Barbarella: Sexualization of Space Age Fashion

Barbarella models several highly functional outfits for space travel

View the trailer for Barbarella here: https://youtu.be/0Xo6FaypcpY [3]

Barbarella premiered on October 10, 1968, when the Space Age fashion trend was in full swing. In fact, one of the major Space Age designers’ work was the inspiration for the costuming of the title character. Barbarella, 50 years after its premiere, has become a cult classic. Though there has not been a substantial amount of scholarly writing on the film, most conversation around the movie is related to the nudity and sexualized space costumes. [6] These costumes were a pop culture response to the popularity, at the time, of Space Age fashion.

Space Age fashion of the 1960s was, at least in part, an effect of the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1961, The Science News-Letter wrote, “The USSR has chalked up the most spectacular space scores: big boosters, heavy payloads and the first man to orbit the earth. Nevertheless, the U.S. is far ahead where it really counts: in solid scientific achievements from satellite and space probe information.” [1] The excitement created by a new age of exploration combined with the reported “winning” of the Space Race by America created a buzz around space travel that created a platform for new ideas in all aspects of life, especially in fashion.

Paco Rabanne is the designer that is credited with inspiring the costumes of Barbarella, which were ultimately designed by Jacques Fonteray. [6] The title of his 1966 collection, Twelve Unwearable Dresses, sums up an important aspect of Space Age fashion: the use of unorthodox, and previously unimaginable, materials. In the case of the dress pictured below, it was made using metal and leather. Therefore, his designs were described as “intergalactic chain-mail concoctions in plastic or metal.” [2] Chainmail can be seen in Barbarella’s costuming, placed to draw attention to her breasts.

 

Dress, 1966

 

The Space Age collection that came out closest to the release of Barbarella was the Cosmocorps collection by Pierre Cardin, which came out in 1967. This collection included “belted tabard dresses and zip jackets for men.” This collection was unique because of its inclusion of men’s fashion. The photo of it below also wonderfully shows the bold use of bright, vibrant color Space Age fashion designers utilized. Cardin himself is also unique because, in 1970, he designed spacesuits for NASA – becoming the only designer included in this post to go on to design actual space-wear. [2]

Pierre Cardin, Cosmocorps collection, 1967

The main designer the rest of this piece will focus on is Andre Courreges, whose Space Age collection came out in 1964. His collection, the first major collection that focused on space-inspired pieces, debuted in “an all-white, chrome-trimmed showroom.” His futuristic line included “geometric-cut clothes” and “flat white boots” that would eventually become known colloquially as go-go boots. [2] As the most prominent Space Age designer of the 1960s, Couregges’ intentions for the style dictated, at least in the beginning, the spirit of the movement. Through his designs, Couregges hoped to liberate women from the fashions that had restrained them for so much of history. The following two quotes from Courreges sum up these sentiments:

“In 10 years bras will be as forgotten as whalebone corsets are today.” [5]

“High heels are preposterous. They are just as absurd as the ancient practice of binding the feet of Chinese women. Boots are a more feminine solution – and more rational and logic. Beauty is logical.”[5]

“Courrèges leaps into the future with this look, these proportions . . .”
Photographed by William Klein, Vogue, March 1, 1964

Couregges saw these advances in the liberation of women’s fashion as being spearheaded by modern women. In the follow quote, he describes the woman he is designing for:

“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.” [5]

Couregges saw the purpose of Space Age fashion as a means for women to advance in society, away from the profoundly feminine styles and expectations of the 1950s. The sexualization of Jane Fonda’s space apparel in Barbarella distorted the appeal of Space Age fashion, turning it from a means to liberate modern women to a means of objectifying the female body in sparse, skin-tight outfits.

Barbarella has remained popular during the fifty years since its release in 1968, even reaching the status of being considered a cult classic. Because of its continued prominence, it has shaped modern understandings of what Space Age fashion was and what it envisioned for the future. A modern viewer noted that “Jane Fonda spends the majority of the film in a bikini and go-go boots.” [4] Pairing Andre Courreges’ arguably most famous contribution to fashion, the go-go boot, with the sexualized costuming of Barbarella distorts the original intentions of Space Age fashion and suggests to modern viewers that have no other reference for the goals of Space Age fashion in the late 1960s, that Space Age fashion was meant to reveal women’s bodies and not to unfetter them, as the original Space Age designer had hoped.

Sources

[1] “Space Age: Four Years Old.” The Science News-Letter, vol. 80, no. 14, 1961, pp. 221–223. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3944115.

[2 ]”SPACE AGE: Fashion’s futuristic pioneers (IDEA No 67).” 100 Ideas that Changed Fashion, Harriet Worsley, Laurence King, 1st edition, 2011. Credo Reference, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/lkingitcf/space_age_fashion_s_futuristic_pioneers_idea_no_67/0?institutionId=1724.

[3] Barbarella (1968) Trailer.” YouTube, uploaded by 0Lostboy0, 28 Sep 2009, www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Xo6FaypcpY.

[4] Schmader, David. “BARBARELLA.” The Stranger, Aug, 2011, pp. 77. ProQuest, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/887100257?accountid=14244.

[5] Battista, Anna. “The Lord of the Space Ladies: Selected Quotes by Andre Courreges.” Notes on Architecture, Art, Fashion, Fashion Law, & Technology, www.irenebrination.typepad.com/irenebrination_notes_on_a/2010/08/lord-of-space-ladies-courreges.html.

[6] Lundén, Elizabeth C. “Barbarella’s Wardrobe: Exploring Jacques Fonteray’s Intergalactic Runway.” Film, Fashion & Consumption, vol. 5, no. 2, 2016, pp. 185-211. ProQuest, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1919687403?accountid=14244.

3 thoughts on “Barbarella: Sexualization of Space Age Fashion”

  1. Hi Malory! I found this to be such an interesting and well-written piece.

    In your analysis of space age fashion, you have clearly identified it as a locus for many of the seminal markers of 1968, namely: the space-race, women’s rights, sexual liberalization and popular culture. Your analysis of fashion has certainly brought together seemingly isolated events of 1968 very cohesively. More so, I think in showing how many disparate hallmarks of 1968 can cohere in many different shapes and forms (i.e. Cardin designing actual space wear), I think your analysis also surfaces a strong sense of the chaotic, confusing, and yet creative atmosphere of 1968.

  2. Hi Mallory!

    Your post was VERY well-written and interesting. I thought your use of quotations was effective, and the post is visually appealing. Your analysis of Barbella and Space Age fashion was clear and engaging. And I think that Couregges’ belief that Space Age fashion could be used for women to advance in society is entirely valid and true.

  3. Greetings Mallory,
    I really liked your incorporation of different photos, it really helped aid my visualization of the fashion you were referring to. I also liked your discussion of Barbarella as a whole and how it sexualized space-age fashion.

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