Lifestyle: Fashion

White Out

In 1965, André Courrèges revolutionized the Little White Dress,
giving it wardrobe staple-status for decades to come. To honor
the life of this visionary designer, we’re taking a look back at our
Spring 2015 makeup collaboration
with his legendary fashion
house. Our story with Patricia Mears—Deputy Director of The
Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology—traces the
history of the iconic garment, and reveals the remarkable talent
behind it.

The “Little Black Dress”—or the LBD as it is more commonly known—has long been heralded as the wardrobe essential-to-end-all wardrobe essentials. But its ethereal sister, the Little White Dress, once usurped it at a pivotal moment in the annals of modern fashion history.

It was the early 1960s, and Beatlemania, the mini skirt, the Pop Art movement and the global space race had reached their apices. White simultaneously came to symbolize the ultramodern and the futuristic in fashion, and no designer did more to advance this ideal than André Courrèges. An engineer by training who later spent a decade working for legendary couturier Cristobal Balenciaga, Courrèges' 1965 spring-summer collection featured the "moon girl" look—a showcase of the era’s most technologically advanced fabrics, and the shortest hemlines in Paris—in strictly vaporous, lunar hues. Its’ debut heralded the ascendance of the “Little White Dress,” and earned Courrèges the reputation as the designer who resurrected it for the 20th century.

It wasn’t the first time the Little White Dress (LWD) had achieved sartorial success, of course: As the symbol of purity, cleanliness, innocence, and virginity, gowns worn during female rites of passage had been crafted exclusively in shades of alabaster, ivory and eggshell since the second-half of the nineteenth century. Eras that were strongly influenced by the revival of classicism also gave the garment elevated status, as ancient marble sculptures inspired the snowy white dresses of the early 1800s, replete with capped sleeves and raised waistlines; and black-and-white photographs and films immortalized the sensuous, bias-cut “goddess” gowns of the early 1930s, which were made of ivory and cream silk satin. Even through the opulent Belle Époque period of the early twentieth century, frothy cotton frocks— liberally interspersed and trimmed with lace—were an integral part of the well-heeled woman’s warm weather clothing arsenal.

But it was Courrèges clean geometrical lines and his rejection of superfluous trimmings that truly birthed the modern LWD, which possessed a wholly unique identity. Fashioned in his ultra minimalist all-white studio and made for the young and adventurous, Courrèges successfully displaced the more established LBD, making the LWD fashion’s preeminent, chic essential for a fleeting moment—especially when it was accessorized with his oversized “eskimo” sunglasses that featured narrow eye slits; gloves; helmet-shaped bonnets; and square-toed mid-calf boots, all in a matching palette of stark white.

The Bearn-born designer had his finger on the era’s cultural pulse, fusing youth culture, experimental visuals, and ground-breaking technology into his own fervent creativity, which gave his LWD an immediate, seismic impact—and some serious staying power. Today, the house of Courrèges continues to bear the torch for the constant evolution of the iconic garment, presenting a few unadorned, cropped-sleeved white minidresses at its recent Spring collection, which debuted in Paris alongside a sleeveless iteration tipped with forward-thinking, watermelon-hued plexi straps. And what better time than now—this technologically driven, digital age in which we live—to revive the Little White Dress, which remains the ultimate symbol of the future’s limitless possibilities.