Madame (Alix) Grès (1903 -1994) French
Born Germaine Emilie Krebs in Paris, she worked under the name Alix Barton for years, later changing to Madame Grès. She studied sculpture and this showed in her draping, which many times resembled the marble togas on classic Grecian and Roman sculptures. Her work skimmed and flowed around the female form, celebrating but never exploiting it for the sake of fashion. Her clothes were never vulgar and always dignified.
She opened her own house in 1934 under the name Alix and reopened in 1942 under the name Grès when she adopted the name of Madame Grès. During WWI, the house of Grès was allowed to remain open during the Nazi occupation of Paris. However, she then refused to dress the wives of the Nazi officers and also created controversial nationalistic collections featuring the three colors of the French flag. Not surprisingly, her salon was soon closed.
Madame Grès was known to have inspired Cristobal Balenciaga to open his own house in Paris. She had refused to hire him when approached as she thought him too talented to work for someone else.
She created her designs by draping them instead of sketching them beforehand and was a fan of chiffon and fine silk jersey for her luxurious and diaphanous gowns. Along with Chanel, Grès advocated the use of matte silk and wool jersey as suitable fabrics for garments and also brought back the use of old stand-by fabrics like faille, taffeta, and linen.
Hollywood connection: She worked in Hollywood from 1934-1941.
Home sewing connection: Created a series of elegant patterns for the McCall’s and Vogue sewing pattern companies.
Her style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
- She was known for her generous asymmetric draping atop a firm bodice structure.
- Her goal was to use a minimum number of seams, despite sometimes using 20 yards of fabric to construct a gown.
- Grès created gowns in her favorite colors of cream, lacquer red, and a particular honey-colored jersey. Grès had a daring eye for colors, especially when creating her evening gowns in two colors.
- In 1970, she was elected president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, the highest rank in French fashion.
Sources: Dressmakers of France (1956) Mary Brooks Pickens, Dora Loues Miller; Secrets of the Couturiers (1984) Frances Kennett; Fashion (2003) Christopher Breward; Icons of Fashion: The 20th Century, Gerda Buxbaum, editor; 100 Dresses (2010) Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Who’s Who in Fashion, (2008) Anne Stegemeyer; The World’s Most Influential Fashion Designers (2010) Noel Palomo-Lovinski; her obituary, (1994) The Independent UK.