Gres Matter


IMG_9990 copy

I feel like I've lagged so far behind in writing about this, that everything that needs to be said about the Madame Gr√®s exhibition at the Mus√©e Bourdelle in Paris, has already been said.  I'd like to first and foremost refer people to Suzy Menkes' indepth review of the exhibition  (if we all footnoted, linked back and sourced everything, nobody would be in the pickle that Johan Hari is in at the moment, no?) as it spurred me on to take a random trip to Paris to see the exhibition (despite the heatwave) and really summed up the impact of the exhibition.  She is entirely right to predict that traits of the designer who invented the draped dress will show up in future collections just as Yves Saint Laurent's exhibition at the Petit Palais showed up left right and centre last season.  However we may not notice these 'inspired' traces of Gr√®s quite so much, as it was made abundantly clear after seeing the exhibition, that the modernity and true timelessness of her creations have become the language for many designers today to play around with in their own ways.  Yet, the originating source of that language needs to be attributed to Madame Gr√®s and celebratory exhibitions like this serve to shout her name out loud and clear even if it no longer exists in operating business. 

Madame Gr√®s herself was an invention.  Born Germaine Krebs and later renamed Alix Barton (whilst her couture house from 1934-42 was known as 'Alix') and finally adopting Gr√®s as a moniker – these name changes affirm the apt description 'Sphinx of Fashion', attributed to her in the FIT exhibition from two years ago.  Her identity in fashion though wasn't as ungraspable.  From the very beginning, her training as a sculptor set her on a path that meant she created the first draped dress ever in 1934.  That link between sculpture and the work of Madame Gr√®s of course is impressed upon us as the dresses are interspersed throughout the exhibition with sculptor Antoine Bourdelle's own works and collection of art at the museum, and it is genius curation and arrangement on the part of Olivier Saillard.  This is vastly impressive in terms of scale in the Great Hall of plasters, the impressive beginning of the exhibition….




The comparison between Grecian sculptures and Madame Gr√®s dresses isn't of course anythin new, as seen in early images where the dresses are photographed to mimic static and stony sculptures.  I love this 1954 Willy Maywald image of a model being fitted into a dress, with one bosom exposed and looking perfect in this state of undress. 



Then in more intimate settings such as Bourdelle's apartment and work studio, the dresses encased amongst statues and paintings are presented as works of art themselves, sculpted and pleated to perfection.  In a video documentary from 1980 about Gr√®s shown at the exhibition, her atelier reveals custom-built mannequin torsos of all the haute couture clients, on which the fabric is draped on to create the dresses.  This on-body method of forming dresses draws even more similarity to the hands-on approach of a sculptor. 




What's even more astounding is that the dresses didn't run in chronology order in the exhibition and yet a piece from a 1946 collection could just as easily have been from later collections in the sixties or seventies.  Gr√®s established her signature early on and rarely veered too far away from those recongisable traits.  Intricate pleating, elongated draped silhouettes, asymmetrical necklines, jersey and silks manipulated, twisted, tucked and pinned in place to go with the natural flow of the fabric – all of this were things that were made concrete in her early career and she carried them on – why fix something that's not broken? 






Throughout the exhibition, it is those signature pleated and draped pieces that specifically drew me in and were most evocative to me, be it a dress from the thirties or the seventies.  Ballooning volume was also later incorporated into her work as well as simpler sixties shifts and two piece suits that were cut with precision, which adds some sort of variety to the body of work on exhibit.  When ensembles began experiment with Dior's New Look silhouette, Gr√®s never used corsets, in keeping with her desire to have women free to move about, but to me, they felt like half-hearted attempts to 'keep up with the times' as opposed to being true to her style.  I actually love the way her own signature modes of pleating and draping triumphs above all the rest of it, and it is in this instance where being a one trick pony is no bad thing, especially when that trick is so damn good and most importantly, stands up and looks strikingly modern today. 




When Gr√®s employs cut-outs and places emphasis on erogeneous areas such as the back, the triangle that is somewhere above the navel and under the breasts or slits at the shoulder and down the decolletage, shows her work to have affinity as well as predecessing to other body forming designers such as Azzedine Alaia. 




Ultimately, whether a dress was arranged in a plain boxed in room, or in amongst Musee Bourdelle's original artefacts, the beauty of Madame Gr√®s' work can't be denied.  It's not the sort of beauty you can argue with or have differing opinions over.  Like I said, what's even more incredible is that I didn't wander around looking at the dresses as though they were dusty museum pieces but instead, felt that they still had so much life in them.  You could see the gathers of fabric in the dresses moving on women today.  The vibrancy of some colours (I refer to a particularly striking quad-coloured design from the 80s as seen below) or the subtle paler tones in shades of lilac or grey are still very much relevant today.  There is perhaps a sad niggle because the house of Gr√®s was liquidated in the 80s and ceases to exist today with the exception of a few sad perfumes.  In a way, it makes sense that all Alix/Gr√®s creations are ones that Madame Gr√®s herself had a hand in and that her work lives on, hopefully in the credited influence over today's designers. 





IMG_9955 IMG_9957






The accompanying photographs, magazine editorials and Gr√®s' original sketches (donated by the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation) clue us into the way Madame Gr√®s operated her business, the changing (and the way some things never changed) silhouettes and fabrics as well as the way the dresses came alive on the body.  I particularly love the seventies and eighties editorials which proves that Gr√®s continued to be relevant which is an achievement on Madame Gr√®s' part for sustaining a level of interest for five decades.  People from Jean Moral of the thirties to Guy Bourdin in the seventies to Katerina Jebb today (she photographed a dress for the poster of the exhibition) all contributed their own take on Gr√®s with very different results. 







I suppose I did end up having quite a bit to say on an exhibition that has been universally lauded.  Worryingly, I've spoken to a few fashion loving Parisians who have still YET to go.  Please PLEASE try and make it.  I'm dying to go back again and might even seek out another Eurostar just to squeeze in another visit before it ends on the 24th July.  Parisians and visitors before that date have no excuse.  Anyone with a fairly easy connection to Paris (Eurostar, Thalys…err… National Express…?) should perhaps consider a trip.  I'm not enforcing it by any means but it's most definitely a pressing nudge.  

**EDIT** Massive apologies.  The exhibition ends on 28th August.  I think they may have extended the date as the original mini-site stated 24th July.  I believe they have now changed it to extend it until the 28th August.  Even a bigger window of opportunity to make your way over there…!


Anthony’s ANDAM Coup


Anthony Vaccarello A/W 11-12 by Morgan O'Donovan

>>  It was something of a certainty from my perspective but it was still a nail-biting experience waiting at the Ritz in Paris to see whether Anthony Vaccarello was able to take home the ANDAM prize.  The result was that I went home on my Eurostar train, thoroughly happy and satisfied.  I had to keep it hush hush until tonight when there will be the ANDAM reception at the French Ministry of Culture where Vaccarello will be officially announced as the ANDAM 2011 winner, bagging him EUR220,000.   As a French-speaking, Paris-based designer, some of the critics (a damning anonymous letter was circulated in the French letter last year) of ANDAM's prize recent year tendency to award 'foreign' designers will be pleased.  He's not exactly the French designer that those detractors are after, but Vaccarello, born of Brussels, of Italian descent and now based in Paris certainly goes some way to answering the question of whether Paris has a new gen of young designers.  Nationality and French allegiances aside, and without wanting to diminish the other nominees, Vaccarello of course deserves it after a few seasons of building up an impressive stockist list that includes colette, Browns, Joyce and Kirna Zabete and a press momentum that means next show with ANDAM's support will be even more explosive.

As a personal friend of Anthony's, it's hard not to be accused of bias but fortunately for me, he has the goods to back it all up so that my admiration for his work isn't born out of friendship.  His clothes embody a jagged jolt of sexiness that seems brave in a sea of brands that make make concession and compromise to the customer rather than boldly making their own statement.  It's of course an emotional experience to see someone first hand work so hard and be so dedicated to their craft to reap the rewards and in this case, a rather big one.  After staying a few days at his Marais studio, I can say that S/S 12 is looking pretty sublime and I look forward to the reaction to it all come October.  For now, it's congratulations and a huge sigh of relief all round…  


Paper Dreams


Weirdly for a supposedly instant-hungry fashion blogger, using (slash stealing) pics from to use for posts feels like a very unsatisfactory procedure.  Necessary sometimes but not enjoyable.  A boxed-in bound glossy photo book consisting of an atmospheric photo story as well as the perfunctory catwalk shots that arrives at just about the time when the pieces will be going into store is a completely different kettle of fish.   

I leapt upon this Dries Van Noten's lookbook, opening the box, lifting off the layer of tissue paper with enthusiasm last night when I got back from Paris (no real posts yesterday – will be explained later at approx. 6pm).  It mainly consists of a series of images by noted backstage photographer Schohaja Stassler, which documented the A/W 11-12 show from venue to backstage to runway at the opulent Hotel de Ville (best carpeted staircase that I've ever taken to ascend into a show‚Ķ).  Dries Van Noten in general seem to have a knack for tactile printed paraphernalia as I've kept their velvet textured invite from A/W 11-12 and this  boxed-in glossy booklet certainly jolted the show in my head again, better than any video.  Or should I not be saying that as a Vimeo-lovin', HTML-savvy sorta gal? 

The swell of David Bowie's Heroes, reworked by 2 Many DJs, the pattern puzzles that were Dries classicisms and the freedom of the clash of textures and prints in the pieces all came flooding back.  I take Dries for granted for its on-form consistency sometimes but a printed package like this is a potent reminder of a collection that impacted without making a scream. 

















Sale Hothouse






**EDIT** Just to add to the sale proceedings, shoe label Finsk will be having a shoe sale on Cocosa on Friday 1st July so if you don't have an invite code yet, here's one to use finskbubble