Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Madame Gres: Sphinx of Fashion

Who knew Madame Gres was such a sphinx? And a saucy minx by some accounts. Famed and celebrated for her drapery, technical skills and her ubiquitous Grecian Dress, she also lived a strange and secretive life; she was described as "more Garbo than Garbo". Firstly she had a variety of name changes before settling on Alix Gres which admittedly isn't that controversial but bear with me...She only lived with her husband for a short while before he fled in a very Gauguin-esque gesture to Tahiti where he set himself up with a bevy of concubines (I'm awfully glad not to have been a Tahitian in the early twentieth century; seems like a busload of polygamously inclined flabby white men went there to fulfill their whims), Ms. Gres financially supported this flight of fancy for the entirety of her husband's life and they never divorced. She spent the next 40 years living with her close female friend Muni, who it's rumored was the true love of her life. She spent her whole life perpetually swathed in a turban which sounds wonderful if a little smothering. At around the age of 80, Gres' controlling and slightly bonkers daughter hid her mother away in a nursing home in the south of France and when Madame Gres did finally kick the bucket, her daughter took over her identity and didn't tell anyone her mother had died for a whole year, which isn't quite as wonderful as the turban situation. Phew.

None of this detracts from the beautiful clothes she created during her time as one of the most original and talented couturiers of the twentieth century. As I was flicking through this book, I was struck by how influenced our contemporary designers are by her work. Yamamoto, Halston, Ralph Rucci and Isabel Toledo all seem to owe a small debt to her innovations.

Madame Gres: Sphinx of Fashion

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