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Design School: Madame Grès

I’m an autodidact, maybe you’re one, too. It means that I’m good at teaching myself how to do things. This is how I ended up becoming a graphic designer even when I graduated with a business degree. Graphic design was my happy hobby since I was ten years old. Some of my happiest memories as a kid involved figuring out how to do things on Paint Shop Pro and coding my website on Notepad.

A lot of the design principles I know in adult life were learned through mentors at work or through people and articles on the internet. There are many design-y things I geek out on still so I got the idea of documenting the things I’m currently obsessing over. I never had a formal design education but that doesn’t have to stop me from learning.

Today I want to talk about Madame Grès, the sculptor turned haute couture designer who became famous for her masterful draping and cut-outs. Before I get to that, I have to come clean and tell you that I didn’t get to know her through fashion books or through other designers.

I first encountered her name in Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. I have a weakness for glamorous, high-brow soap operas (Downton Abbey! Outlander!) and Crazy Rich Asians is a book equivalent. The plot is glorious and cheesy but the aesthetic references are legit.

Alix Grès, the former Germaine Emilie Krebs (1903-1993) attempted a career in sculpture but shifted to costume design, making her name in the play The Trojan War Will Not Take Place. Now I don’t know if the play featured Grecian gowns, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it did. Her work was first noticed there and whether it was due to her sculptor background or not, she became known for her genius pleating and incredibly well-constructed tailoring. These dresses with the crazy folds and cut-outs stay on and that’s a testament to ridiculous engineering skills.

I love looking at these gowns because of the clean, graceful movement. It’s not just the designs themselves that are timeless but also the color palettes. You see these vibrant shades of orange, marigold, burgundy, emerald and subdued taupes, aubergines, and grays. The seemingly simplest things tend to have the most thought behind them and her dresses exemplify that beautifully. You see her style being replicated through different eras and after you start perusing her work, you’ll now recognize a Grès when you see one.

“For a dress to survive from one era to the next, it must be marked with an extreme purity.”
Madame Grès

Photos Courtesy of The New York Times, Style Clicker, Brabourne Farm, Covered with Stars, Garance Dore

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