CLOTHES OF THE FUTURE ARE HERE
Of all the couturiers now working in Paris, Courrèges is the one whose designs are really revolutionary. He questions some of the basic conventions of women's dress: Why should skirts go down to the knee? What's the use of jewellery? Why shouldn't fashion be functional? The clothes of Courrèges have been called ''Space Age'' clothes - but, as our pictures show, this doesn't mean bizarre pressure-suits and odd helmets, it means clothes for the Space Age: the age of action, freedom, and participation, of the woman who moves around. They are designed to simplify her life. The less important details may change from season to season, but Courrrèges remains faithful to his own fashion belief. Here photographer Hatami records Courrèges evolving the look of the seventies and the new excitements of this season's collection, while Joy Tagney tells what the 40 year old designer is like.
THE ENGINEER OF CLOTHES
In his short white jacket, André Courrèges looks like a very healthy doctor. With his athlete's build and addiction to rugby, he's a long way from the popular image of the willowy couturier. In more than appearance, Courrèges brings a breath of sturdy rural individualism into the hothouse world of the salons - he was born in the Basque country 40 years ago. ''I often drive to Pau, to see my family and friends who still live there. I like to slip out of Paris whenever I can, to see the green fields, the trees, the clear sky - I love nature.'' Indoors, he likes the theatre, cinema and Plato. But it's his admiration for the simplicity of the seventeenth-century Flemish painters, and for Le Corbusier and Kandinsky's geometrical abstractions, that tells most about him as a designer and a man.
For Courrèges, who likes to think of himself as an engineer of clothes, started life as an engineer of bridges and roads. ''I wanted to be a painter,'' he says, ''but my parents persuaded me to study civil engineering at the college in Pau. They thought it would be a steadier career. I enjoyed the drawing and designing, but I left before taking my exams. I knew I would never become an engineer.'' ''While still at college, I began designing men's suits for a local tailor, and also did a little shoe designing. In 1948 I came to Paris and spent eight months at a small fashion-house. But just designing wasn't enough. I wanted to learn the secrets of dress-making techniques for myself. A real couturier must be able to do everything.'' ''Then I discovered Balenciaga's work. It was a revelation, the perfect balance between technique and art. When the chance came to join his house, I jumped at it. I went into his workrooms at 25 like the youngest apprentice, knowing nothing about needles, scissors, sewing-machines. Eleven years later he made me his first assistant, and I took charge of his salon in Madrid. I admire him tremendously and like him very much.''
The Courrèges 1965 trouser suit has a jerkin with cut-away armholes, and hipster trousers with a looser leg than last year's. The goggles are slit to see through. Photograph by Hatami.
In 1961 Courrèges left Balenciaga to start his own fashion-house in the Avenue Kleber. The decor is almost entirely white - Courrèges's favourite colour - but the atmosphere, though dedicated, is far from clinical. Big gilt mirrors relieve the white walls; the white curtains are draped softly, and bobbled; vases of pink and white flowers stand on white carpets. His first collections were in the tradition of Balenciaga. Then in his fifth he showed a number of trouser suits, and became famous as the Trouser King. For Courrèges, trousers are not just a gimmick, but part of his fashion philosophy. ''I get my inspiration from simple, natural things. I don't like any form of artificiality, in people or life. I don't make clothes for women who lead an unreal, pampered life, but for girls who go shopping, run for buses, women who have jobs as well as being wives. My clothes aren't particularly feminine - I design for a world where women are often as successful as men, if not more successful.'' Courrèges's is one of the rare fashion-houses that don't sell perfumes: ''Most couturiers only exist because of the money brought in by perfumes - the clothes play a very small part, they're really just for the publicity. I appreciate the commercial side - it's very necessary - but I don't let it dictate to me; I won't be bound by anything. When I bring out a perfume I want it to be a thunderbolt, a flash of lightening, and part of the collection - I'd like it to be free.''
The Courrèges trouser suit for evening has hipster trousers on braces and a cropped bolero jacket in pink and white check sequins, worn over a white top. Photograph by Hatami.
At present Courrèges needs no lightening-flashes to electrify audiences. His shows are startling experiences. Models march on and off like robots, giving themselves just enough time to display the clothes with quick, jerky movements. The telephone rings constantly. Musique concrete thumps from stereo speakers. The music is the creation of Coqueline Barrère, Courrèges's first assistant. She too comes from the Basque country, and has known him for over 15 years. Asked about the future, she says: ''His evolution has always been very slow. It will continue like this, always in a straight line, one foot in front of the other.'' This rings true. Whether or not his present success in the fickle world of salons continues, Courrèges will evidently go on producing clothes of scientifically precise design and wonderful craftsmanship. The straight line shows no sign of wavering.
The Courrèges 1965 coat grabs the eye with deck-chair stripes of white and pistachio. It is cut double-breasted with a neat stand-up collar and caught by a belt at the hips. Photograph by Hatami.
French pop star Francoise Hardy wears a white suit designed for her by 'Trouser King' Courrèges. Photograph by Hatami.
His party dress for 1965 is shaped like a gym-slip with a deep, square neck. The white top is latticed in pink and the skirt sequin-covered in pink, with boots to match. Photograph by Hatami.
IMAGE CREDITS & LINKS
All images scanned by Sweet Jane from the Observer Magazine March 1965. Original text and interview by Joy Tagney. All photographs by Hatami. Read 'Mère Courrèges. La femme du célèbre couturier des année 60' - a very interesting interview with Coqueline Courrèges, creative partner and wife of André Courrèges. Discover more about The Work of Legendary Photographer Shahrokh Hatami, including Ronan and Mia - a 23-minute documentary which was shot and directed by Hatami during the making of Polanski's Rosemary’s Baby, Part one, Two and Three. Vogue Remembers André Courrèges. And finally, some film footage of Courrèges Collections from 1968 , 1969 and 1970.