I have been reading a book that I picked up in Costco (love Costco) about a woman who opens up a vintage shop in London. Aside from reigniting my own passion for beautiful couture and vintage, it turned me on to the designs of Madame Grès, a french designer and founder of the Grès design house. Her name kept cropping up in my book and as well as the author did to describe her beautiful dresses, I finally decided to google her.
It’s weird to say that a google image search left me so astounded, but it really did take my breath away.
Germaine Emilie Krebs lived a pretty provincial life. Her brief fairytale designing experience gathered speed at the end of the 1930s, but it wasn’t her initial plan. She was trained as a sculpter, but as it didn’t necessarily take the turn she hoped for, she made the transition to fabrics. She worked for leading houses in France, doing odd jobs here and there before she opened her own house in 1934 under the name of Alix Barton. Her small business was shared, and a good stepping stone as she experimented with different techniques and styles. She left Alix- and the name- and formed her own house, Grès, which she named after her russian painter husband.
During the hype of her early success, her husband left her with a young daughter, and she- distraught- never saw him again, even though she religiously sent him money until he died in the 1970s.
Grès’ signature timelessness is attributable to her loyalty to her craft: sculpture. She treated each piece- which she worked on for sometimes 300 hours- as though it were a sculpture. Most of her crepe dresses are draped in pleats that are hand stitched to be about one milimeter in diameter. Her attention to detail on a small scale and then overall pulls off a look that made her models and buyers look like grecian statues in their own right.
Although Grès was Jewish, German soldiers and officials were ordered to leave her alone during occupation in the 2nd world war. They hoped that she would create beautiful gowns for their wives. When she refused, they finally shut her boutique down, and she didn’t work again until after the war.
Gres used very pale, neutral colours so as not to distract from the shapes and lines of her designs.
Unfortunately, Madame Gres’ tale ends in anonymity and poverty. When the french fashion industry finally got wind of her passing they were filled with shame- she was considered the last real couturier, and had help many prestigious titles and awards before her bankruptsy that remains sort of a mystery. She died in the 1980s with little to her name.
She continues to be an inspiration in the fashion world today. For my part, I will admit that it takes something very special to captivate my full attention and admiration: and her designs do art justice. She seems, to me, the epitome of grace and femininity.