Zee Future Fashion Eez Cool! Ungaro, Gernreich Still Cut It

If it’s 2001, why aren’t you wearing an aluminum bra and white go-go boots like Ursula Andress in that 1965 movie, The 10th Victim? I’m disappointed in you and in us: I felt sure by now that we’d all be living in modular Joe Colombo–designed fiberglass pods, sitting on Verner Panton furniture, wearing white piqué Courrèges jumpsuits and eating pills instead of food. To add insult to injury, futurism was supposed to be one of this season’s trends! But just look at you: twee, crafty and eclectic! I must admit, you seem happy enough in your shabby-chic world, but I know you’d be happier if you were Avenger Emma Peel. I think.

In the mid-1960′s, I was infected by the futuristic bug that had invaded the world of design. Which right-thinkin’ person wasn’t? Hippie stuff, glam rock, punk, grunge and all the styles that followed-they were fine and dandy, but I always assumed that by the time 2001 arrived, we would somehow have circled back to the white, pristine, Kubrickesque fabulousness of the mid-1960′s. I believed Paco Rabanne-he made those disco frocks from metal and plastic squares that used to snag the hell out of your pantyhose-when, in 1967, he said: “At the moment, we are witnessing the end of an era; the needle is about to give way to the mold.” But Paco was wrong. The future, as it turns out, is not only needle-dependent (as in Third World sweatshops), it’s grubby, distressed and Blade Runner–ish.

I took advantage of Emanuel Ungaro’s recent and rare visit to New York-the former futurist hasn’t been here since the launch of his Diva fragrance 18 years ago-and begged him to decode the enigma of space-age chic and to explain why he, of all people, abandoned the cause. “Ze space-age look was very short-lived. It was not comfortable. Pas du tout,” said the couturier with a finger wag. “I remember I make a coat for a woman. Ze sleeve was steef and tight, and she cannot bend her arm to smoke ze cigarette.” Petit-four-sized Monsieur Ungaro chuckled and then recalled the origins of the movement in Paris. “Courrèges et moi, in the early 60′s, we both work for Balenciaga.” It was here, claims Mr. Ungaro, that the seeds of the futurist explosions were planted: “Balenciaga was obsessed with cut and structure and architecture.” Mr. Ungaro left Balenciaga and opened his own house in 1965: “Zen we chop 20 centimeters off the skirt and, voilà, le space age.”

Nothing in Mr. Ungaro’s gorgeous new store on Madison and 67th Street recalls those loopy days-except maybe that dangereuse but fantastique pink glass staircase. Unlike André Courrèges, Mr. Ungaro was happy to move on: “I respect Courrèges, but he is like a horse with blinkers. Me, I change. The only vestige in my work is the discipline and rigor of construction-but the white space-age look? It’s a joke. C’est orthopédique, non?” Mon Dieu!

Re this season’s futurism: Wear it short so you look less orthopedic and more like a Bond Girl manning a control panel. The boot trend allows you to wear shorter dresses and skirts without looking like the easy lay you may or may not be. Remember, futurism was never slutty. (In the future, we were all supposed to be more intellectual-another disappointment!) So if your dress is really short, make sure it has a high neck and long sleeves-see Costume National’s $598 short black wool mini-dress (108 Wooster Street)-and don’t forget the opaque hose and boots.

There are a number of old-school futurist houses still pumping out new product. Maison Paco Rabanne has a new artistic director and is at it again: check out their oxidized chain-mail halters, $1,630 at Barneys. Futurism trivia: In 1967, a considerate Paco Rabanne designed sunglasses on a headband for “all the woman who have had plastic surgery on their noses.”

André Courrèges, though 80, still has enough energy to produce collections, make sculpture and diss Anna Wintour. Rumor has it that the U.S. Vogue entourage, having gotten wind of a possible revival of the futurist moment, recently descended on the Parisian Courrèges studio “for coffee.” André’s wife, Coqueline, took them at their word; apparently she served the requested coffee, geisha-like, and then evaporated, leaving the nonplused Condé Nast employees staring at one another in Pinteresque silence. A.C. never appeared at all.

Courrèges knee-grazing ready-to-wear is available at Jeffrey New York (449 West 14th Street). Caution: chop the hems or you will resemble a really wealthy nurse. Pick of the week: black-and-white Courrèges wallets, also at Jeffrey ($150 to $265), emblazoned with the A.C. logo-quite possible the fabbest logo of all time.

One of the pleasures of living in West Hollywood in the late 1970′s was celeb-spotting Rudi Gernreich, the king of the American 1960′s futurists. (Betsey Johnson was the royal princess.) Rudi who? If you are not familiar with his oeuvre, you have the chance to rectify this embarrassing situation by rushing to Rudi Gernreich-Fashion Will Go Out of Fashion (Sept. 15 through Nov. 11) at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art. The installation is designed by the arty Viennese architectural firm of Coop Himmelb(l)au, which was founded in 1968-love the parenthesis!

Rudi Gernreich (pronounced “earn quick”) was as prolific and influential a designer as Mary Quant. He was the first U.S. designer to raise skirt lengths and to promote “the total look”-i.e., matching shoes, stockings, skirt, hood, eye wear. F.Y.I.: Department stores had a psychotic meltdown trying to merchandise the Gernreich components together. He is best known for the topless swimsuit he created in 1964 and dubbed the “monokini.” Ten years later, he championed the thong.

These were no mere publicity stunts. Rudi was that rare fashion phenomenon: a thinker and a true prophet. Among his predictions and innovations: unisex, stretch, body shaving, body-consciousness (“We will train the body to grow beautiful rather than cover it to produce beauty”) and anti-fashion (“I’m not out to kill fashion. It’s already finished”). He also did the first promotional fashion movie, entitled Basic Black. This masterpiece-it’s worth the trip to Philly just to see it-was shot by William Claxton and features the ultimate futurist model and Gernreich muse, Peggy Moffitt.

As I was saying, the bejumpsuited, betoupéed, regal Rudi could regularly be spotted taking a leisurely stroll down Santa Monica Boulevard to his local coffee shop, where he was often to be found kibitzing with co-couturier James Galanos. He wasn’t exactly rushed off his feet: The late 70′s and early 80′s were not such a great time for this Austrian-born visionary. He died in 1985, but not before starting a line of gourmet soups (celeb foods-another first for Rudi!) and inventing “the pubikini.” This was his last-and cheekiest-burst of creativity and consisted of a minute scrap of bush-exposing fabric. As per Rudi, the pubes were shaved and dyed poison green, a signature Gernreich hue. Bon appetit!

Where, in all this ranting about futurism, is the great Pierre Cardin? Ne t’inquiete pas, Pierre is in the house. Esther M. Harris at Vintage Eyewear of New York City (224 Route 9H, Hudson, N.Y.) has clear-plexi Cardin “lips” and “half-lips” eyewear ($175 each). Marvel at her collection online at http://www.vintageeyewear.com or call her at 917-721-6546.

Amtrak is offering 15 percent discounts on the best available fares to Philly for those going to attend the Gernreich show Fridays through Saturdays (call 800-USA-RAIL and ask for fare-code ext. 725). But why not stay the night? Hotels are offering packages that include two Gernreich show tickets and a room for one night: the Four Seasons, $285 (call 215-963-1500), and the Sheraton, $139 (call 215-387-8000).

If the shabby-chicery of your life is starting to bum you out and you crave a new, optimistic and streamlined identity, a Gernreich getaway might give you a new lease on life. As Rudi Gernreich himself once said: “A woman can be anything she wants to be-a Gainsborough or a Reynolds or a Reynolds Wrap.”