffs (FRC2013.02.009 A+B). The seams on this acrylic pantsuit are all sewn and topstitched, except for the pant cuff. Finishing details show that this is high quality garment, for instance the shoulder area is fused from the inside. A small snap closure holds the top of the jacket in place, in addition to the zipper. The garment is highly functional, all of the pockets are real and the garment is lined in a similar orange shade. The polyamide lining is hand stitched with corresponding coloured thread on the pants, and transparent nylon thread on the jacket. Although this garment is from the Hyperbole line, which a cheaper ready to wear lines, functionality, high end finishing and comfort were still considered.
The second orange pant suit (FRC2014.07.587 A+B) is also from the Hyperbole line. Made of orange knit, the pants are surprisingly unlined since the wool, cotton, acrylic blended material is less comfortable to touch. The jacket is lined with 100% acetate and has fake flap pockets, less functional than the first jacket. The vinyl details are in quite poor condition today, peeling off, and according to dress historian curator Ingrid Mida are reflective of the instability of these early plastics. The pants have a zipper that is stitched in by hand.
Although both pantsuits are from the lower priced Hyperbole line, they both featured the famous white snaps and Courrèges initials logo. As well, they both had many fine finishing details using a combination of hand sewing and machine stitching. In recreating the dress in the photo, I used this information to guide my remaking.
In Part II, I will present my remaking of the Courrèges raincoat/dress.
This post was condensed and edited by Ingrid Mida, Curator and Dress Historian, FRC Collection Co-ordinator.
Note 1: When referencing Courrèges throughout the project I am referring to the designer himself and his wife as spokespeople of the brand. Although the image of Andres Courrèges stands in front of the brand, his wife and creative partner Coqueline was said to have done much of the casting and design work (Lynam 197).
Crane, Diana. “Globalization, Organizational Size, and Innovation in the French Luxury Fashion Industry: Production of Culture Theory Revisited.” Poetics, 24, 1997. Pp 393-414. Science Direct. Web. Accessed 9 Nov. 2016.
Guillaume, Valérie. Courrèges (Fashion Memoir). London: Thames & Hudson, 1998. Print.
Lynam, Ruth. Couture: An Illustrated History of the Great Paris Designers and Their Creations. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972. Print.
Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. Print.
Tortora, Phyllis G, and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress. New York, NY: Fairchild Publications, 2009. Print.
Shira Yavor is a third year Ryerson Fashion Design student. This Making History project was undertaken in Fall 2016 for a Costume History assignment.