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A Leap Into the Future. 1960s Fashion

Every generation tries to dream and invent its own future, but the young generation of the 1960s just leapt into the future – so fast yesterday's dreams became today's reality. The 1960s saw a rapid expansion of ideas of what was possible – man flew into space and landed on the moon, descended to the bottom of the sea like the French explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, or, with Carlos Castaneda's book in hand, made journeys inwards, expanding consciousness through meditation, yoga or various substances.

Changes in reality have prompted an urgent rethinking and broadening of ideas – how to live in this future world? The answer was sought in the avant-garde experiments of the 1920s: architecture, suprematism, and modern social ideas were again brought into the sunlight and scrutinised. These ideas were to be used to create something unprecedented: a new society free from sexual prohibitions, from the morality of the bourgeoisie, from war, and from the dictates of the state. Such a revolutionary approach was all but a call to go to the barricades – and in 1968, they did appear in the university and student quarters. It was essentially a revolution – without bloodshed, but no less radical than previous revolutions.

One can think of this time with an indulgent smile – what romantics these young people were! But we must remember that we are still enjoying the fruits of the youth revolution – it is what shaped our understanding of the modern personality.

The post-war baby boom of the 1960s contributed to the enormous number of young people in the world. In the US alone, 76 million babies were born between 1946 and 1964. The economic boom and freedom from parental dictates meant that, for the first time in history, these teenagers and young adults had their own money to spend. British fashion designer Mary Quant said in an interview: “We were the first generation to have money at a young age – and with it, the freedom to create our own culture.” Popular music, cinema and fashion played an important role in this youth culture.

The fashion world reacted to the rapid changes in two ways: the classics, like the Spaniard Cristobal Balenciaga, bitterly concluded that haute couture was losing its meaning and influence. Younger designers, on the other hand, fully embraced both the new creative freedom and the use of man-made fibres and materials offered by the chemical industry. Ready-to-wear clothing became increasingly fashionable and was preferred by many people younger in years and attitude. In 1966 Yves Saint Laurent became the first haute couture designer to create a permanent and successful ready-to-wear label, Rive Gauche.

Youth was a key feature of 1960s fashion – it is notable that the face of the era was the big-eyed British model Twiggy, who was just 16 at the start of her career in 1965. Traditional suits, hats and formal wear were increasingly replaced by jeans, T-shirts and minidresses. Instead of stockings (which would be impossible with a mini!), women opted for the much more comfortable tights, which first appeared in shops in 1959, causing a real revolution. The miniskirt, a symbol of emancipation, self-confidence and sexual revolution for young women in the 1960s, appeared almost simultaneously in London and Paris, and is credited to Mary Quant and the French fashion designer André Courreges.

A fascination with space and science fiction became a kind of hallmark of the 1960s. This decade is strikingly in tune with the present: modelling humanity's cosmic future is akin to modelling today's digital future. Perhaps it too will eventually prove to be as far removed from reality as the 1960s’ vision of the future was.

In fashion, the fascination with space was particularly pronounced. French designers Pierre Cardin, André Courreges and Louis Feraud, British designers Mary Quant and John Bates, Austrian-American designer Rudy Gernreich and Paris-based Spanish designer Paco Rabane all worked in a futuristic style and explored the possibilities offered by new materials. A number of designers took inspiration from astronauts' spacesuits – a white and silver colour palette, geometric shapes including circular cut-outs resembling portholes and helmet-shaped hats.

The other striking feature of the fashion of the 1960s, in contrast to the enormous interest in space, was the tendency to return to the earth, back to farming communes, to everything natural. We are referring to the hippie movement. The 'Do It Yourself' principle was very evident in hippie clothing: tie-dyed shirts, embroidery and appliqués, the use of patchwork, homemade jewellery and accessories. This was complemented by jeans, elements of traditional clothing from different cultures that hippies picked up on their travels, and unisex ideas – many elements of hippie clothing were wearable by men as well as women.

At the same time, luxury and elegance never went out of fashion – on the contrary, the 1960s may be considered the most elegant decade. The impeccably clean style of US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn in Hubert de Givenchy's youthful gowns, the vivacious flamboyance and sensuality of Italian fashion in the designs of Emilio Pucci and Irene Galitzine – this is 60s fashion too.

When we look at the geography of fashion in the 1960s, an important change must be highlighted: the most fresh and interesting fashion innovations came not from Paris, but from “swinging London”. Italy had also become an important fashion country in the post-war years, offering a combination of excellent craftsmanship, quality fabrics and wonderful, innovative designers. And US fashion, which had already developed a distinctive approach to fashion during the Second World War, with an emphasis on sportier, more dynamic clothing, flourished not only in the familiar New York, but also in California, with a range of interesting designers offering fashionable, up-to-date and innovative clothing. American money played a significant role in the development of fashion.

“Leap into the Future. Fashion of the 1960s” offers a multifaceted insight into the most important fashion trends of the decade – from Space theme to hippies. The garments designed by the most influential French, British, Italian and American designers are complemented by jewellery and accessories from the 1960s. The exhibition gives an insight into the most characteristic silhouettes of the decade, as well as the variety of colours and patterns, where restrained minimalism meets vivid psychedelia and the influence of modern art.