Madame Gres Paris exhibit is ode to draped fashion

Fri Jul 8, 2011 1:02pm EDT
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By Alexandria Sage

PARIS (Reuters) - A pleat is just a pleat -- unless, of course, your name was Madame Gres.

For this celebrated couturier, who pleated and draped her way through a half-century career in fashion, the art of meticulously folding fabric over the body to create dramatic sculpted forms elevated craft to art.

Some 80 flowing creations from the artist, who died in 1993, are on display this summer at the Musee Bourdelle in the French capital. The collection, culled from the archives of the temporarily shuttered Musee Galliera of fashion, is the first retrospective of this legendary Parisian with the signature Angora turban to whom contemporary fashion designers owe much.

In one stunning example, electric orange silk falls in hundreds of tiny folds in three tiers accentuated with brown ribbon in a 1977 dress that is at once contemporary and classic.

In another room, seven white evening gowns dating from the 1950s to the 1970s offer versatility around a common theme. The dresses move from modest Grecian simplicity to the avant-garde, with one featuring an exposed torso and a torpedo-like brassiere.

As the haute couture shows in Paris wind down -- a fashion free-for-all in which top designers vie to outdo rivals with ever-escalating glitz and glamour -- the exhibit provides a rare look at a 20th century designer for whom simplicity and perfection, rather than ostentation, were lifetime goals.

"Perfection is one of the goals I'm seeking," Gres was once quoted as saying. "For a dress to survive from one era to the next, it must be marked with an extreme purity."

Grecian-inspired dresses have never really gone out of style, and modern-day celebrities from Anne Hathaway to Natalie Portman have made recent red-carpet appearances adorned in cascading folds and intricate tucks and pleats.   Continued...

<p>A visitor looks at the creation "Evening sheath dress, around 1947" by French fashion designer Madame Gres (1903-1993) which are displayed during the exhibition "Madame Gres, Couture at Work" at the Bourdelle Museum in Paris July 7, 2011. REUTERS/Charles Platiau</p>