André Courrèges first solo collection of 1961 was inevitably compared to the work of his mentor and former employer Balenciaga. Consisting of day suits, dresses and evening wear, Courrèges' first collection was said to be, "decidedly derivative" of Balenciaga in both conception and skill of tailoring.1 As Balenciaga was considered a masterful couturier, this comparison was much more than faint praise. Within a few years, however, Courrèges had developed a strict, modern aesthetic that set his work apart from that of his fellow couturiers. He pushed the sartorial envelope by presenting extremely brief mini-dresses and through his promotion of trousers as an important part of the feminine wardrobe. Courrèges also distinguished himself through his strong distaste for restrictive undergarments, claiming in 1965 that the bra would soon be as antiquated as the whalebone corset.2
Courrèges favored simple, unadorned shapes: A-line dresses or skirts, slim trousers and boxy jackets. Courrèges minimalist color palette, white with a solid accent, reinforced the bold simplicity of his architectural designs. When paired with the short, flat, patent-leather booties favored by Courrèges and his unusual sunglasses with only a thin horizontal slit for sight, the wearer became a space age vision. Because his designs were so radically different than what was currently being presented by other French couturiers, Courrèges sought a specific customer, one who was "active, moves fast, works, and is usually young and modern enough to wear modern, intelligent clothes."3
Courrèges designs proved extremely popular, leading many retailers to create lower-priced knock-offs of his work. The prevalence of knock-offs led Courrèges to suspend public showings of his work between 1965-67, though he continued to design for private clients. In 1967, Courrèges unveiled Couture Future, limited runs of specific garments with lower prices sold from a Courrèges owned Paris boutique. This retail innovation was intended to encourage customers to purchase Courrèges originals rather than knock-offs.
As the mini-dresses pictured here demonstrate, Courrèges' aesthetic also included an unexpected whimsy. Scalloped trim and floral embellishment soften the strict silhouette of these space-age dresses, giving them a girlish, youthful feel. Widespread interest in youthful femininity was an important component of 1960s fashion and can be understood as a reaction to the hourglass silhouette of the 1950s. We explored this topic in a previous blog post, the little girl look and 1960s fashion.
1 Peterson, Patricia. "Balenciaga Gets Ovation for "Fabulous" Collection" New York Times 2 Aug. 1961: 32.
2 "Courrèges: Lord of Space Ladies" Life 21 May 1965: 47.
3 Ibid: 54.