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The MILESTONES of a Fashion Icon | Madame Alix Grès

Her passion for the sculpted classic Greek and Roman deities that inspired her creations is the essence of Classicsim

1930 Germaine Émilie Krebs (1903–1993) grew up in the 17th arrondissement in Paris, France. There are many unresolved curiosities surrounding this diminutive 5’ tall giant in the fashion world, not least of which is the evolution of her name which ultimately became the moniker Madame Grès. Today she is considered the “Designers Designer”, whom Suzy Menkes famously crowned as the “Sphinx of Fashion”. Others in the past have referred to her as "More Garbo than Garbo". She deliberately avoided the mass notoriety attributed to her female contemporaries that included: Gabrielle Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jeanne Lanvin, Maggie Rouff and Madeleine Vionnet. However, her impact on fashion and culture continues to gain profound respect and among the fashion literate. She is now considered to be one of modern history’s most significant artists in the field of clothing design and specifically in the niche category of "Haute Couture".

1935 As Alix, she experienced her first successes designing costumes for Jean Giraudoux's play "La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu", directed by Louis Jouvet and produced in November 1935 at the Théâtre de l'Athénée in Paris. L’Officiel Magazine and other notable fashion publications of the day took notice and favor as a result of her costuming accomplishments and began to work with the designer photographing the garments for fashion editorial bringing attention to the house. However, the editorial credits were incorrectly listed as “designed by Alix Barton”. This is most likely because Alix did not use a last name at the time and she was for them the face of the house. This success in the media prompted a short lived formal business alliance between Juliette and Alix and the house was rechristened La Maison Alix Barton, and moved to a workshop at 83 rue Fauborg Saint-Honore.


1937 (April 15) Alix married an unconventional Russian oil painter named Serge Anatolevitch Czerefkow who was known to sign his paintings with a partial anagram of his own name as Grès. She converted to Russian Orthodox in order to marry in her husband’s religion. Both claimed the redesigned surname of Grès.


1939 (August) Alix gives birth to a daughter she names Anne. However, two weeks before she gives birth WWII begins and the invasion of Paris soon follows. A few months prior to this her husband abandons his wife and their unborn child and leaves France altogether to pursue a separate life in Tahiti and never returns to his family. Interestingly, she sent him monthly support until his demise in 1970. Anne was brought up with the full time assistance a woman named Muni who became godmother and who was a very close and personal friend who cohabited with the designer for more than 40 years causing speculation about their sexual orientation because of their intimate relationship. Muni was the confidant and model/muse to the designer. Her influence and poor advice together with another woman named Muftach would bring about a series of regrettable legal embroilments for the designer who often allowed others to sway her decisions on business matters.


1940 (January) Alix and Barton began to argue with each other and with their silent investors which prompted those to dissolve their business partnership particularly after Barton allegedly disavowed her business partner to Nazi occupiers as Jewish. Alix, Muni and Anne fled Paris and sought refuge in the Haute-Garonne they felt safe to return.

1960's - 1970’s The brand introduces a new series of well received geometric and ethnic inspired garments including ponchos and caftans,


1972  She officially became a woman of prestigious rank in French fashion, by winning a unanimous election as Honorary President of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne - the official governing organization of the French fashion industry.


1976  She becomes the first recipient of the Dé d'Or (Golden Thimble Award), the highest honor given by the Chambre Syndicale.


1977  She designs a collection of accessories for Cartier, as well as lines of scarves, ties, and sunglasses for other companies which were first introduced the year prior.


1978  She is awarded with the New York University "Creative Leadership in the Arts".


1981 The brand produces its first ready-to-wear collection for distribution and it is sold for 5 years.

1988 Estorel declares bankruptcy and sells the distressed house to a Japanese investment firm, The Yagi Tsucho Groupe, who remain the current owners.


She continued to work from her private apartment in Paris with financial support from her esteemed peers Mssrs. Givenchy and Saint Laurent and created special gowns by commission for them in appreciation. Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy purchased over 300 of her brand name gowns from her personally. In his book written the same year, entitled, 'The Givenchy Style' he described her work as, “Beautiful enough to go mad over”.


She retired officially and is moved from Paris to a second home in Saint Paul de Vance for a brief time. She was ultimately placed in a low-income retirement residence called l'Château de la Condamine, in the Var, in the South of France, by her daughter Anne.

She was more secretive than private, leaving the world with so many unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries.

1930 She grew up in a middle-class Parisian family where she studied music, dancing, and art. She traveled outside of France extensively as a young girl and she developed an affinity for ethnic and indigenous costume and deeply admired the Grecian style robes adorning the majestic Roman and Greco statues she encountered outside of Paris and in the treasures resident in the Louvre.  She began to dream of becoming a great sculptress and when the opportunity arrived, she began formal training in this field. Her family felt it was an “unlady-like” career and offered very little encouragement. Indeed her slight frame proved to be a formidable physical challenge which resulted in the necessity to replace chisel and hammer with scissors and pins “sculpting” via dress design. Her first jobs were in millinery. She found a consistent income by making toiles by the piece for the local ateliers in gained a reputation of providing her clients with highly detailed and swift workmanship. Taking the advice of a family friend who owned a fashion company she entered an apprenticeship at Premet, an Edwardian couture house, where she acquired skills in sketching, cutting, and sewing. However, even though she understood the concepts of sewing it was never her forte and she managed to become adept at an unorthodox method of making dresses by draping fabric directly against the body and then by using pins on dress forms to indicate fabrication closures. This technique is one that is now familiar to those who design couture even through these modern times.


1932 The young designer consciously changes her first name from Germaine to Alix and relinquishes her surname altogether and opens her own House of Couture under the company name of La Maison Alix.


1934 She became the Assistant designer to her childhood friend Juliette Barton owner of La Maison Barton located which was situated in a three-room apartment on Rue Mirosmesnil in the Paris 6th Arrondissement and her talent begins to excel.

1941 (June) She returns to Paris sells her 50% stake in the Alix Barton business and is persuaded by Lucienne LeLong the President of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne to open a salon under the name La Maison Grès located at 1 Rue de La Paix just off Place Vendome. Although she was Jewish, the Nazi’s allowed her to conduct business with the intention of demanding that she create dresses for their wives due to her widespread reputation as one of Paris most prolific and status-making dressmakers.  


1944 She refused to accommodate the Nazi’s insistence that she reveal her trade secrets, and her excessive use of fabric in adherence to the regime’s fabric restrictions as well as her ultimate refusal to dress the Nazi wives was enough reason for the regime to force her  to close the house in January. By early summer she was authorized to resume her business in occupied Paris albeit from scratch. Shortage of cloth meant she had to fit in with the necessary fashion of short skirts and mannish shoulders, where her previous work had depended on the lavish draping of fabric. She patriotically refused to admit Germans to her shows. Her final wartime collection was entirely red, white and blue, the colors of the tri-color flag a finger-up to the occupying powers. In the years following the war, her atelier became one of the biggest in Paris, with 180 employees and seven workrooms.


1947 She is bestoewed with l'Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur for her corageous resistence efforts during the war with Nazi Germany.


1957 – 1962 She vehemently avoided designing for the ready to wear market and likened it to a form of prostitution for the artist. An organized effort to bring the couture designers of Paris into the prêt a porter was organized as a group and she begrudgingly participated.


She was commissioned by the Ford Foundation to study textiles in India. Once again, her travels inspired her, this time not only in the design of sari-like gowns and Nehru jackets, but also in fragrances. She launched her first perfume created by Bernard Chant originally named Choda, which was later renamed Cabochard (pig headed). She continued to develop perfumes throughout her career. (see bottom of this page for a list).

1982  The brand is forced to sell the perfume business, her most profitable venture. She reinvested the money in her haute couture company.


1984  The brand becomes one of the first couture houses to sell a controlling interest to a non-fashion entity, an ambitious entrepreneur keen to invest in luxury ny the name of Bernard Tapie who went on to become a minister under Frédéric Mitterrand and the only owner of French football team, Marseille, to win Europe’s greatest prize – The Champions League. However, almost immediately, Tapie’s empire over expanded and fell into bankruptcy, landing him in prison in matters unrelated to his involvement with the House.


1986  (April) The Brand is expelled from membership in the Chambre Syndicale for nonpayment of dues through the mismanagement of Bernard Tapie who then sold the company to the Jacques Estorel Group.

1987 She continued to work for her namesake company after selling her final interest in order to pay off some of her debt but ultimately retired after presentation of her spring 1988 collection. The company at 1, Rue de la Paix, was liquidated by the French Government. One day, the officials stormed the location and broke the furniture and the wood dress forms with axes. The fabrics and dresses were taken away in plastic garbage bags and left curbside for trash removal. “The place was completely sacked", Anne Grès told Laurence Benaïm, a journalist and Director of the fashion pages at "Le Monde" and author of a magnificent book called GRÈS (Assouline Publishing). She confided to Pierre Cardin that the sale of the company to Tapie was the worst decision she ever made.

The Lloyd Klein Years | 1992 - 1995

1992 - 1995 The Yagi Tsucho Groupe begins an exhaustive 4 year search for the ideal designer to helm Grès - Paris with the hope of resurrecting the cherished label. They finally discovered a young but skilled designer in Paris named Lloyd David Klein, who although only 26 years old, demonstrates prowess in the area of women’s tailoring. His work showed an understanding of the proportions and volume that align with the concepts established by Grès. He accepted the almost impossible assignment of rebuilding the house as Creative Directo. Among his first requests is that the long time seamstresses of the previous atelier are re-hired. Faced with a tremendous challenge his first step is to reorganize the basic building blocks of what could be found of the Grès collection throughout vintage outlets in local France. He scoured Paris for relics from the brand's collections including images and drawing and recovers over 50 rare photographs and several original Rene Gruau fashion illustrations as well as over 60 samples of branded garments representing her overall career but mainly from the 70's -80's. Among his finds were numerous items and photographs that belonged to Madame’s longtime personal partner Muni and those of her “Muse Daughter”, (the unofficially adopted daughter whom she showed favor over her daughter Anne who had become often distant over the years). The executives at Yagi Tsucho requested that he construct a new standard sample blocks for the atelier the essential elements in building collections to establish the “Tailleur Grès”. This process of designing the tailleur was less daunting for him as it was his forte. However, it was through his ability to adapt and meld the pli-Grès technique into his own style of menswear driven suiting for women that impressed the skeptical seamstresses who had come back to work. They wondered how such a young man could grasp the essence of their beloved grand Couturier. Their concerns were short lived.


His défilé de modes included both couture and prêt-à-porter, most often held at the Carousel de Louvre and were presented in accordance with the official calendar maintained by the Chambre Syndicale, the organization sanctioned by the French government to oversee and regulate the fashion industry in France.  His seasonal collection shows for the Fashion House received great acclaim from the press including opinions from Le Figaro Daily whose Fashion Editor Janie Samet wrote in her review of Lloyd Klein's inaugural runway show (as translated from French to English):


“des Fleures Pour Grès” (the Flowers of Grès),

Lloyd Klein proved today that the spirit

of Madame Grès lives on through his hands”. 


Like his renowned predecessor, the caliber of fashion and society sophisticates who presided over his front row were impressive.  Luminaries from fashion and politics included such names as: Mme Carven, Mme Chirac, and Mssr Hubert de Givenchy who Klein credits as his mentor and reason for entering the field and the many wives of various European diplomats and Consul Generals, Mrs. Johnson (of the Johnson & Johnson Co.), Princesse Philomene d’ Arenberg, Princess Diane de Beauveau Craon, Princess Anne de Bourbon Sicile, Mrs. Judith Taubman, Cyrielle Clair, Olivier Picasso, Amanda Lear, Mrs. Jocelyne Wildenstein and Mrs. Nan Kempner, among many others. The top models of Paris at the time were cast on his runway and campaigns included: Tricia Helfer, Bridget Moynahan, Eve Salvail, Christy Turlington, Nieves Álvarez, Adriana Karembeu, Mounia, Beverly Peele, Jessica White, Katoucha Niane, Rebecca Ayoko, Emma Sjoeberg, Linda Evangelista and Gretta Cavazzoni. His collaborations with some of Paris most accomplished artists such as Jean Barthot for Hats and Alexandre de Paris for Coiffure became part of his team each season.

Time to Step Out of the Shadows and into the Limelight

As he approached the end of his 3 year contract as Creative Director of Grès - Paris, he made the decision not to renew and to return to operating his own brand. As he reflected on the experience of working under her shadow he realized he had grown tired of the constant comparison to his predecessor. However, it was the news of her death which was a tipping point for his decision to return to his own brand. For him, the news of her passing meant that he would never have the hoped for opportunity to have her approval of his interpretation in person. The cultural differences and management style of the Japanese owners of the brand were distinctly different than his Parisian values. While he wanted to develop the brand with distinct PR efforts with regard to his role in the company it was not in sync with the owner’s style of brand promotion. The constant struggle between the management and Klein escalated and they became resolute about not wanting to draw press attention regarding the House having a designer in residence. Alledgedly, they feared that the Grès label would be robbed of its prominence by having any other name than Grès connected to the House. In hindsight, history has proven that succeeding designers are interpreted correctly by the public and typically it is beneficial to the businesses that have done that. When the Metropolitan Museum held a Madame Grès retrospective he was not allowed to attend and it became evident that he would not be able to contribute to the Gres brand to his satisfaction. When the movie Ready to Wear (1994) was being filmed in Paris, Lloyd Klein and the brand were invited to participate in the project and the Japanese headquarters did not believe it was in their interest to become join the rest of the designers in Paris and declined to allow anything from the brand in the film. Within 3 short years he had produced 6 major runway collections and oversaw the design for 46 licensed categories of apparel and products for Asia and throughout Europe. He rebuilt and organized the atelier in record time a feat taht may have normally been expected to twice as long.  When it came time to renew his contract as Artistic Director despite being reported to have been among the most compensated fashion designers employed in Paris at that time,he chose to resign his position. He chose instead to return to his own House in order to enjoy the ability to have freedom of artistic license.

1994 (September 13 - November 27) “Madame Grès: Sculptural Fashion The Metropolitan Museum of Art”, NYC Curators: Richard Martin and Richard Koda /The first major exhibition positioning her as one of the greatest fashion designers in modern history. Although the exhibition curators had sent multiple requests to the designer to attend the exhibition created in her honor, they received forged letters presumably from the honoree explaining her inability to attend due to her busy schedule.  An accompanying commemorative book is produced with the same name. 

An investigative reporter discovers her death certificate and reveals that the great artist had indeed passed away in a nursing home supposedly alone and penniless. According to the New York Times, the fashion world is shocked by reading this news through Le Monde Newspaper. Sadly, the shocking revelation made just two weeks after the conclusion of the Grès exhibition at the Met.

1996 – 1998 Frederic Molenac is hired to design accessories and ready to wear


2002 – 2005 Koji Tatsuno is hired as Creative Director

2004  Previous Design Director Lloyd Klein 1992 –1995 presented his Lloyd Klein Spring 2005 collection on the runway that included an elaborate mise en scene mirrored platform - center stage, in the tents at Bryant Park with a standing room only presentation called “Reflections of Madame Grès”.


2008 (February 1 – April 10) “Madame Grès: Sphynx of Fashion”, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC; Curator: Patricia Mears. An accompanying commemorative book was produced with the same name.

2011 (March 25 - July 24) “Madame Grès: la couture à l'oeuvre”, The Musée Bourdelle, Paris France; Curator: Olivier Saillard. According to fashion journalist Suzy Menkes: The exhibit included an abundance of original drawings provided through the benevolence of Pierre Bergé at the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, who bought and offered 3,000 drawings out of reverence for the Madame. A large selection of donations of specific clients such as the Duchess of Orleans added to the rich display. Her final creation: a swelling-bodice dress ordered in 1989 by Hubert de Givenchy was donated for the display. An accompanying commemorative book was produced with the same name.


2012 The last Grès store in Paris closes its doors.

The Fashion World Mourns the Mysterious Death of an Icon

1994 - The Day the News Broke about the Mysterious Death of Madame Grès in 1993

AP News Video Report: announcing the mysterious death of Madame Grès with comments by Lloyd Klein, artistic director 1992-1995

1993 (November 24) the legendary and mysterious couturier Madame Grès died in the retirement home she occupied, apparently alone and penniless. Her death was strangely held secret from the public and Madame’s colleagues by her daughter Anne who for 13 months impersonated her mother by phone and by mail answering inquiries in detail in her deceased mother’s name. Speculations to explain Anne’s bizarre behavior have run the gamut from jealousy, immaturity and greed but with no final conclusion. Thus, adding yet one final mysterious element to the designer’s legacy.  She never received any royalties for her work after her retirement.

This is an image of Madame Alix Gres posed at the foot of a model wearing one of the gowns she designed  (circa 1946)

1930  Parfum Déesee (W)

1946 Muse (W)

1947 A (W)

1958 Cabochard ex-Choda(W)

1965 Grès pour Homme (M)

1975 QuiProQuo (W)

1980 Eau de Cologne Grès(W)

1981 Eau de Grès(W)

1982 Alix(W)

1982 Monsieur de Grès

1984 Grès Monsieur Sport

1990 Cabotine de Grès(W)

1996 Pastel de Cabotine

1996 Homme de Grès

1997 Folie Douce (W)

1999 Grain de Folie (W)

2000 Air de Cabochard (W)

2002 Cabaret (W)

2003 Cabotine Bleu (W)

2003 Cabotine Rose (W)

2003 Cabotine Fleur (W)

2003 Cabotine Sensuelle (W)

2004 Cabaret Pour Homme

2004 Caline (W)

2006 Ambre de Cabochard (W)

2006 Fleur de Cabotine (W)

2006 Caline Night (W)

2007 Caline Sweet Appeal  (W)

2007 My Dream Hommage a M. Dietrich (W)

2007 My Life Hommage a M. Dietrich (W)

2007 My Passion Hommage a M. Dietrich (W)

2008 Cabotine Delight (W)

2009 Cabotine Aquarelle (W)

2009 Sphinx Hommage a Greta Garbo (W)

2009 Goddess Hommage a Greta Garbo (W)

2009 Mythos Hommage a Greta Garbo (W)

2010 Caline Blooming Moments (W)

2010 Caline Tender Moments (W)

2010 Cabotine Gold (W)

2010 Cabotine Green Summer (W)

2010 Cabotine Moon Flower (W)

2011 Cabotine Cristalisme (W)

2011 Cabotine Fleur de Passion (W)

2011 Cabotine Fleur d’Ivoire (W)

2011 Cabotine Floralisme (W)

2013 Cabotine Eau Vivide (W)

2013 Cabotine Fleur Splendide (W)

2013 Madame Grès (W)

This unique image shows Madame Gres holding an ornate bottle of fragrance
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