Fashion’s Race to Space: Some 1960s Style Inspiration
Updated: Jun 8
Space-Age fashion celebrated mankind's ability to explore the unknown universe through advancements in science tech. It marked the time a few fashion designers would imagine what the everyday person might wear whilst navigating the stars...
The Great Race to Space.
On July 20th 1969, Americans gathered in front of TV screens nationwide awaiting a special broadcast from the CBS network. They were about to witness something incredible. That day, the Apollo 11 team consisting of Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins completed the mission of a lifetime: To travel to the moon and back. Arriving in a shuttle, Armstrong, followed by Aldrin, made their marks on the moon. Their footprints signified the depths of human achievement.
Apollo 11 Crew.
This achievement was the apogee of the intense space race between the USA and the Soviets. Since the 1950s, both nations had battled against each other, putting vast amounts of time and money into the latest technology. Groundbreaking achievements soon became the norm. The Soviet Yuri Garagin became the first astronaut to reach space in 1961, whilst John Glen Jr was the first American to orbit the Earth three times in 1962. It’s a good thing that rivalry breeds advancement.
Fashion For A New Era.
Back on Earth, the optimism, energy, and ingenuity of the space race trickled down into the arts. In fashion, some designers were inspired by these remarkable achievements and began imagining their own visions of the future. This heralded the arrival of space age fashions. A time when metallic became the new black and designers fully embraced materials like PVC, vinyl, and metal in their collections. It was a time for innovative garment construction.
The Holy Trinity of the 1960s Space Race: Courrèges, Rabanne, and Cardin.
In this period of fashion history, it’s impossible not to mention three names: Andre Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, and Pierre Cardin. These co-pioneers of space age fashion were inspired by the pure excitement of space travel. They each had their own unique visions of the future of fashion and, in doing so, captured the spirit of modernity.
Space age fashion had two important features. The former was a democratic approach to clothing; where designers made pieces accessible for the masses by releasing ready-to-wear collections, and the latter was clothing made for the modern woman; where garments no longer had to fit the 'prim and proper' requirements of the 1950s.
It echoed, perhaps, a wider sense of movement within the world. Whilst man-made satellites reached far and wide into the depths of space, women also began to broaden their influence. As their legs were freed by rising hemlines, they could walk, run, or dance around in vinyl a-line dresses at ease. Women felt more free than ever.
British Vogue stated that 1964 was the ‘year of Courrèges.’ They weren't wrong. The Basque designer’s spring Moon Girl collection caused quite a reaction. Coco Chanel, for one, was distressed. “This man destroys women!” “He turns them into little girls!” she stated. Yet despite this initial shock, his collection introduced a new era of fashion. Courrèges’ love for Quant-high dress hemlines, comfy gogo boots, and geometric shapes were revolutionary. These designs became the quintessential features of the space age look.
A few photos from his Moon Girl collection. The straight lines and striped patterns were a breath of fresh air for many women. It highlighted a newfound sense of freedom.
"The woman who interests me doesn’t belong to any particular physical type. She lives a certain life, however. She is active, moves fast, works, is usually young and modern enough to wear modern, intelligent clothes." - Courrèges.
Meanwhile, the space race was the perfect creative stimulus for Spanish designer Paco Rabanne. He loved to experiment with a range of unconventional materials. Be it paper, metal, or plastics, he pushed these textiles to their limits. Glorious chain-mail garments referenced both the past and the future; comparable to alien armour from another dimension, whilst his metallic disc dresses were constructed via jewellery making methods; where small metallic plates are linked together using link loops and thread.
Jane Fonda modelled the signature Paco Rabanne chain-mail in the 1968 cult classic Barbarella. She wore a range of futuristic outfits that complemented the film's campy, sci-fi visuals which helped sell Fonda's role as an intergalactic space warrior.
An intriguing dress from Rabanne's 1966 collection: Twelve Unwearable Dresses. Named Dress, this piece was constructed from square and rectangular pieces of aluminium that were connected via metallic rings. A fine example of his avant-garde aesthetic.
Like the other designers, French born Pierre Cardin had a blast experimenting with different materials. He made transparent visors out of Plexiglas to partly resemble space helmets and even developed his own synthetic fabric named Cardine - a fabric that could be embossed when heated.
His 1964 Cosmocorps collection showcased the very best of his creativity. It depicted his vision of what women and men would wear when jet setting into the stars. The feminine looks involved a series of tube-like mod dresses with geometric cut out shapes. On the other hand, the masculine pieces featured out-of-this-world Cosmocorps suits sets. The jacket had broad shoulders and large circle zippers. The trousers were of a cylinder shape which hugged the legs, making them appear like long, alien limbs.
A fabulous photo of models wearing Cardin's Cosmocorps collection. They pose expressively, resembling the dynamism of modernity.
Two dresses made out of the Cardine fabric. The fabric embossing gives it a quilt-like appearance.