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The Original Minimalist? A Paris Exhibition Reintroduces Couture Pioneer Madame Grès

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Madame Grès: Couture at Work, curated by Olivier Saillard, the new director of Paris’ Musée Galliera, sheds light on one of the most enigmatic designers in twentieth-century fashion. The designer (born Germaine Krebs) originally wanted to be a sculptor, but her family had other ideas; she trained instead in haute couture. Described by French Vogue‘s editor Edmonde Charles-Roux as “a dictator disguised as a mouse,” Grès (left, in 1946) went on to revolutionize couture by refining her unique draping techniques over six decades—as she said, “like someone who didn’t know how.” The show, held at the Bourdelle museum (the former studio of the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle) while the Musée Galliera is under construction, makes a case for the timelessness of Grès’ designs. Style.com spoke with Saillard about Grès’ prescient minimalism, her timeless style, and her modern-day successors (Azzedine Alaïa and Rei Kawakubo among them).

Madame Grès: Couture at Work runs through July 24 at the Musée Bourdelle, 18 rue Antoine Bourdelle, Paris, 33-01-49-54-73-73.

Why did you decide to do your first Galliera exhibition on Madame Grès?
While doing part one of “The Ideal History of Contemporary Fashion,” covering the seventies and eighties at the [Musée des] Arts Décoratifs, I wanted to show Madame Grès’ work from the 1970′s. She was a very old woman by then, with 50 years’ experience, but her dresses from that period were astounding. Many designers’ work plunges a bit by the end of their career, but Grès had a nervous quality one associates with breakthroughs. The problem was we had very few pieces of hers in the collection, so I wasn’t able to do anything. When I arrived at Galliera I found that the museum has 250 pieces of Grès, so I said, let’s do it right away.

What interests you about Grès?
Her work is very classic and elegant, but it’s also a precursor. She is a bit minimal, before fashion used the word—a bit Belgian, a bit Japanese. For me, doing the show was like becoming immersed in a biography. I began looking at Guy Bourdin’s photos of Grès in the seventies for French Vogue, which heralded a comeback. That’s what I personally adored. This was fashion that wasn’t fashionable. Madame Grès is like an outlaw, she’s beyond fashion, or as the Americans say, she is a “designer’s designer.” Continue Reading “The Original Minimalist? A Paris Exhibition Reintroduces Couture Pioneer Madame Grès” »