PLEASE PLEASE: A selection of drawings from Madame Grès’ personal archives will go under the hammer in Paris on Thursday.
The bulk of the pieces, dating from the 1930s to 1980s, were acquired in one batch by Philippe and Emmanuelle Harros, the husband and wife duo behind vintage specialist Quidam de Revel. French auction house Cornette de Saint Cyr is selling some 120 items, including outfits belonging to an anonymous French actress, to coincide with Paris Couture Week.
They include several examples of Alix Grès’ signature Grecian-style pleated jersey dresses, but also minimal designs such as a striking circa-1970s black cape and a 60s apron-style coral party dress. exhibited as part of “Madame Grès, la couture au travail”, a retrospective dedicated to the legendary French fashion house at the Bourdelle Museum in Paris in 2011.
“There are really beautiful pieces that are representative of his work. It’s a very nice collection. It’s timeless,” said her granddaughter, Anne Graire, who was raised by Grès until she was 13.
Known as a creative designer, Grès enjoyed her heyday in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. But she also saw a comeback in the 1970s, with Yves Saint Laurent and Issey Miyake among champions of her work. Marlene Dietrich, the Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly and Paloma Picasso were among the brand’s fans.
Graire said the designer worked tirelessly well into old age. “She was always surrounded by fabrics or lots of books,” she recalls. “She was very busy, even though she was a grandmother. In fact, she was as busy as if she had been a 30 or 40 year old woman. She was always dedicated to her work.
Grès pursues its ideal of seamless clothing with economy of line and volume, experiments with constructions. The designer was also a great colorist, using a wide palette of hues, from sand to sunny yellow, bluebell, raspberry and coral.
“Nothing was superfluous. She didn’t like heavy, cluttered things, and that’s probably one of the reasons the designs have stood the test of time,” Graire said.
“Sometimes dresses seem very simple, but are actually very complex. You wonder which way to put the fabric and which side it will attach. There is often a little mystery when putting the dress on the model, because she was the one who designed them and she is no longer there to explain exactly how to put the dress on,” she continues. “It’s part of the charm of the garment, because it falls in a very particular way. “
Grès, who was born Germaine Krebs, released a few perfumes, was a skilled tailor and dabbled in ready-to-wear. However, her goal remained riveted on one thing: haute couture dresses, which she continued to design until her 80s. She is remembered as a fiercely private and strong-willed workaholic who preferred to let her designs do the talking.
“For me, she stays current because people are still interested in her personality and her work. It spanned the generations,” Graire said.
A glimpse of Madame Grès
Seven decades of 20th century creations auctioned in Paris
Next chapter of Karl Lagerfeld auctions spotlights Couturier sketches