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No Gender in Space: Unisex in the 1960s

The 1960s were a time of innovation and exploration: while science ventured into space with a series of missions culminating, in 1969, with the Apollo 11 touching ground on the Moon, fashion foresaw a cosmic-broad future, experimenting with new technologies and fabrics, and introducing unisex silhouettes.

Predicting the woman of year 2000, the ‘Space Age’ designers Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne and Rudi Gernreich designed sleek, colour neutral silhouettes in plastic materials, accessorised with vinyl boots, helmets and plastic googles. Though contemporary history shows that their prediction might not have been that accurate, their creations influenced fashion for the next decades.

'Collection Overview' of the models presented by André Courrèges, S/S 1965, sketches by Trude Rein. Courtesy Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

While the ‘Space Age’ is considered to start with the launch into space of Sputnik in 1957, the first artificial Earth satellite, the ‘fashion Space Age’ instead is a trend that originated on the Parisian catwalks in the early-1960s; during this time, Italian-born fashion designer Pierre Cardin and French André Courrèges, off from their carriers in French couture houses, decided to launch their futuristic lines. Along with them, Paco Rabanne and Rudy Gernreich contributed to the construction of a defined imagery both with their fashion and costume designs, that include the iconic creations for ‘Barbarella’ (1968) by Rabanne and, later, ‘Space: 1999’ (1975-1977) by Gernreich.

Man's ensemble 'Cosmos', designed by Pierre Cardin, 1967. © Pierre Cardin. Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, CC BY NC.

Inspired by the youthful wave that defined those years, these designers focused on the exploration of the new potentialities of dress, moving away from the past to look forward to a romanticized future. In 1963, ‘Cosmocorps’ collection by Pierre Cardin introduced new shapes and geometries, adopting in some cases the same cuts, colours and fabrics for the creations for both men and women. Similarly, since 1961, André Courrèges infused in his modern collections a sense of gender neutrality, drawing elements from children clothes. In addition, their shared characteristic of experimenting with new materials let their creations free of historical gender associations.

Women's ensemble, designed by Pierre Cardin, 1965-1970. Courtesy Modemuseum Hasselt, all rights reserved.

Their designs, however, mostly reworked womenswear with masculine elements, sometimes even making the sex of the wearer more obvious – something that was shared also by the unisex trend originated at the same time. In fact, although they aimed to cross the gender lines, the neutral cuts of unisex clothes emphasized the body of their wearer, enhancing instead of blurring its sexual identity.

Discover more creations of the ‘Space Age’ fashion designers and of the unisex trend on Europeana Fashion.

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