Madame Grès (1903-1993) was one of the most remarkable couturiers in the 20th century; her influence has survived to this day. Not one of the most familiar names in the lexicon of couturiers but one who has inspired every designer who has ever worked in that divine fabric, jersey. Contemporary designers like Donna Karan often credit her genius and revere her work and her disciplined concept.
Grès said “For a dress to survive from one era to the next, it must be marked with an extreme purity."
Grès had always wanted to be a sculptor, but instead she sculpted fabric. Her favourite fabric was silk jersey and a single dress could take from 13 to 21 meters. Such was her legendary talent for draping and pleating she was able to reduce 3 meters of silk to a mere 100 millimetres. These delicate pleats turned ordinary fabric into Greek sculpture. Many of her dresses remain and recently there have been two staggeringly beautiful celebrations of her work in Paris at the Musee Bourdelle and at Momu – Antwerp where her gowns were shown juxtaposed with work from some important contemporary designers. As a testimony to Grès’ relevance in contemporary fashion, the designers Haider Ackermann, Yohji Yamamoto and Jean-Paul Gaultier each selected silhouettes of their own design that reveal the influence of Grès' vision of fashion on their work. These were exhibited along side many works of Madame Grès.
Madame Grès symbolizes the very essence of couture, the rigor of minimalism. It is easy to see the "extreme purity" Grès would strive for in her work. Apparently she worked with the dedication of a monk! The clients who she dressed included every one from duchesses to movie stars (Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and Jackie Onassis are a few of her more famous clients).
Her work remains timeless; any one of her elegant gowns could be seen walking a red carpet today. Although we may not have the occasions or the funds to imagine wearing or owning such gowns as she created we can and should wear jersey and appreciate this extraordinary fabric which is so perfect for enhancing the feminine.