Made in 1965, inspired by space travel and featuring sleek white costumes topped by domed helmets, Frederick Ashton’s Monotones II belongs to an age infatuated with the interplanetary. As we gear up for our last performances of this poetic ballet, we thought we’d revisit the finest moments of 60s Space-Age chic. Rosie Findlay guides us through the galaxy.
30 Jun 2015
The Swinging Sixties was the era of our first forays beyond the earth’s atmosphere, and the possibilities of a future in a galaxy far, far away inspired everything from architecture to ballet to fashion. The same romance that led Frederick Ashton to create Monotones II kindles couturiers’ imaginations.
Despite being mostly fuelled by a desire to show technological superiority and might, the space race between the USA and USSR injected a spirit of optimism and faith in technology into Western society. Fashion, which so famously pursues the new, was poised to embrace the aesthetic possibilities of this new frontier, and embrace it did! Designers like Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges and Paco Rabanne reimagined the appearance of the human form by rejecting all that had come before. The iconic designs of these three couturiers were characterised by futuristic shapes that made no attempt to mimic the shape of the body, and they worked with heretofore-unconventional “fabrics” like PVC, rubber, paper and metal. These materials were a reflection of the scientific progress of the Space Age, seen most distinctly in Paco Rabanne’s signature metal dresses, made of hundreds of interlocking atom-like links. This video shows Rabanne’s iconic metal-link dresses— note the way it is filmed to visually mimic the weightlessness of space!
Interestingly, all three designers share an interest in industrial design and architecture, which may account in some part for their sculptural work. French designer Courrèges trained as a civil engineer before becoming a couturier, and Paco Rabanne trained as an architect. As for Pierre Cardin, he famously diversified his flair for design across a multitude of other design fields, resulting in his distinctive logo being stamped on everything from furniture to cars to aeroplanes.
Fashion also mirrored the spirit of the Space Age through its literal take-up of the aesthetics of astronautics. Ergo, we see Audrey Hepburn sporting a smooth, white, domed helmet that bears more than a passing resemblance to an astronaut’s helmet in How to Steal a Million (1966).
Sunglasses were as big as driving goggles, garments sported geometric patterns and cut-outs like portholes, and the hottest Space Age shoes were go-go boots. Invented by Courrèges, these were a low-heeled, mid-rise boot, often made of white PVC: fashion’s equivalent of astronauts’ boots.
This fascination with the aesthetics of Space was rendered in a characteristically spirited way, picking up on the wider zeitgeist of the 60s. Not only was space an exciting frontier, the confluence of other social movements were also injecting a new energy into arts and culture. The A-line tunics of Space Age designs, as well as their oversized details – pronounced buttons, exaggerated buckles – and their playful palette and styling reflected the jubilance of a youth rejecting the conventions of their parents’ generation.
The Women’s Liberation movement also influenced the aesthetic of Space Age fashion. The introduction of the Pill and the opportunity to join the workforce resulted in women’s desire for clothes that reflected their newly emancipated social status. Cue clothes that dispense with the need for corsetry and structure, skirts that show off the legs under then-shockingly short hemlines, and shoes perfect for walking, running or, ideally, dancing in. British designer Mary Quant herself identified this development, saying that ‘it’s very clear in the look, in the exuberance of the time— a rather childlike exhilaration: ‘Wow, look at me! – isn’t it lovely? At last, at last!’
Funnily enough, even the very name of go-go boots reflects this spirit. They were named for the French word à gogo, meaning ‘in abundance, galore’. This can be traced to the ancient French word for joy, which seems appropriate for a shoe that invites dancing until the wee hours. At the same time, during the Sixties, ‘go’ was British slang for ‘all the rage’, which the boots certainly were— they were the very boots immortalised by Nancy Sinatra in “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”.
Serendipitously, The Australian Ballet is not the only company revisiting the iconic Space Age this year: in May, the creative director of French luxury label Christian Dior, Raf Simons, showed the new Dior Resort 2016 collection at Le Palais Bulles, Pierre Cardin’s Antti Lovag-designed ‘bubble house’ in Cannes. Models strode past its undulating curves in miniskirts and reinvented go-go boots and suddenly, the Space Age felt new again …