“You just don’t appreciate high fashion,” scoffs Lucy Ricardo, played by Lucille Ball, to her husband Ricky, played by real-life husband Desi Arnaz, while they sit in a Parisian cafe. It’s the episode of I Love Lucy that aired on March 19, 1956, “Lucy Gets a Paris Gown,” and walking in front of them are models wearing the creations of an imagined designer, Jacques Marcel. The clothes, (actually created by I Love Lucy costume designer Edward Stevenson), are an exercise in abstraction, to say the least. “High fashion?! That looks like it was made out of a potato sack,” Ricky quips, as models walk past in all manner of slouchy and geometric dresses.
By the time “Lucy Gets a Paris Gown” aired, the T.V. show had been on for five seasons and had established Ball as one of the biggest stars of her time. Every week, enough people tuned in to see Lucy’s antics, and for four of I Love Lucy’s six seasons it was the number one show in America. This was in the age of appointment television, when everyone sat down to watch (in fact, more people watched Little Ricky’s birth than President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s swearing-in ceremony the next day).
Ball was no stranger to fashion, having worked as a model for designer Hattie Carnegie in the late 1920s and 1930s. She and Stevenson met while both were working at movie studio RKO Pictures. In 1955, she asked him to join her on I Love Lucy as her costume designer. Ball was never an ad-libber: everything down to her facial expressions was planned in advance, and the costumes were no exception.
On the episode, Lucy pretends to go on hunger strike until she gets a Jacques Marcel dress of her own. Ricky eventually relents, but after uncovering her deception, decides to teach her (and landlady Ethel, who had been supplying her with food) a lesson. He brings burlap to a tailor to create his own take on Marcel’s creations—loose, abstract shift dresses, a nod no doubt to potato sacks—then offers them to the girls, who are at first delighted. Even Jacques Marcel can’t look away when they all arrive at the cafe later. Upon discovering they’ve been had, Lucy and Ethel burn the dresses, only to discover the next day that Marcel has created two identical ensembles and was parading them around Paris. Perhaps in a Jacques Marcel moment of his own, the following year Cristóbal Balenciaga introduced what is now one of his most famous creations, the “sack” dress.
A loose shift, it was the polar opposite of Christian Dior’s “New Look” from 10 years earlier, with its nipped-in waist and flowing skirts. The “sack” dress caused a sensation, both beloved and decried by critics—”It’s hard to be sexy in a sack!” one writer proclaimed—and it was quickly adopted by the fashion world. As the 1950s came to a close, Dior’s hourglass was traded for boldness and abstraction, what was seen as a more youthful, looser look courtesy of Balenciaga and his assistant Hubert de Givenchy. That loose shift style would become a staple for decades to come, first with the minidress in the 1960s and still today, on the runways at Miu Miu, Mary Katrantzou, and so many more.
While there may never be evidence telling us whether or not Balenciaga was an I Love Lucy fan, wherever his idea for the iconic “sack” dress came from changed fashion forever, even if the dress wasn’t burlap.END
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createdAt:Mon, 05 Aug 2019 19:28:14 +0000