A WOMAN IS FASHIONABLE when she feels
confident as well as comfortable in the clothes she wears, and in
the material that closely embraces her womanly figure. This general
idea of fashion can be simpler than one can imagine, as French haute
couture designer, Madame Grès (190393) successfully
proved with her simple designs.
The Madame Grès, la couture à luvre
(Madame Grès: Couture at Work) exhibition at the Musée
Bourdelle in Paris represents many of the couturières
outstandingly elegant and finely detailed pieces. As one closely
examines the pieces on display, various elements come to life; suddenly
pieces begin to resemble sculpted figures. Rather than wanting to
become a designer, Madame Grès yearned to be something else:
I wanted to be a sculptor. For me, working with fabric or
stone is the same thing. Simple pieces can truly be seductive
as fabrics naturally drape around the womans body to wonderfully
represent a perfectly feminine structure.
The designer was born Germaine Èmilie Krebs,
soon she was known as Alix Grès and eventually Mme Grès.
Although her name changed, her artistic designs and fashion sense
remained consistent as her fingers performed magical illusions,
using a range of different coloured fabrics. The couturière
designed exquisitely flowing and classy pieces. Her designs provoked
sophisticated and seductive appeal, marvellously exposing elegance.
Until the end of August, the museum will house a total
of 80 dresses and over 100 sketches that will highlight Madame Grès
works. Viewers can take time to admire the wonderful constructions
that include fine cuts and draping. The exhibition does not only
present spectators with various designs from different periods,
it represents art and beauty Madame Grès fantastically created.
Her design house was founded in 1942. From day dresses
to evening dresses, each design was outstanding to the eye, fulfilling
ones appetite of the arts.
Madame Grès pieces were worn by a number
of famous women, including the fashionable Grace Kelly, Édith
Piaf, Barbra Streisand, the elegant Marlène Dietrich and
the stylish Wallis Simpson (the Duchess of Windsor).
We spoke to one of the exhibitions curators, Laurent
Cotta, who took us into Madame Grès inventive universe
as we entered the world of a brilliant French haute couture designer.
Lucire: Can you tell us what this exhibition stands for?
Laurent Cotta: In fact we have a message which reminds people
that haute couture is not necessarily some very bling-bling
thing, but it can be very more introspective and more demanding
than that. That is exactly what we can see with Madame Grès
who is more like an artist than somebody working in the logic of
How were you, along with [fellow curators] Olivier Saillard and
Sylvie Lécailler, able to put all of these dresses together
to create such splendour? How long did it take?
We didnt have a very long time to organize itwe only
had nine months. For people, it might appear quite long, but that
is not very long to organize an exhibition. In general it takes
one year or eighteen months to organize an exhibition. And we also
had to organize the catalogue at the same time, but we have a very
big collection of Madame Grès dresses in our museum
something like 300 from all of the periods of her creation.
We were also helped a lot from a student from the École de
Louvre because he was also particularly fond of the work of Grès.
We also knew a few collectors of Madame Grès dresses
who are very involved in fashion.
Getting to know more of Madame Grès works over
a period of nine months, is there anything you learned or discovered
about her that you might not have known before?
What we discovered
she is always unexpected
a style which is quite easy to recognize. You always find little
details you never saw and you see how great her dresses can be.
That is something quite special about her because when you see dresses
or garments in our storage, you know they hang on hangers or they
are displayed in drawers, it is not the most glamorous way to see
a dress. But when it is a dress by Grès, Balençiaga
or other designersbut especially by Grèswhen
displayed this way the simplest and the least attractive one can
still be something that you can be attracted to anyway by even one
detail. That was a very good surprise for us to find.
It was very moving to organize this exhibition. You
sometimes have the impression that you knew her from inside with
her creations, which are so connected to her life. As she said,
she worked, worked and worked and when she didnt work she
slept and after sleeping she worked again and again
have the impression that you can feel her character in the exhibitionthat
was something we felt as we organized the exhibition. It was also
very moving to meet her granddaughter who lived with her grandmother
as a child; she also had the impression to see her grandmother through
Now, allow us to take another French haute couture designer
such as Christian Dior; what major differences could you tell us
that may exist between Madame Grès and Dior?
The only difference between Madame Grès and Diors
creations is the weight of the dresses. Madame Grès
designs are seen to be considerably lighter. With Dior, the dresses
were very beautiful but they were heavy and all of the weight of
the dresses was placed on the clients waist. Though you were
looking gorgeous in the beginning of the evening, at the end it
could be painful. You never had that kind of structure with Madame
She also liked to play with different patterns like
checked patterns and striped patterns
she also liked to play
around with the way she cut the fabrics (points at the edges
of a dress).
Are you happy with the result of the exhibition?
Yes! Very much so! We had a lot of people come to visit the exhibition.
Up to now we have had more than 50,000 visitors and a lot of them
didnt know who Madame Grès was in the beginning. They
were interested in fashion but a lot of them have forgotten about
this nameI think for them it was an important rediscovery.
We are quite moved as well because a lot of people who dont
care very much about fashion saw the Madame Grès exhibition
and were quite enthusiastic about her work. They realized that she
was not necessarily only a fashion designer but an artist in all
of the meaning of the term.