Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Gazette du Bon Ton

We are less than a month away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


From 1912-1915 and 1919-1925, fashion and art met on the pages of Gazette du Bon Ton. This French publication entertained upper-class consumers with elaborately illustrated articles and sumptuous fashion plates. Though the First World War loomed on the horizon, the stories in this issue from March 1914 showed no signs of global tension. From an article detailing exotic pearl-net masquerade masks to a list of elites vacationing at the French Riviera, the authors of Gazette du Bon Ton created a world ruled by novelty and luxury.

Stimpl, ‘Riviera… Riviera…” in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Each issue included a set of ten plates with couture fashions by houses like Doucet, Lanvin, and Worth. Two plates from this issue feature designs by masters of 1910s couture: Paquin and Paul Poiret. In ‘La fontaine de coquillages’, George Barbier set an evening gown by Paquin against a luscious blue courtyard and classical fountain. Pearl embellishments on the turquoise velvet and grey tulle dress mimic shells, which Barbier echoes in white on hanging shell clusters. A shell in the figure’s hand catches water from the fountain, merging the background and foreground. In comparison, Simone A. Puget’s illustration for ‘Salomé’, an evening gown by Paul Poiret, is striking in its simplicity. By placing the figure on a plain black base, the artist focuses attention on the dress. The design speaks to the sensuality of the legendary Salomé, as fishnet stockings emerge from beneath the diagonal skirt hem and the figure’s nipples, colored the same red as her lips and nails, peek through the swirled, off-the-shoulder bodice.

George Barbier, ‘La fontaine de coquillages’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Simone A. Puget, ‘Salome’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Every turn of the page in Gazette du Bon Ton offers a new feast for the eyes. At just 25cm x 7cm it is very easy to hold, though the heavy paper prevents the issue from feeling flimsy. With at least one color illustration in the pochoir technique on every page, the magazine presents itself as something to be slowly cherished. The difference in style of the vivid ‘La fontaine de coquillages’ and stark ‘Salomé’ plates exemplify how artistic variety creates the tantalizing feeling of ‘What’s next?,’ urging the reader to turn the page. This sumptuous array of visual delights did not come cheap: the price of a yearly subscription was 100 francs, or more than 400 pounds today!

Artists sometimes used striking metallic paint to enliven their illustrations. Here is one illustration of dancer Armen Ohanian viewed straight on and at an angle. Valentine Gross, ‘Armène Ohanian’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Gazette du Bon Ton invites haptic interaction as well. The metallic paint used on some illustrations, for example, requires the reader to tilt the page to get the full effect. Should the reader give into temptation and run a finger over the fashion plates, they may feel more than just the horizontal ridges of the thick paper. In ‘Salomé’, the outline of the figure and the dots on the skirt are debossed. Contact with the flat surface of the page brings the gown to life, but also acts as a tangible barrier to the beautiful world displayed in the plates. That space of breathtaking couture fashion, endless luxury, and carefree joy exists only between the covers of Gazette du Bon Ton.

Problems Regarding Evolution & French Fashion Exhibitions

A 1951 article in French Elle by journalist (and first Minister of Women’s Affairs in 1974) Françoise Giroud on the state of French haute couture exposed wider narratives of the country’s postwar reconstruction, cultural heritage and notions of femininity. The subject of the article was the apparent collapse of the industry, illustrated by the closure of fourteen houses since 1947. After discussing the cause of this decline, due in part to price increases and competition from foreign industries, Giroud asked whether the country should even attempt to save haute couture production, which she claimed had become increasingly irrelevant “psychologically” in relation to women’s lives. She reasoned that postwar consumers spent less on clothing and more on home appliances, automobiles and travel. Such “distractions and comforts,” Giroud wrote, began to “outweigh pure vanity.” This shift also indicated a “general evolution of women,” defined by the “disappearance of the doll-woman [who is] uniquely preoccupied by her hats and dresses.” Giroud’s description of women’s growing diversity and agency, unsurprising in the years following their 1944 suffrage, echoed wider fashion industry discourses, as I’ve learned through my doctoral studies at the Courtauld on readymade clothing and women’s lives in France from the 1940s to the 1960s. Yet the evolution that Giroud noted was not simple and linear; rather, femininity during the country’s postwar reconstruction was characterised by contradiction, drawing on older ideals alongside aims of autonomy.

Fig 1

A different type of “evolution” was explored in an exhibition held at Paris’ Palais Galliera in late 2014, and in 2015 at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao exhibition, The 50s: Fashion in France 1947-1957. According to the museums’ websites, the exhibition sought to “retrace the evolution of the female form” throughout this period. It presented and grouped garments in sections on silhouettes and clothing categories (i.e. cocktail and evening dresses), displayed monotonously in rows of identical mannequins, and sub-grouped by couturier, such as Jacques Heim and Cristóbal Balenciaga. Predictably, the star of the show was Christian Dior, evidenced firstly in the exhibition dates, 1947-1957, which demarcated the launch of his house and his death. Despite the exhibition’s focus on silhouette and dress, its content, mode of display and text centred around producers and their fashioned bodies, eliminating all reference to wearers’ subjectivity and various narratives, and denying them agency.

Fig 2

The curators’ chosen narrative, namely the fall and rise of postwar Paris couture, held similarities to that of Giroud in 1951. Conversely, the terms of their conversation were reductive and positivist, and sought to demonstrate the dominance of French fashion in the 1950s, as well as forge a link to notions of French cultural authority today. The website outlined these terms, claiming, “In the 1950s, Paris was reborn as the international capital of fashion,” as well as attributed the cause of couture’s success to couturiers, who “contributed to the enduring legacy of French fashion, synonym of luxury, elegance and creativity, and to the success of ready-to-wear fashion.” Likewise, the simplistic exhibition abstained from contextualising the garments or health of the industry in political, economic or social frameworks. Further, despite the website’s mention of ready-to-wear, the exhibition did not present this production other than in a marginal section on anonymous beachwear.

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As my research has shown, readymade (confectionrobe de série, or prêt-à-porter) brands were an important feature of the 1950s French fashion industry, as well as a perceived threat to haute couture. Giroud alluded to this as she noted both couture’s irrelevance and its uniqueness, with its irreplaceable and time-honoured handwork and its originality, in “the century of the machine and industrial production.” She characterised couture as an art and a tradition worth saving especially as it underscored the health and dominance of the nation, being “one of the most vibrant, glorious expressions of our national genius, at the same level of painting or music.” However, in addition to her fear of change and loss, her text illustrated a willingness to move forward, an incongruity that can be applied to shifting national and feminine identities in the 1950s. She thus proposed that couture “transform [and] adapt to new times,” by refashioning itself after ready-made production, which “corresponds more and more to the lifestyle of women of our time.” Although her above phrase hides a wealth of complexity regarding the various experiences of women, it is a point of departure for understanding them via their experience of dress. The Palais Galliera, under the relatively new direction of Olivier Saillard, failed to draw out wider themes in its exploration of fashion and “female form”, which ended at the dressed mannequins on display, symbols of limitation, preventing potential narratives of wearers and avenues of research. Although the catalogue offered an assortment of analytical articles, the exhibition propagated accepted narratives and, dangerously, confused scholarship with connoisseurship.

 

Sources:

Françoise Giroud, “Où en est la Haute-Couture française,” Elle, 23 November 1951, 22-23, 39.

http://www.palaisgalliera.paris.fr/en/exhibitions/50s

https://www.museobilbao.com/in/exposiciones/the-50s-fashion-in-france-1947-1957-231

Elle c’est Vous: Some Comments on French Fashion and Art in the 1960s

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In the first issue of Paris-based art journal Opus International, published in April 1967, editors declared they would not recognise boundaries between forms of creation, and instead encouraged exchanges of methods and materials between practitioners from varied fields. They took painting as an example, which they argued could no longer be conceived “without reference to cinema, to publicity, to novels, to photography, to language.” This fluid approach resonated with artistic production and theory of the period. One vociferous commentator was art critic Pierre Restany (1930-2003), who encouraged artistic engagement with quotidian life and consumer society when he founded Nouveau Réalisme in 1960. He proposed that this movement act as an extension of Dada, and more particularly, build on Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. He theorised that the appropriation of everyday objects and visual culture could be the only valid means of artistic expression, in a society newly marked as it was by an urban, industrialised consumer landscape. “In the current context,” as Restany wrote in the group’s 1961 manifesto, “Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades […] take on new sense.” Through this appropriation or “artistic baptism of the everyday object,” the object or material would assume a second, symbolic meaning. Moreover, Restany argued that it would give voice to “an entire organic sector of modern activity, that of the city, the street, the factory, serial production.” As Jill Carrick has recently written, Nouveau Réaliste artists, such as Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, and Arman, engaged with everyday imagery and often “restag[ed] commodity spectacle” in their direct presentations of commercial objects or representations of shop windows. Fashion production and consumption, with its ties to the “modern activity” described above, was thus directly implicated in these artistic inquiries.

These developments paralleled perceptible changes in French fashion, in terms of a continuously expanding ready-to-wear industry, following large-scale industry efforts to improve production and increase dissemination from the post-war period. In turn, there were many more opportunities for designers and brands in the 1960s, such as Daniel Hechter (b. 1938) and Pierre d’Alby, respectively, who were diffused into the public sphere in magazine editorials and retail spaces. From the late 1950s and increasingly into the 1960s, fashion consultants, including Maïmé Arnodin (1916-2003), established agencies, bureaux de style, and acted as intermediaries between different industrial players, such as manufacturers, designers and retailers, to implement design trends. They also played the role of design reformer, and their comments connected fashion to wider social currents. In 1967, for example, Arnodin claimed that good design “is a manner of being, living, thinking that translates into clothing.”

Elements of the visual culture of fashion are perceptible in Martial Raysse’ (b. 1936) painted photograph “Snack” from 1964. Here, Raysse applied paper flowers, plastic birds and a neon sign to a photographic image of three fashion mannequins or models. The addition of these elements into a traditional, bucolic landscape called to mind Restany’s vision of a symbolic urban, industrial environment. This “nature,” relied on artifice and, according to Restany, “deploy[ed] sumptuous riches, his pearls of neon, luxury of his cities, the radiance of his sun, the domesticated blue of his sky and sea.” Saturated and fluorescent colour, according to Restany, was part of Raysse’s construction of “an organised reality, created by men for their use and in their image.” Monumental, artificial women who inhabited space suggested that vision and experience were intertwined. And perhaps female viewers of the painting, thus, recognised prevalent imagery as well as a new means of viewing themselves in a boundary-less tableau.

Sources:

Opus International, no. 1, April 1967, 5.

“Maïmé Arnodin: Le style et l’industrie française,” Dépêche Mode, October 1967, 20.

Jill Carrick, Nouveau Réalisme, 1960s France, and the Neo-avant-garde: Topographies of Chance and Return. Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010, 68.

Pierre Restany, “A quarante degrés au-dessus de dada,” in Le nouveau réalisme. Paris: Transédition, 2007 [May 1961], 59-60, 172.

Image of painting also available here.

Shaping Prêt-à-Porter in the Fourth Republic (1946-58): The Paris/New York Dialogue

The following is an excerpt from a paper I presented last month at Fashion: the 84th Anglo-American Conference of Historians, held at London’s Institute of Historical Research. It was included in a panel on “Collaborations, Conversations and Peer Relationships in Fashion,” which featured individual papers by the four co-founders of the Fashion Research Network that drew on their doctoral research. Each pair of papers fell under one sub-theme, and was followed by a conversation between the authors, in both cases, a researcher in historical dress and a researcher  in contemporary fashion practice, around the evolution of collaboration in that topic. My paper, which explored the dialogue between the Paris and New York fashion industries during the Fourth Republic, preceded one that discussed contemporary global fashion capitals. The ensuing conversation, an interdisciplinary collaboration itself, demonstrated the methodology behind the session.

The autumn 1953 issue of the trade publication Cahiers de l’industrie du vêtement féminin reported on an important fashion industry event: the presentation of the winter collections of Les Trois Hirondelles to American buyers at New York’s lavish Waldorf Astoria hotel. This was a shared label of the French ready-made clothing brands in the Association of Maisons de Couture en Gros, which, from its establishment in the 1940s, was the focus of trade and government efforts to shape the national industry. The occasion attested to the growing dialogue between the French and American ready-made clothing industries since the end of the Second World War and, as the journal sought to indicate, marked an achievement for the French. Indeed, the country had been striving to modernise and compete on the international market, following the examples of their American and other foreign counterparts, since before the war. After the Liberation these goals were heightened in view of France’s weakened couture and ready-made clothing trades, as well as its newfound competition from the American sportswear industry. It was not surprising that the Cahiers, voice of the main trade organisation for ready-made clothing, recounted the events in New York. That a high fashion magazine should document this industrial happening was, however, exceptional: the brands’ New York visit was the focus of an editorial in the September 1953 issue of French Vogue.

The editorial, which featured photographs by Henry Clarke, made a new crucial connection that accompanied the commercial success of the French brands: that of French ready-to-wear to New York’s modernity. Clarke photographed American models, dressed in Trois Hirdondelles clothing, against New York’s iconic spaces such as Times Square and, according to the text, “in view of the Statue of Liberty, in front of Manhattan’s skyscrapers” or “in the shade of newly-built buildings: the ‘Lever building,’ the ‘United Nations’ currently being finished.” Marshall Berman has written that much of New York’s construction in the twentieth century served as performative symbols of modernity, “to demonstrate to the whole world what modern men can build and how modern life can be imagined and lived.” Over time, these structures transformed New York into a “forest of symbols.” The New York City of the 1950s was one of perpetual, large-scale construction, the result of Robert Moses’ ambitious plan for the city’s reconstruction in the 1950s and 1960s. Likewise, in Berman’s “forest,” “axes and bulldozers are always at work, and great works constantly crashing down […] where new meanings are forever springing up with, and falling down from, the constructed trees.” Text and imagery gave magazine readers the impression of constant and modern construction, bolstering Europeans’ widespread characterisation of New York as a powerful political and economic force. Vogue’s imagery was the ideal means to temper fears of Americanisation, and, through fashion, include France in a modern, progressive narrative. Readers could insert themselves into the symbolism of modern life, as Berman described, as it was filtered through to the magazine.

In one photograph a model wore a beige corduroy dress and jacket by Lempereur at the very forefront of the composition. At once towering over the reader, and in the shadow of a modern skyscraper, the United Nations Secretariat building, the image made a statement of epic proportion. The statuesque model mirrored the structure in the background and, with map in hand, surveyed her domain. The image visualised Berman’s notion of cyclical modernity; the newness of the building was reinforced by older structures in other photographs, the surrounding debris evoked destruction, and the empty space foretold the next, more modern construction. Likewise, Les Trois Hirondelles stood for a type of ready-made dress that would disappear at the end of the decade in view of the emergence of new labels, economic systems and political regimes.

Further, the United Nations building, built between 1948 and 1952, could be seen to symbolise international harmony and renewed ties between France and the United States. Founded in 1945 following the Second World War, the United Nations replaced the failed League of Nations, in order to provide a platform for international dialogue. And, perhaps to France’s chagrin, the building represented, not only the new inclusion of the United States in international politics, but its physical leadership. Still, Les Trois Hirondelles provided a means for manufacturers to participate in a sort of cross-cultural exchange. Through this trip to New York, they could confirm the continued dominance of French fashion, which, in turn, bolstered the government’s own projects of reconstruction and modernisation.

Sources:

“Les ‘Hirondelles’ visitent New York,” Vogue, September 1953, 128.

Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, New York: Penguin, 1988 [1982], 288-9.

Paul Poiret, En Habillant l’époque (1930)

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Poiret photograph of marbling
Poiret photograph of mannequin

Summary 

Paul Poiret’s memoirs ‘En Habillant l’époque,’ which literally translates as ‘Dressing the Age,’ were written in 1930, almost two decades after the height of his fame. At the end of his manuscript, Poiret wrote that though he continually felt ideas for new dresses germinating ‘under his skin,’ his glory days had passed. Poiret traced his fascination with dress to his childhood family. He dedicated his memoirs to his mother, who he considered supremely elegant, and described how his sisters gave him a forty-centimetre wooden mannequin, which he lovingly draped in silks, in both Parisian and Oriental styles.

Poiret cast himself as an artist-designer, whose vision of femininity radically differed from that of the early 1900s fashion he encountered during his tenure at the couturiers Doucet and Worth. He claimed that he waged war on corsets, which had divided women’s bodies into two distinct peaks, comprising the neck and breasts on one side, and the hips and buttocks on the other. However, he recalled how his more holistic outfits, with their narrow hobble skirts, made women cry, gnash their teeth, and complain that they could not walk, or get in and out of a car easily. Overall, however, Poiret regarded his relationship with women as mutually beneficial. He likened the women he dressed to orbiting planets, who relied upon ‘his sun’ to shine; but simultaneously considered that his favourite mannequin Paulette, a ‘vaporous’ blonde, with the cylindrical shape of a cigarette, was a true collaborator, because she brought his designs to life.

Response 

Poiret considered that his primary innovation in fashion was relinquishing the etherealized palette of rose, lilac, powder-blue, maize-yellow and white that had dominated French women’s clothing from the eighteenth century, in favour of opaque, Fauvist tones, including royal blue, strong greens, reds and violets and acidic orange and lemon hues that made women’s silhouettes ‘sing.’ Poiret’s incorporation of these bold hues, alongside Orientalising components, such as the Minaret ensemble of 1911, which featured turbans and hip-skimming lampshade tunics, alongside harem pants, introduced an expressive, if still decorative, vision of womanhood. Rather than blending into the background in pastel tones, the women he dressed would stand out for their exoticism. A photo-plate from Poiret’s Arabian Nights-themed party, the 1002nd Night, of 1911, shows non-Western attitudes to the body, as guests of both sexes in turbans, belted kaftans and variations upon the Minaret outfit, crouch or sit cross-legged upon a Persian rug. Extravagant feathers, which emerge from the guests’ turbans, contribute a festive and frivolous air to proceedings.

Still, the photograph’s grainy, cinematic greyscale imbues the image with a nostalgic air. One gets the impression that the colour and vibrancy of the original party resonated with memories of a vanished world. Interestingly, Poiret wrote that after his experimentation in the early 1910s, colours in fashion became ‘anemic and neurasthenic’ once more. Poiret’s memoirs, with their slate-blue leather skin, blue-marbled inside cover, and black and white photographic inserts, did not only reflect the colouristic limitations of publishing in 1930, but express their distance from the Orientalism that made the author’s reputation.

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‘Maroc: Land of Wonders’….French Elle visits Morocco, 20 April 1953.

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My colleague Alexis passed on an interesting Moroccan-themed photoshoot that was published in French Elle in 1953, 3 years before Morocco received independence from the French colonial administration that was in place from 1912 to 1956. It featured “3 women and 60 dresses” in Morocco, the “Land of Wonders”. An interesting double-page spread titled “SOUKS” comprised of one large photograph of a model, Suzy, on the right, which took up two-thirds of the spread, and six smaller numbered snapshots of all three models, Suzy, Taina and Françoise, presented in a grid-like formation on the left, above a block of text that detailed their elegant French fashions (Balmain, Lanvin-Castillo, M. de Rauch, Jacques Fath and Dior) and activities in the souk.

Suzy, Taina and Françoise try on djellabahs (a short or longer-sleeved outer garment with a hood and slits at the bottom), barter with Arab merchants, pose by the drinking trough (where “beasts and people meet”), take morning walks, stop by each stall to admire luxurious fabrics, get pursued by small children, and finger freshly dyed wool piles, all the time holding on tightly to their designer handbags. They are dressed in streamlined lightweight French fashions which, the caption tells us, enable them to spend all day in the souks whilst maintaining the ideal body temperature: neither “too hot, nor too cold”. The models are clearly delineated from the local population by dress, pose and stature; they point their toes, flick out their skirts, and assume an air of confidence and composure by placing, for example, one hand on the hips, whilst the other clasps the lapel of a blue, beige and white striped percale jacket. The local population, dressed mostly in djellabahs, cherbil slippers and the litham (the piece of fine, translucent cloth that Moroccan women use to cover the bottom part of their faces), are used more as authenticating background props than to provide any detailed information about their changing modes of dress. There is no mention, for instance, that Arab women’s increased adoption of the djellabah during this period, usually worn with the hood draped over the head and accompanied with the veil, was a symbol of modernity that accompanied their increased public mobility. Instead, the article insinuates an underlying sense of danger within the souk, in which Morocco as an extension of France is placed as an inferior culture in need of French (fashion) guidance.

Published in April 1953, only 4 months before Mohammed V of Morocco was deposed and forced into exile by France for giving tacit support to Istiqial (the Moroccan independence party, founded in 1944), French Elle’s article ‘Maroc: Land of Wonders’, although masquerading as a cultural appreciation of the country, might also be read as an insidious attempt to reassert French authority.

 

 

 

Ready-made Fashion and France’s Urban Fabric in Elle Magazine in 1963

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Bodies, dress and city space intersected in new ways in the 3rd May 1963 issue of Elle in an editorial that presented ready-made garments in toile, a linen textile. One photograph by Fouli Elia depicted a cross-legged model standing against the grid of the metal beams of a nondescript Modernist building that composed and dominated the photograph’s backdrop. She stared fixedly at something located off the page, and her look suggested that it was an open expanse of scenery, or an extension of her imposing architectural surroundings. Behind her, the building took on the greenish sheen of her shirt and skirt ensemble by the ready-made brand Stanley. Structure embodied the dressed model, both cast in the same hue, constructed from the same fabric. Likewise, the article’s text described clothing in spatial terms, and figure one was identified as “a large green space for this two-piece ensemble, comfortable and sweater style. In what? In toile fibranne.” This material, a rayon fabric similar to linen, was pictured alongside natural fibres in this spread. Yet the characteristics of this synthetic cloth, soft yet grainy, unstructured yet weighty, reflected paradoxes held within the fabric of the photograph. In contrast to the text, the image suggested a lack of space, through the subject’s close crop and the seemingly nonexistent distance between figure and building.

The editorial, with its images of models with outlined bodies superimposed onto buildings, appeared during a period of rapid urbanisation in France. From the 1950s and increasingly into the 1960s and 1970s, low-income housing estates, or Habitations à Loyer Moderé (HLM) were erected in cities’ suburbs to accommodate factory workers, immigrants, and Paris’ growing population. By 1964, there were at least 1,000 of these buildings in the three departments of the Parisian region. In direct contrast to deteriorating and crowded housing in Paris, the government promoted these cités, usually comprised of towers and high-rise blocks (grands ensembles) with park space, schools and other facilities, as symbols of France’s economic modernism and ‘progress.’ This language resembled that used to describe the developing French ready-to-wear, pictured increasingly in the fashion press during the 1950s and early 1960s. Articles in Elle also regularly discussed the housing transition; in 1961 for example, editor Anne-Marie Raimond surveyed women who lived in suburbs and sought to depict the vastness of these spaces and the new way of life they offered:

It is the most formidable exodus of modern time, causing the upheaval of landscapes as well as man’s customs and spirit. […] A new style is born, that of ‘garden cities,’ ‘ensembles,’ ‘residences,’ where sun and greenery come with the deed or lease. Inhabitants (almost) remain Parisian, Lyonnais, Lillois, but have changed rhythm and character. They blossom like plants uprooted from undersized pots, put into the wide earth.

As in the 1950s, descriptions such as this instilled the modernity and progress of the vast, new spaces in their female inhabitants. Elle’s 1963 article likewise conflated clothing, bodies and wide spaces, portraying garments as “very sunny dream ensemble[s],” and “To live in right away.” Yet, the incongruity between idealising text and subtly dark imagery hinted at growing criticism of these estates, and a heightened awareness of their realities.

These outer spaces likewise became normalised in magazine imagery. Pages in Elia’s editorial that displayed a fashion photograph beneath a landscape illustrated how magazines’ new definition of fashion city and urban space stretched to Paris’ suburbs and airport. One such image was cited as “Modern Paris. View from the southern highway between Paris and Orly.” Similarly, in light of Paris’ expansion, Henri Lefebvre wrote in 1970: “The urban fabric proliferates, extends itself, corrodes the residues of agrarian life.” In contrast to photographs of old, iconic, and static Paris (which traditionally upheld the symbolic construction of haute couture), these images visualised modern Paris in perpetual construction and expansion. Below this image, which stressed the vastness of suburban space and sky, a photograph pictured a model in front of a building. Like her above counterpart, the model seemed superimposed, and the frame could not contain her body. The caption identified her location as boulevard Lannes in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, the appropriate well-to-do setting for her expensive suit, in raw silk with and jersey blouse designed by Chloé, which was sold for 700 francs at the fashionable boutique Henry à la Pensée. Financial access to ready-to-wear was a constant promotional factor, which did not always correspond to reality. In this instance, readers were offered, yet barred from purchase of toile, and the ambiguous all-encompassing urban fabric of Paris.

Sources

“Faites vos plans sur la toile,” Elle, no. 906, 3 May 1963, 96, 99, 100, 102. Author’s translations.

Anne-Marie Raimond, “Une enquête une revelation une revolution: le visage et la vie des nouvelles banlieusardes,” Elle, no. 826, 20 October 1961, 84. Author’s translations.

Paul Clerc, Grands ensembles banlieues nouvelles: enquête démographique et psycho-sociologique. Paris: PUF, 1967.

Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, trans. Robert Bononno, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota, 2003 [1970], 3.

A French dress and the OPjectscape of 1965-6

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Emmanuelle Khanh dress, c. 1966, Collection of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Photo Alexis Romano.

Concentric diagonal lines lead the viewer’s eye to a central triangle and button of a cotton dress. Its simple construction is composed of eight panels of fabric inventively joined on the bias to construct a dynamic motif of vertical lines. Two circular pockets with horizontal lines applied to the skirt and a vertical column of buttons that opens the garment clash with this diagonal current, and enliven the play of colour and line. Like the faux pocket at the breast, the dress teases, tricks and amuses. Although its creator, French designer Emmanuelle Khanh (b. 1937), employed whimsical and trompe l’œil details throughout her career, there was an increased interest in geometry and distortion in mid-1960s pattern design.

The dress was part of the Spring/Summer 1966 collection produced for the label I.D., created three years earlier. Its artistic director, styliste Maïmé Arnodin (1916-2003), mediated between Khanh and a network of other professionals—manufacturers, textile producers, retailers, graphic designers, journalists and photographers—to see the garment to completion. A 1966 article in Le Monde discussed stylistes, whose role, which was ‘growing nonstop as fashion industrialises,’ was to counsel their manufacturer clients on future styles and colours to render last year’s fashion obsolete. The article even surmised that stylistes premeditated the trend for Op Art, which, ‘presented with a great splash in magazines before going on sale, was almost outmoded before it was woven.’

Although limited by industrial constraints, Khanh looked outward to a culture saturated by new graphic trends. In 1965 and 1966 Op Art was a constant feature in the everyday visual landscape of France and abroad. The play of lines on her dress recalls the concentric squares in Frank Stella’s Line Up (1962). This painting was reproduced in Michel Ragon’s article in the July 1965 issue of French Vogue entitled Op Art? Sa Place est dans la rue. Stella’s painting was part of the The Responsive Eye exhibition held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1965, which popularised the movement and inspired, as Khanh recently admitted, her 1966 collection. She added that the dresses’ ‘clashing lines…broke the rhythm,’ which ‘made the silhouette vibrate.’ Cyril Barrett similarly wrote of Op painting that what ‘first confronts us is a stable and often rather monotonous repetition of lines, squares or dots. But as we continue to look at the simple structure it begins to dissolve before our eyes. The dots seem to flicker and move; the lines undulate; the surface heaves and billows.’ The moving body would have accentuated these effects. Ragon’s title alluded to the fact that this movement, as other critics argued, belonged out of the museum and ‘in the street.’ Likewise, Barrett described it as ‘an artform which was what every good dress or advertisement should be—eye-catching.’

Sources:

Barrett, C. (1971) An Introduction to Optical Art, London: Studio Vista.

Khanh, E. (n.d.) unpublished manuscript.

Mont-Servan, N. (1966) ‘Le role des stylistes’, Le Monde, 2 June.