Monday, June 20, 2011

Madame Gres, A Guest Post From The Licentiate

This wonderful guest post is from Licentiate.                                                               
                                                                     
                                                                     
                                             
“I wanted to be a sculptor. For me, it’s the same thing to work the fabric or the stone” - Madame Grès'
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Museum poster
The Fashion/Art debate rages on.  While a Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective opens in Montreal and the news that Rodarte's first couture collection will soon appear at The LA County Museum of Art, one exhibition continues quietly on in Paris.
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Madame Grès, La Couture à L’Oeuvre’, which is showing at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris will close on the 24th of July.  In this exhibition is a lifetime of work and has possibly the closest examples of fashion as an artform on display.  It's only good and proper that sculptural dresses lie next to more conventional mouldings.  It's a move that legitimises the claim of fashion as a real artform. 
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Photo from Carmi's Art - there are some great close-ups here
The eighty examples of Madame Grès' are not outlandish, or controversial.  They do not assume lofty themes or have pretensions of grandeur.  They are sculpture in fabric.  Self-assured, impossibly executed and classically beautiful, the understatement of the simple forms emphasises the now extinct craftsmanship and inherent knowledge of a woman known first as Germaine Krebbs, then Alix, then Madame Grès.
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Spring 1944 - source
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Spring/Summer 1946 - source
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Autumn/Winter 1952/3 - source
It's a shame that the Grès name isn't better known.  On trying to explain who she was to the boyfriend, he thought that she had something to do with fine dining.  Perhaps a partner without an interest in fashion is a bad example, but this is a woman who existed in the golden age of female couturiers - she operated in the same city, within the same timeframe with Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jeanne Lanvin.  She should have been incredibly famous, but she died aged 90, in a home for the elderly, practically penniless after her name had been sold to a swiss licensing company, which now manufactures (not particularly good) perfumes.  Even though the archives of Chanel and Lanvin may be raided to provide inspiration for Lagerfeld and Lanvin, the craftsmanship of Gres cannot or will not be copied.  Her vast, intricate pleating was time intensive and took up yards of material to create mere centimetres of a waistline.  Her dresses were not tailored, they were draped and built around the body - a skill that is taught at precious few fashion schools, which are more geared towards fast fashion and profit margins than ever before.  Each dress was different and special - true to the spirit of couture. On reviewing this exhibition, Suzy Menkes said that "fashion can be an art form only with rigorous craftsmanship". Is that is true, then Madame Grès must be fashion's Michelangelo.
The Licentiate blog is stylish and intelligent; relishing views of fashion and its inhabitants with humor, kindness and honesty. I fell in love with her consideration of Anna Piaggi and Tavi Gevinson as kindred souls; of course she is correct and not bogged down by preconceptions. Thank you so much for our conversations and your work on this. Beautiful .. wicked good actually. 

3 comments:

  1. Her training as a sculptress is certainly evident in her pieces. The draping & pleats are so so elegant it's no wonder she dressed many of the greats. It's a sad end to such a creative life...

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  2. It is so wonderful to read more about this exhibit, I love the line that Madame Grès existed in the "golden age of female couturiers". It is art, very much so.
    tp

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