A crucial period in fashion history, the Sixties are a constant source of inspiration for designers. With them returning to the limelight again like a joyful refrain, fashion historian Valérie Taieb explains why.
The Sixties were about mini-skirts and flat boots, vinyl and coloured tights, futuristic figures, the first super-models (Twiggy), the baby-doll look, Swinging London, exuberance and freedom. "Everything is possible!" post-war youth seemed to be clamouring. "The Sixties represented the biggest style revolution yet; fashion was no longer dictated by the elite but by the street," Valérie Taieb explains. In a decade the baby-boomers changed for ever both looks and the way fashion was consumed, this revolution in appearance preceding the social revolution of 1968. "Before, there was nothing for teenagers; the offering went from children's clothes straight to adult garments that were made to order and expensive. Then in Hollywood's golden age we saw James Dean and Marlon Brandon wearing jeans, starlets in pedal pushers and the beginnings of sportswear." During this prosperous period, women worked and teenagers spent their pocket money in the first concept stores invented in London.
Ready-to-wear took off, to the detriment of couture. Balenciaga shut up shop, convinced there was no longer a place for haute couture; a perceptive Yves Saint Laurent launched his more affordable Rive Gauche line. "Products diversified as society's codes lightened up. We entered the age of mass consumption when we could buy off-the-peg clothes to wear immediately." But the revolution was also in the thinking and making of fashion. "André Courrèges, a couturier with Balenciaga and an engineer, wanted to create industrially. Like Pierre Cardin, he invented a style that made no reference to the past. Childlike cuts, bright colours, new materials and ease of wearing suited this progress-focused era down to the ground." Fashion became comfortable and practical but sophisticated too. "Its joyfulness had a therapeutic effect. You slipped on a dress and you felt good," our expert emphasises. Unsurprising that such optimism is still seductive. "Imbued with youth, joy and modernity, Sixties fashion has an arty side that's easy to adopt and mix." But how does that inspiration translate in 2014?
Injecting cheeriness into autumn's gloom, the palette blazes with fuchsia, red, yellow, green and blue. Take Prada's new collection: at Miuccia Prada's instigation, shearling is reinvented in purple, red and yellow while psychedelic wallpaper patterns take over delicate dresses, coats and even panties glimpsed underneath muslin. Chloé energises jacquard with flashy touches and adorns silk with geometrical patterns. Paul & Joe livens up garments with a multicoloured puzzle while the mini-skirt adopts a luminous tartan. At Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have created a joyous figure via variously-sized spots gracing trench coat, midi skirt and cape in Pop-Art style. The Sixties spirit reigning over this wardrobe culminates in a pretty flashy-pink A-line dress. That same cut is seen in endless variations at Gucci, in a pastel palette.
The mini-dress is charged up with studs and sequins under Hedi Slimane's rockin' eye for Saint Laurent, while for Miu Miu it piles on sportswear hallmarks. Even the up-and-coming designers go all out. For his Jacquemus label, Simon Porte draws on Courrèges's cosmic Moon Girl from 1964, the first outfits in his Femme Enfant collection going for white neoprene. Flaunting clean curvy lines, the silhouettes evolve to an ultimate éclat of bright baby yellow or vermilion red. The avant-garde Giles Deacon appropriates drop-waisted cropped trousers by making them in quilted leather and teaming them with a stimulating orange A-line tunic. In this style exercise let us lastly praise the talent of designer Guillaume Henry at Carven, who feminises the minimalist cut. Coats in leopard-skin or abstract prints and SF-heroine skating skirts reveal legs that the more modest will clad in ever-fashionable thigh boots.
By Julie de los Rios