Architecture & Fashion: a look at two images from 1964 – 1965

 

Fig 1

Jardin des Modes (February 1964)

In the past as for today, the fashion press often served as a space for the meeting of architecture, bodies and dress, each element casting the other in a certain light for readers to absorb. The multitude of architectural projects that marked post-Second World War Paris, ranging from corporate skyscrapers to housing estates, provided ample spatial prospects for magazines. The Maison de la Radio, constructed between 1952 and 1963, with its striking modernist features, was an ideal setting for their presentation of both haute couture and prêt-à-porter, and the dramatic, functional values they espoused. The building housed France’s main television station, the government-controlled Radiodiffusion-télévision française (RTF), whose new reports propagated the structure’s centrality and modernity. In 1963, for example, one described the new construction as ‘a victory against dispersion, disorder, discomfort and the dust of old buildings’. Its concrete, aluminium and glass structure consisted of a tall tower block and round wing enveloped by a circular building. It was so recognisable that an editorial in the February 1964 issue of Jardin des Modes, which depicted models in ready-made garments inside and beside the structure, didn’t identify it. In one image, a model in a wool blazer and pleated skirt designed by Christiane Bailly for the newly created brand Déjac stood on its outer circular edge with a view of the city in the background. Her statuesque, aerial stance paralleled the shape and position of the tower, and illustrated how the aesthetic of buildings affected poses, gazes onto bodies, and fashion’s role in reinforcing this behaviour for a wide public.

Stills from ‘La Maison de la Radio’, Edition spéciale, ORTF (5 September 1963)

Stills from ‘La Maison de la Radio’, Edition spéciale, ORTF (5 September 1963)

Moving imagery also captured the parallel between bodies and buildings, as television sets increasingly featured in French homes in the 1960s, adding a visual element to news broadcasts. In one 1963 RTF televised report, the camera panned the structure from several angles, emphasising its round, corporeal structure, as though eying a body. This panoramic scrutiny was necessary, given the building’s complexity, which made it appear differently from every angle, and difficult to photograph entirely and clearly. In another RTF report from December 1963, its architect Henry Bernard compared the circular structure to a human body or face in that ‘everything grew from the inside.’ The building thus paralleled the centralisation of the city, whose arrondissements radiated from its midpoint, and the nation, with its political and cultural centre in Paris, as well as the way current events were dispersed from the Maison de la Radio to French citizens through television.

Fig 3

Stills from ‘La Maison de la Radio’, Edition spéciale, ORTF (5 September 1963)

Left to right: still from ‘La Maison de la Radio’ (5 September 1963) and Elle (2 September 1965)

Left to right: still from ‘La Maison de la Radio’ (5 September 1963) and Elle (2 September 1965)

An editorial in a September 1965 issue of Elle made the connection between space, the moving image and the experience of fashion. Its text explained how pictured models in their couture garments were ‘filmed’ in the Maison de la Radio, ‘the most important monument of modern architecture in Paris’. Accompanying photographs by Terence Donovan dramatised and likened the garments and structure, through lighting, and a focus on angular shapes and the texture or shine of materials. Likewise, the text described clothing and dressmaking in architectural and pictorial terms: ‘Modern art coats. Couturiers sculpt fabric, contrast materials, play with colour masses, cut graphically… and they construct a coat or a suit that the eye perceives in one shot in a perfectly balanced image’. In one, a model in a sculptural coat and skirt ensemble by Roberto Capucci was cloaked in shadow, an illuminated figure against dark, imposing asymmetrical shapes. Shot from the same viewpoint as a still from the above-mentioned news report, the structure loomed over and enveloped her. Authoritative, panoptic space served to contain its subject, and this was heightened for viewers through narrative, cinematic imagery. As opposed to the earlier Jardin des Modes photograph in which the model’s dressed body was a site of modernity and centrality, here garment and architecture were highlighted, while bodies faded into the background. The image presaged how, increasingly into the 1960s, the dream of modernist progress and social idealism attached to these spaces would fade, as they began to stand for the state’s authority, as Henri Lefebvre described: ‘The arrogant verticality of skyscrapers, and especially of public and state buildings, introduces a phallic or more precisely a phallocentric element into the visual realm; the purpose of this display, of this need to impress, is to convey an impression of authority to each spectator’. The fashion press dispersed this message, while shaping ways of seeing, and how individuals envisioned themselves in space.

Sources:

Jardin des Modes, February 1964.

Elle, 2 September 1965, 11.

Henry Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991 [1974]), 98.

“La Maison de la Radio’, Edition spéciale, ORTF, 5 September 1963, accessed from: https://www.ina.fr/video/CAF93073298.

‘Visite de la maison de la RTF’, RTF, 14 December 1963, accessed from: https://www.ina.fr/notice/voir/CAF96032435.