The 60s represented an era of radicalism, flamboyance and disposability. Already adopting a ‘throw-away’ attitude with the invention of disposable cutlery, plates and nappies - an age becoming obsessed with convenience - it was only logical for fashion to become disposable too. Breaking free of the social constraints of the 50s, fashion was taken to new heights and we bore witness to an overnight sensation that was all the rage in the mid-60s; the paper dress.
In the spring of 1966, as part of a marketing stunt, the Scott Paper Company were the driving force behind the phenomenon when they created two dresses made of out paper to promote a new colour line for paper product. For a dollar, you could buy a dress and receive coupons for Scott Paper products, and be relieved of the chore of washing, drying and ironing. It was an instant success.
Made up of 93% cellulose and 7% nylon or Dura-weve reinforced with rayon, the papers were more fragile, which meant there was much more flexibility and made it easier to create soft lines and draping making it more appealing. Within its first week of production; an estimated 500,000 dresses were produced and women across the United States bought into the gimmick of a carefree lifestyle, which saw company sales soar through the roof. Even though styles were simple and only available in a black and white, pop art-inspired style and an orangey red and yellow paisley print, the classic A-line dress was a massive hit.
During a time when it felt like we were living in the space age - with man traveling to space and landing on the moon - Scott had taken clothing to an age beyond its capabilities and paved the way for the future of fashion as convenient, cheap and fashionable. It was a time when anything seemed possible.
The birth of convenience and the age of consumerism had taken centre stage and mass produced paper clothing sparked a fashion craze not just for the average woman, but for women from affluent backgrounds trading in their pieces of Dior for more elaborate paper gowns. One of the most recognisable pieces was Andy Warhol’s, “Souper dress”, inspired by his rendition of the Campbell’s soup image, combining art and fashion at a time when women were eager to exercise their own freedoms and values.
The Souper dress. Image: AFP/Getty Images
Fast becoming a trend, the paper movement swept through the American Fashion industry and it wasn’t long before paper dresses were sold in major department stores and a string of paper clothing boutiques were set up, capitalising on the craze. Not intent on breaking into the fashion industry Scott Paper stopped making paper dresses and major companies like Mars Hosiery filled the gap by producing 80,000 to 100,000 dresses a week.
Unfortunately, it was to be no more than a fashion fad that would become obsolete once the physical limitations became apparent following the rise of the eco-friendly culture which drew attention to a wasteful natured society, and the rising issues of flammability, when one too many fashionistas went up in flames!
Although the novelty wore off, it has inspired young contemporary fashion designers such as Morana Kranjec and Sandra Backlund, whose origami-inspired designs have brought new meaning to the paper dress in modern times.
Croatian designer, Morana Kranjec, showcased her geometric installation at this year’s Vauxhall Fashion Scout in London. Her “Origami-Armour” was an artistic take on the female form by using paper to explore traditional Japanese techniques and the modernity of design construction. Intricately folded by the designer herself, this display of immovability with the decadence and clear influence of Iris Van Herpen’s quest to transform fashion design, combines fashion with architecture.
Paper dress by Morana Kranjec
Not afraid to play with paper, Swedish designer Sandra Backlund’s approach to design is like a sculptor. She tests the boundaries of her craft by creating abstract pieces experimenting with materials like paper and incorporating origami techniques to produce conceptual art.
Paper dress by Sandra Backlund. Image: Peter Gehrke
Paper was not practical enough to stand the test of time, but influential enough to inspire sculptural wearable art.