Cinemode: La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast)

One of the great defenses of the very existence of couture is that it’s here for dreamers. Whether it’s riches coming out our ears, a more peaceful world or just being a better person, clothes are both a means and an end to our fantasies. La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast), Jean Cocteau’s adaptation of the classic French fairytale that was released on this day in 1946, was a film both for and about dreamers—and by taking an unexpected hand in designing its costumes, a young Pierre Cardin saw his own dreams take a very different direction.

World War II had just come to an end in France, and Cocteau, feeling that the time wasn’t right for realism in cinema, wanted to make a movie that was all about fantasy. He chose La Belle et la Bête, originally written in the 18th century by Mme Leprince de Beaumont, the familiar story of a beautiful girl who falls in love with her furry captor, thereby freeing him from the spell that has made him a monster. Cocteau certainly must have been inspired by his own bestial struggles: Throughout filming, he lamented his various skin afflictions like eczema and impetigo, which causes ghastly blisters and sores on the face. “The more ugly Read More »

It Was the World’s Most Fashionable Party, and Launched the Career of Pierre Cardin

The guests began arriving in gondolas floating on Venice’s Grand Canal. Gentlemen had their white, pouffy wigs set just so. Women were resplendent in billowing, regal gowns, demurely peeking from behind their hand-held masks as footmen escorted them into the glowing palazzo and ballerinas performed minuets in the courtyard. It was 18th-century Venetian revelry at its finest–but this wasn’t the 18th century. The “Bal Oriental,” one of the most lavish and fashionable parties ever thrown, happened on this day in 1951 at Venice’s Palazzo Labia. Society’s crème de la crème were there, and a handful of lucky French couturiers, Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, Jacques Fath and a young newcomer named Pierre Cardin, were there to dress them.

The host was the eccentric Carlos de Besteigui, patron of the arts, son of the former Mexican Ambassador to Madrid and heir to a massive fortune. The 1,200 invited guests included European royalty, artists, Hollywood actors and socialites, everyone from Orson Welles and Salvadore Dali to the Countess Jacqueline de Ribes; and then there were the 10,000 Venetians who Read More »

A Rose By Any (Designer) Name

In 1964, the New York Times reported on a new trend of designers allowing their name to appear on products that they didn’t actually design. Sound familiar?

In the early 1960s, couture designers began releasing an array of specialized lines that put their name on a plethora of new products. Can’t afford a Christian Dior dress? Get the same satisfaction of buying “designer” for $2 with a pair of Dior stockings. Is Elsa Schiapparelli’s new line out of your price range? Why not pick up an umbrella with the designer’s signature? The names behind the biggest couture houses realized that they could make a pretty penny by leasing their names and some preliminary designs to an outside company to manufacture. Name-brand licensing was new to the couture world, but designers jumped on the idea and quickly began churning out hats, hosiery, furs, children’s clothing, home furnishings and underwear stamped with their fashionable seal of approval. The only problem, as the New York Times reported on this day in 1964, is that the designers had their names on products that they didn’t even recognize and wouldn’t create in a million years. One Paris designer quoted in the article is shocked to find his name on cotton gloves being sold in New York even though he “can’t abide” the things. Were consumers being swindled, or was this just the natural course of fashion as a business? Read More »

Pierre Cardin Pushes Fashion Further

By the mid-1970s, French designer Pierre Cardin had already turned fashion on its head with his cosmonaut couture collections. He’d been expelled (and quickly reinstated) from the Chambre Syndicale for embracing ready-to-wear, introduced menswear and children’s couture onto catwalks, created lines of Space-Age furniture, designed the world’s grooviest cars and built theaters and his now-famed “Bubble House.” Was there anything new he could introduce? Well, it turns out, yes. On July 26, 1976, Cardin showed his couture collection in Paris, and introduced dresses with one leg, and capes with one arm.

Why would a woman wear a dress with a single…leg? Either fashion critics were numb to Cardin’s follies and overlooked the obvious, or the outfit was so absurd it was a question not worth asking, but reviewers—for the most part—breezed over the novelty. Read More »

Fashion Statement: Pierre Cardin

“My old vintage designs are so popular now. I must have been on to something.”
Pierre Cardin, fashion designer (working from about 1945 to the present), from a 2008 interview with WWD magazine. Cardin’s futuristic fashions were a hit in the 1960s, later criticized as silly and impractical, and then rediscovered and celebrated in the 1990s. Cardin was born on this day in 1922. To read more fabulous Fashion Statements, click here.

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