André Courrèges (1923 – 2016)

This week we lost two individuals who shaped modern fashion: David Bowie was not a designer but had a unique style that looked as if it may have come from outer space at times, while André Courrèges was a designer who created a fashion that at the time looked like it was intended for wearing in outer space.

Courrèges, 1963

Courrèges, 1963

Courrèges shook up the fashion world in 1964-1965 when he created sleek, precisely tailored suits for the modern woman. These were not opulent, frou-frou styles – these were fashions for tomorrow. He was often erroneously credited with inventing the miniskirt. While he was only one of many designers who pioneered the visible knee, what he did spearhead was a modern attitude in dress that featured the leg – highlighted by ankle boots, close-fitting trousers, or clingy ribbed bodysuits.

André Courrèges was born March 9 1923 in Pau, the Basque region of France. At his parents urging he trained in civil engineering but his love of art and design caused him to change his studies to architecture and textile design. After learning men’s tailoring, he moved to Paris in 1945 where he worked with couturier Jeanne Lafaurie. In 1950 he obtained a position at Balenciaga where he stayed for 11 years, mastering the art of tailoring.

Courreges, 1965

Courrèges, 1965

In 1961 Courrèges opened his own salon at 48 Avenue Kleber and hired Coqueline Barrière as an assistant whom he married six years later. His  collections were well received, but his 1964 and spring 1965 collections were revolutionary: Stovepipe trouser legs, above the knee hemlines, flat soled boots, backless tops, snow-glare glasses, square hats with chin straps… everything he created was admired, and widely copied. However, he didn’t see imitation as the sincerest form of flattery, and didn’t show a fall 1965 collection out of frustration. He had decided the best way to avoid the problem of others profiting from his designs was to create his own ready-to-wear clothing line, which he debuted in 1966.

Courrèges, 1964

Courrèges, 1964

In 1967, he began to experiment with transparent fabrics, using organza with strategically placed appliqués of circles or flowers. However, as fashion veered towards hippy chic by the 1970s, Courrèges’ space age modernism fell out of style. The fashion house had some modestly successful collections in the 1980s and 1990s, but the brand lived on primarily through accessories, fragrances and licensed products.

Courrèges was a modest man but not a pushover. He made sure his couture clients always paid their bills – regardless of who they were.

After suffering from Parkinsons for several years Courrèges passed away January 7.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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