History of Fashion: Topic Proposal

Yves Saint Laurent designed the Mondrian collection in 1965. The collection was a homage to the work of several modernistic artists. Part of this collection were six cocktail dresses that were inspired by the paintings of Piet Mondrian. The convergence of fashion and art in the Mondrian dresses is significant. Whilst reflecting the fashionable Western silhouette, the designs also reflect the significance of the work of artists like Mondrian during the sixties. The Mondrian collection was widely published in many fashion magazines, with one dress featuring on the cover of Vogue in 1965. Mondrian style dresses became very popular, with many mass manufacturers producing copies of the designs for lower prices, which were then widely circulated.


This is the photo I am most interested in researching because it brings together a series of topics I am interested in: the blurred line between art vs. fashion, the difference between inspiration vs. imitation, and the progression of couture. The dresses look very minimal, but the technique was complex and required precision cutting and work-intensive haute couture techniques to achieve successfully. I think this photo is very captivating because the simplicity of the painting is reflected in the model’s poses and expressions. Also the models are posing right next to the source of inspiration, drawing into question whether there is a separation between art and fashion.


Yves Saint Laurent launched his namesake couture label in 1961 in Paris. In 1966, his couture collection featured a style that divided fashion critics: a black tailored tuxedo with a satin side stripe, worn with a white ruffled shirt. He called the look ‘Le Smoking’. In 1975, fashion photographer Helmut Newton shot the look down a dimly lit cobbled street in Paris on a model holding a cigarette with slicked-back hair and dramatic make-up. It was the first time that any couturier had presented trousers as an option for evening wear. The campaign for the look often featured androgynous models in the three-piece suit, taking on the power roles generally associated with men.


This look is iconic because it marked an era where women were depicted in strong roles, having more freedom and power than before. The late 1960s and 1970s marked an era of of change in the empowered women, and with YSL giving them the option to wear clothes that were normally worn by men with influence and power, this look was shifting the fashion realm. Le Smoking marked a shift in attitude towards gender differentiation and has remained timeless since. This photo is also very interesting because in the campaign, both women have a sense of control and the mood is very dramatic and sexy.


Venturing out in 1950, Pierre Cardin started his own atelier. Cardin understood construction, partially due to his adeptness at mathematics, geometry and artistry. Cardin’s embrace of science and technology, together with the notion of progress was expressed in his Space Age Collection, with futuristic silhouettes and a growing interest in man-made textiles. He was the first to make his designs more accessible, bringing in mass production and marketing to a whole new level.


Pierre Cardin and his label really shifted the way couture houses worked and opened it up more to the public. I found his use of materials interesting and how his work also reflected the era he was designing in. At that point, the U.S and Soviet Union began the space race and there was a large focus on what the future looked like, and this is reflected in Cardin’s Space Age looks, with shiny metals and straight silhouettes. His nod towards the future looked like just stepping off a space ship.

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