Saturday, 4 June 2011

Must see of the moment: l’exposition "Madame Grès, la couture à l'oeuvre"

What is it that makes the setting of the exhibit "Madame Grès, la couture à l’œuvre" in the Bourdelle museum in Paris so perfect? Or what do Germaine Émilie Krebs and Antoine Bourdelle have in common? It is the fact that both Germaine Émilie Krebs and Antoine Bourdelle were sculpturors? One worked with stone, whereas the other one worked with fabrics.
 At first glance, it might be a challenge to depict similarities. Among the mighty statues of Antoine Bourdelle, Madame Grès' rather filigrane gowns appear very delicate and abstract. Yet, the formally trained sculptress, whose signature was the sensual austerity, felt that several analogies could be drawn between her haute couture designs and classic sculpturing.
“I wanted to be a sculptor. For me, it’s the same thing to work the fabric or the stone” she is famously quoted.

The retrospective dedicated to Germaine Émilie Krebs - Madame Grès and Alix Barton were her alias names - is showcasing 80 pieces, which make the spectator travel through 50 years of her life's work starting from 1934 (her "Alix" period) until her last gowns from 1989, which at that time had been commissioned by Hubert de Givenchy. To round off the mise-en-scène of the sculptures of fabric, a large number of drawings and original photographs of her garments have found its way in the exhibit and stress the unbelievable timelessness of her evening dresses.
All made of jersey, the elaborate robes endure through time without appearing anyhow outdated or old-fashioned. Quite the opposite even: Somehow, the draping and folding techniques complement the natural silhouette to an extend where the fluidity of the jersey merges with the movements of the body. None of the components is dominating the other - neither the dress nor its wearer is in the foreground - it is the blending of the body's characteristics with the natural properties of the jersey fabric that makes the overall appearance so coherent and everlasting.

Following a very modern approach for her times, Madame Grès refrained from the use of confining corsets and constricting materials. Instead, she created coats and dresses that followed natural shapes and worked out particular features and volumes through braiding, draping and billowing of the fabrics. Folding of cloth played a major part in her designs - the “pli Grès”, a folding technique that made upper parts of dresses fit like a glove and resulted in dozens of layers of fabric cascading into elegantly voluminous skirts. 

Daring cut-outs, assymetrical necklines, columnar evening gowns that are referencing Greek or Roman godesses and draped capes with hoodies; due to her immaculate draping skills, the perfect balance between exposing and covering of skin, every item in this exhibit is breathing and testifying elegance, savoir-faire, couture, precision, minimalism and sophistication. 

Her appointment as "Honorary President for Life of France’s Chambre Syndicale", the governing body of the French fashion industry shows the influence she had on French couture. Also, she had dressed important society ladies like the  Duchess of Windsor and Jacky Kennedy as well as actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. Yet, despite being the no less reknown contemporary of Gabrielle Chanel Jeanne Lanvin, Madeleine Vionnet and Elsa Schiaparelli, Madame Grès' name has sadly faded in their comparison.

Madame Grès died in solitude 1993.Only one year later, her passing was announced in Le Monde. She had turned her back on the fashion industry after she had to sell her brand and name rights in the late 80ies.

The exhibit “L’exposition Madame Grès, la couture à l’œuvre" is a beautifully staged tribute to her talent, artistic contribution to the fashion industry and to her strikingly timeless designs, which deserve to be acknowledged way beyond her death.

“Madame Grès: Couture at Work”
Through July 24.
Musée Bourdelle
16 rue Antoine Bourdelle, 75015 Paris


Picture Sources: Sneha Meghe aka Yang Chen jun. (Merci, cherie!!!)
Special thanks: Merci for that beautiful day!!!

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