I’ve spent some time this week thinking about fashion’s role in everything that’s happening in the world. My firm belief that fashion is a means with which to tell our stories, and our stories matter, can feel a bit small when faced with big world events. Yet- fashion is important at this time too. Be it as rebellion, support, or how we tell the stories of this moment. Look at Madame Gres- who used her fashion to stand up to the Nazis. May we all be so brave and so chic.
Loves, if you love the elegant look of Grecian Stlye pleats, cutouts, and dresses that look like sculpture, you have someone to thank: Madame Gres, the famous Couturier who dressed Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich. She’s a designer to know! (Especially if you love vintage, like me!)
Madame Gres was born as Germaine Krebs in Paris, 1903. Her first aspiration was to be a sculptor, however, she was unsuccessful. This was our gain! She took her love of the Grecian like sculptures to clothes (specializing in jersey). Madame Gres got her start as a fashion designer by designing costumes for Jean Giradoux’s play, “The Trojan War Will Not Take Place”. After this, Gres started her first line Alix (she went by the name Alix Barton at the time), and this line functioned from 1934-42.
My favorite story about Madame Gres, which I think is telling, takes place during the German Occupation of Paris during WWII. Gres was commanded to quit making couture and to start making “utilitarian clothes”, as well as dress the wives of German Officers. Gres refused, and continued to make gowns in the colors of the French flag (red, white, and blue). Gres was eventually run out of Paris, and she staying in the Pyrenees till the Occupation was over. Fashion can change the world!
“Madame Gres” was officially founded in 1942, a couture house that specialized in the above mentioned pleated dresses. Each piece is a work of art, taking over 300 hours to make each dress, and with all the pleating done by hand. Gres would drape and sculpt her work on the models, and she refused to sacrifice any quality or attention to detail throughout her career. Gres was called the “Sphinx of Fashion”, and the New York Times said her house: “was the most intellectual place in Europe to buy clothes”. Gres was known as the place to go for chic, draped gowns, that looked like Greek Sculpture. (Side note: Gres is also credited with creating cutouts).
If you’re wondering how to identify a Madame Gres piece, look for these things:
-Pleats (created by hand, then sewn together)
-Lots of folds/drapes
-Greco-Roman Influence: capes, togas, wraps (Though it should be said that Gres also had some Asian and Eastern Influnces and did a line of kimonos)
Gres did some structured pieces, but they are not as well known as her “classic” pieces.
Madame Gres resisted the transition from Couture to ready to wear, although she did start a ready to wear line in the 1980s. She hated mass production, didn’t want to sacrifice her quality or lower her price; however, costs forced her to change her business plan. Madame Gres also had a perfume house, Parfumes Gres, which she had to sell to keep her Couture House afloat.
Madame Gres died in 1993, still beloved and revered by the fashion community.
Also love these videos showcasing Madame Gres:
So, if you love Madame Gres like I do, you may be wondering where you can find a piece! Loves, it’s not always easy. These dresses are works of art (and priced accordingly), and not always on the market. However, Investment Piece Favorite Rachel Zabar Vintage has quite a few Madame Gres pieces right now! Take a look here, and let’s swoon together. A side note: I take gifts year round!