The Iconic Style of Classicists
The Garment Sculptors | Grès Minds Think Alike
by: John Arguelles
Monsieur Lloyd Klein
Four years after her departure from the fashion scene and presumably while she was in alive and in retirement, all that was left of Maison Grès was the trademark and legacy of the Master. Yagi Tsucho, a Japanese textile conglomerate purchased the trademark and began an exhaustive worldwide search across the fashion capitals and finally discovered a budding young designer who was getting attention in the French fashion press. They noticed his style tendencies were very much aligned with those of the Master. From his first collection unveiled in 1987 on the runway at the Hotel Crillon in Paris, his design direction embodied a profound "Alix" vibe and is an ever present sensibility found throughout his body of work until the present day. With a sigh of relief after a multiyear search, they offered him the auspicious challenge of stepping in as the Artistic Director for the House now marked as Grès - Paris. There had been no other designer beside the Madame herself making the position especially daunting for any one strong enough to step-in.
And so it was, that a 25 year old talent named Lloyd Klein took the reins for the acclaimed brand. With barely a thread of physical reference and no sample vault from which to browse, few physical photos in hand and without the luxury of digital imagery now enjoyed in age of the internet, he systematically began to do the near impossible restoration. Klein's first move was to invite the long serving seamstresses of the previous atelier to return and assist in the rebuilding process. He then meticulously scoured every known vintage store in Paris for all things Grès His persistence and resolve in the curation process resulted in building a trove of relics from Madame Grès collections including original sketches and recovers over 75 rare photographs and several original Rene Gruau illustrations as well as over 100 samples of Madame Grès garments representing her overall career with a majority connected to the 60's - early 80's. Among his finds, are numerous relics, and photographs that belonged to Madame’s longtime personal partner Muni and those of her “Muse Daughter”, her unofficially adopted daughter whom Grès showed favor over her often estranged daughter Anne. With a newly staffed team in the atelier including those that had worked with the Madame for many years and the small library of samples his first accomplishment was the creation of “Tailleur Grès” given that his forte was in designing tailored apparel.
His first collection for Grès received great acclaim from the uneasily impressed Parisian fashion journalists including a review from Le Figaro Daily in which Fashion Editor Janie Samet wrote in her article entitled,
“des Fleures Pour Grès” (Flowers for Grès),
“Lloyd Klein proved (today) that the spirit of Madame Grès lives on through his hands”.
The front-row seats for his runway shows mostly held at the Carrousel Du Louvre were luminous with VIP's like Madame Carven, Madame Chirac, and especially by Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy who Klein credits as his reason for entering the field much the same way that Pierre Bergé stated "Madame Grès is one of the reasons why we (he and his business partner Yves St. Laurent) went into fashion".
Like his predecessor, Klein's clients at Grès were notable and like the infamous golden book of her high society clients, his impressive list included: 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, Amanda Lear, Mrs. Jocelyne Wildenstein and Mrs. Nan Kempner, among many others. His runway theater attracted the top models in Paris including Tricia Helfer, Bridget Moynahan, Eve Salvail, Christy Turlington, Adriana Karembeu, 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 were celebrated as genius by those who understood the power of working with the best of the best.
However when it came time to renew his contract with Yagi Tsucho, after profound consideration, he declined. WWD simply reported that he chose to leave his contract to pursue other interests. But the giant shadow that surrounded his presence was the constant and unfair comparison to Grès. Combined with the cultural differences that surfaced between the Japanese owners that starkly contrasted the French culture, made his decision inevitable. His ultimate desire to return to creating with his own fashion identity and to have the freedom of artistic license that comes with ownership of an eponymous brand prevailed.
His imprint at the House was significant. In three short years, he had staged four major runway collections and created design statutes, reconstructed patterns and orchestrated the blocks sorely missing in the atelier, simultaneously designing for over 46 licensed categories of apparel and products for Asia and throughout Europe which all flourished during his tenure.
Similar to the way that artists are referenced as genre like the Expressionists or the Impressionists, Madame Grès and Lloyd Klein seem to find reference in the same qualities that produce such a beautiful category of apparel. Perhaps a name like the Classicists would be appropriate or the Architecturalists would be justified. There are many significant fashion giants who reference Grès as inspiration and find alignment with her direction of apparel design. Among them are Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, Schiaparelli. Haider Ackermann, Yoji Yamamoto and Ralph Rucci each in various degrees. However, her design torch is most significantly carried by Lloyd Klein, her first successor and sincerest fan. Sadly, his successful effort to revive her label that he achieved during his tenure 1992-1995 was not sustained after his departure.
Eventually, the House, stopped actively producing apparel and closed its doors in 2005. Yagi Tsucho continues to hold the master trademark. A Swiss company maintains the license in the category of fragrance and still actively produces perfumes like Cabochard and Cabotine, created by Grès herself which are reportedly considered to be among the all-time best sellers worldwide.
A single evening gown often required as many as 50 meters of fabric typically silk tissues, chiffon, faille and most famously, supple fine silk jerseys. Although the final product looks as light as a feather and seems to float on the body it would demand as many as 400 hours of skilled atelier workmanship to achieve that result, which is a luxury and a work of art.
Her classic sculptural styles of draping predominant in her Flou Atelier for the drapés des plissés and eventually in tailleur components of her collections characterized her revered body of work. Its span began with the label marked Alix circa 1934 - through Grès circa 1989. But perhaps her greatest and often overlooked fashion statement is revealed by observing the exaggerated design elements that eventually become part of the vocabulary of fashion using enormously balanced dis-proportions intended to spotlight elements like the sleeve, neckline, and waistline as well as "daring for the time", cut-outs that exposed bare areas of the woman’s body boldly but with discriminating taste. She revolutionized fashion. Her originality that was as classic as the statues of goddesses of Greco and Roman mythology was relevant in its interpretation for the modern times of the 30's and remains poignant event today. She created trends that inspired the collections of her contemporaries like Mme Elsa Schiaparelli, Mme Coco Channel, Mme Madeleine Vionnet, and the early collections of Mme Maggie Besançon de Wagner for the House of Mme Maggy Rouff.
Mme Grès retired in 1989 and in 1993 she passed away alone and penniless. Most stunning is that no one knew of her passing except her daughter Anne who for reasons still unknown today kept it a secret and in fact kept her alive as a charade of secrecy. She did so by answering mail and phone calls on behalf of her mother signing letters as her mother and responding to correspondences requesting visitation with the same reply that she was not interested and preferred to remain private. So when headlines about her secret death hit newspapers across the globe it caused a great deal of attention both from the fashion circles and from inquiring minds in general that found the story worth talking due to the circumstances that seemed shockingly odd no matter who it was. The real reasons for daughter Anne's role playing charade portraying her dead mother who left the earth so broke that a proper headstone was unaffordable and the at by keeping her alive the family could buy more time to raise enough funds to properly memorialize Alix Grès. The timing of the obituary that headlined newspapers around the globe a year post mortem, eerily followed just a month on the heels of the closing of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art's extraordinary retrospective exhibition which paid homage to the work done by Madame Grès.
Even the curators of the milestone exhibition were stunned to find out that they'd been duped by Mme Grès' imposter daughter. Having received a formal decline to attend the exhibition in her honor ne which had been in the works in various forms and was ardently supported by the efforts of Diana Vreeland who had met with her on many occasions in prior years to her retirement. Not surprisingly, Mme Vreeland and the designer had a strong friendship that abruptly ended without incident when her daughter moved her mother to live many hours away from Paris and the fashion scene which she was so much a part of and who were her extended family who shared likeminded interests.
Madame Alix Grès
"That's all I know to do!
It's not my fault."
Lloyd Klein - tweet
The Garment Sculptors is a reference text book created for those interested in learning about the the House of Grès, The fashion Classiscists and how Madame Grès and Lloyd Klein epitomize that genre seperately and together.
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For similar stories like the the one above about Madame Carven, 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 and discover how Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy changed Lloyd Klein's future and got him hooked on fashion. This article can be found on Lloyd Klein's Biography page.
More images and text regarding Madame Grès are found on this site don't miss them. Connect to "About" Madame Grès - a look at her iconic impact on fashion; and The Milestones that narrate her career achievements and the Book Preview for the Garment Sculptors which covers Lloyd Klein and Madame Grès or the House of Grès. (buttons for links are on the right)
In addition to the internal links on the right of this text, please visit our Pinterest Board and our Tumblr Blog specific to Madame Grès and Lloyd Klein as Classicists. These last two buttons will open up new pages that are external to the Lloyd Klein website.