“The tutelary spirit of fashion”, “the master of couture”, “the grande dame of the couturier world”… From her heyday in the 1930s to the present day, there has been no shortage of praise and respect for legendary couturière Madame Grès.
A contemporary of the 1920s-1930s generation of female couturier stars Chanel, Lanvin and Schiaparelli, Madame Grès remains a notable and incredibly influential figure in the world of fashion.
What makes Madame Grès so important to this day? Simply put, she was a “sculptor of fabric”. Although Madame Grès was from a bourgeois family, she ran away from home with dreams of becoming a sculptor. To support herself, she first started crafting the“toiles” of coats. However, the pieces of the would-be sculptor contained such a rich artistic quality, never before seen in Western clothing, that her talent would soon catch the eye of the director of the department store giant Macy’s. From this point onwards, Madame Grès would step into the world of fashion for good and start “sculpting”fabric.
She opened her own maison (design house) in 1932. In 1935 her jersey dress would propel her to stardom. This emblematic dress marks the starting point of “Madame Grès, sculptor of fabric”. The two keywords here are “jersey” and “draping”; using silk jersey, the most modern and advanced fabric at the time, Madame Grès created dresses that flowed beautifully in multi-layered cascades. Using her own unique method of cutting fabric directly onto the model without relying on paper patterns, Madame Grès continued to create elegantly draping dresses, sometimes containing up to 300 folds. Before long, she would be praised as the “sculptor of fabric”.
In 1942, she changed the name of her workshop to “Grès”, a fashion house well loved by the world’s celebrities. She kept on working till the end of her life, all whilst expanding her activity to new fields, such as prêt-à-porter, or creating the famous fragrances “Cabochard” and “Cabotine”. Awarded the Legion of Honor, first as a Knight, then as an Officer (the Legion of Honor is the highest French order of merit, established by Napoleon Bonaparte), appearing in the media, and named president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, Madame Grès earned enduring fame and distinction that extended far beyond the world of fashion.
While Madame Grès had a hard side - dedicating body and soul to her work and refusing compromise- she never forgot to act in an elegant and graceful manner at all times. After her passing in 1993, she left a strong and enduring influence in the world of fashion, and, across borders and generations, is still spoken of today as the “most elegant woman in the world”