'A pleat is just a pleat -- unless, of course, your name was Madame Grès."
The Impact of Grès Design Style Made High Society Swoon and Changed Fashion
Learn Why Madame Grès was Considered "The Designer's Designer"
“For a dress to be to survive from one period to the next, it has to be imbued with extreme purity.”
Grès was once quoted as saying:
"Perfection is one of the goals I'm seeking. For a dress to survive from one era to the next, it must be marked with an extreme purity."
When asked by those who worked with her how she should be addressed she indicated that she would prefer to be known simply as Madame Grès. She was known to prefer working in quiet and always dressed in her famous uniform: a grey cashmere jersey, a grey flannel skirt, skin-colored stockings, black lace-up shoes, the sort favored by nurses, and her lifelong shibboleth, that nun-like jersey turban. The atelier operated like a convent -stark and clean, much like her couture. Her demeanor was serious and her attitude about her work was never taken lightly. The New York Times called her couture house "the most intellectual place in Europe to buy clothes, her most notable personal style trademark was the turban that she wore from the time of her exodus from Paris during the war until she disappeared from public view. It is said that while in exodus she had no hairdresser and enjoyed allowing the turban to take the place of having to fuss with her hair. According to Olivier Saillard, she allowed herself a few luxuries - like her blue Jaguar with mink interior. She even had a television installed, although she never watched it. It's been said that she traveled all over Paris with her Pekinese named Mustig in her mink linked sports car.
Grès was very public in her sense of snob in her preference to cater only to the “discrete” woman of high social standing and financial stature rather than those merely in the limelight for most of her career but as time progressed she included not just the rich but the famous as well who were often both. Her clientele included: the Duchess of Talleyrand, the Countess Munose, Princess Matilda of Greece, Lady Deterling, Lady Mendl, Gersende de Sabran-Ponteves, Duchess d'Orleans, Duchess of Windsor, Princesses of Bourbon-Parma, Princess Ghislaine de Polignac, the Begum Aga Khan, Princess Grace of Monaco, Marella Agnelli and Marie-Helene de Rothschild, Duchess of Windsor, Danielle Mitterrand and American Icons and Hollywood legends: Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Edith Piaf, Vivian Leigh, Yvonne Printemps, Madeleine Renaud, Arletty, Sao Schlumberger, Jacqueline Kennedy and Dolores del Río, Barbra Streisand posed in the designers creations for a 1966 Vogue Magazine Cover story in which the often reclusive designer posed together with the singer while the designer is shown wrapping of a coif triangle of Moreau linen on the singers head, in clever reference to her own signature turban coif. Among Grès first muses was Isadora Duncan, the first dancer to dance barefoot in a short tunic. Her impact on the work that was interpreted by the costume departments in old Hollywood is quite noticeable particularly as seen in the gowns created by Edith Head for Grace Kelly among others. She worked directly with Hollywood wardrobe departments as well exampled by the costumes for Circes portrayed by Italian actress Silvana Mangano in the 1954 production of Ullyses.
Bill Blass, was once asked whether he agreed that fashion design was an art... to which he replied:
"No, it's a craft.
Sometimes a creative one.
Sometimes a technical one.
It only becomes an art,
in the hands of Mme Grès or Balenciaga."
Impact on the Industy
Yves St. Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Lloyd Klein, Madame Carven, Azzedine Alaïa, Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Paul Gaultier, Ralph Rucci, Issye Miyaki, Alber Elbaz, Haider Ackermann and Roy Halston are just a few of the top designers who have paid tribute to Grès. Their record of tributes ranges from quotes, (a few of which, are noted on this page), to staged homage references in museums and exhibitions. Her impact on the industry still has strength through today as it did in the early part of her career. In fact, Grès is credited for her part in Cristobal Balenciaga's setting up his own Couture House in 1937.
Photographers and Illustrators
Among the countless revered artists who captured the work of Madame Grès for posterity on film or sketch are: (in random order) Willy Maywald, Guy Bourdin, Cecil Beaton, Henry Clarke, Jean Moral, Man Ray, Horst B. Horst, Katerina Jebb, George Hoyningen-Heuné, Richard Avedon, Renee Gruau and Jean Cocteau.
"The apparent simplicity of her work conceals extremely complex skills."
quote from Madame Grès: Sculptural Fashion
written by Olivier Saillard
"I wanted to be a professional sculptor - for me, it was the same to work with fabric or stone."
Mme Grès, about herself
According to Katy Werlin, Fashion Historian, Mme Grès showed favor to silk jersey in her collections, and a single dress could take from 13 to 21 meters. Her talent for pleating could reduce 9 feet of fabric into a mere 2.8 inches. The drapery of her gowns also showed her technical virtuosity. Long swags of continuous strips of fabric would be incorporated into the front and back of a gown, giving her work a sense of classical antiquity. She also introduced the idea of cutouts, creating little windows in her gowns which revealed the back or shoulder. Wearers of her gowns have said that they felt perfectly secure in her gowns, so impeccable was the construction. Where Madame Grès differs from the sculpture she idolized is through the liberty of movement, which radiates from her dresses, even when statically displayed. Madame Grès never used corsets. Instead, she created lines and volume through the art of twisting, braiding and billowing. The “pli-Grès” is her own, a kind of millefeuille for fashion, an intricate treat of millions of carefully composed folds. A Grès dress manages to, bafflingly, be lavish even as it’s spartan. The adornments are few—though when implemented, the use of buttons, collars, belts, pockets is restrained, minimalist. Her draped Grecian slaves and goddesses were often in a white of neoclassicism, but an optical white that tended, with exposure to light, become more yellow over time. Her inventions were many and varied, and all bear the unmistakable imprint of "Haute Couture".
"She defined herself
as 'a worker in a room'”.
Wait There's More!
For similar stories like the one above about Madame Gres, follow the link on the right to learn how photographer Helmut Newton "discovered" Lloyd Klein at the Ritz in Paris on the page entitled Brand Milestones 1986-1997 - The First Tango in Paris.
Read further to discover how Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy changed Lloyd Klein's future and got him hooked on fashion. This article can be found in one of the blog posts about this found in the Eponyms of Fashion.
This page is created to provide interesting facts and observations about Madame Grès. The Material included in this page is compiled by John Arguelles. It's based on numerous postings and articles about Mme Grès from a variety of sources as found on the internet.