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Art

MADAME GRÈS - SCULPTURAL FASHION - BELGIUM 

By Astrid Peeters

Image Credit: www.momu.be

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Image Credit: www.momu.be

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Image Credit: www.momu.be

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Image Credit: www.momu.be

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 Madame Grès, née Germaine Émilie Krebs (Paris, 1903-1993), and previously known as Alix Barton, was a progressive French couturier. The exhibition on display gives a good picture of Grès’ specific style and featured her signature of draping the fabric directly onto the model. This style also gave her the opportunity to work as a sculptor and her way of working was widely imitated by later designers, with examples shown throughout the exhibition.


While entering the exhibition space, the gaze of the audience is immediately drawn to the picture of a few dresses of Grès standing between monumental sculptures, mimicking how the dresses were presented at the original exhibition at the Bourdelle Museum in Paris. These sculptures were designed by the French sculptor Emile-Antoine Bourdelle (Montauban, 1861-1929) and came as no surprise that they were chosen for this space, as Madame Grès saw herself as a sculptor.  To preserve the link with sculpting, the museum in Antwerp asked Belgian sculptor Renato Nicolodi to develop a series of concrete architectural scale models.

The ability and the versatility of Madame Grès as a designer quickly became apparent.  Producing daywear, evening dresses, and even swimwear Grès truly was an all-rounder. Yet it is the dresses inspired by Classical antiquity that speak most to the imagination, and I could imagine how it would feel to walk down the wedding aisle in such a magnificent bustier dress.  Gres created the innovative “pil-Gres: an innovative, but time-consuming, technique in which she, without the help of scissors, folded fabric in a tight and precise manner.

Renowned designers Jean Paul Gaultier, Yohji Yamamoto and Haider Ackermann brought in their own work as an homage to Madame Grès. According to Ackermann, "The work of Grès personifies an incessant quest for pure perfection.”  Grès echos this sentiment and in her words, “It is imperative that designers always seek innovation.”  But some designers, such as Lanvin, harken to the past with their designs. In the first part of the exhibition I viewed a dress from Gres so well intact that I could not believe it was real.  However, after a few minutes I realized this was not a dress from Gres, but rather a garment from the Cruise Collection Summer 2012 by Lanvin.

As shown in this exhibition, the influence and presence of Madame Gres, lives on both in historical preservation but also in the spirit and style of some of today’s most well-known designers.

Astrid Peeters, a Belgian PR student with a background in art history. She studies in Antwerp, Belgium’s unofficial fashion capital and tries to visit as many exhibitions as possible around the world.

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