Fashion Biography

Alix Gres, Fashion Designer


Born as Germaine Emilie Krebs in 1903, the girl wanted to be a sculptress or a ballerina. She dreamed of sewing without thimbles or needles. She started as a woman"s hat maker and its only in 1932 that she went into Couture by opening Alex Couture, her first fashion house. The next year, together with her friend Juliette Barton, she opens Alix Barton in a three room apartment on Rue Mirosmesnil and its in 1934 that she designs under her own name Alix in the 83 Faubourg St. Honore workshop.╩

As Alix, she experienced her first successes designing costumes for Jean Giraudoux"s play La Guerre de Troie n"aura pas lieu, directed by Louis Jouvet and produced in November 1935 at the Theatre de l"Athenee in Paris.╩

Madame Gres designed women"s clothes as unique works of art: she sculpted the fabric directly on the body of the models. Her name rapidly became synonymous with masterly cutting on the biais: flowing draped jersey dresses, alluring silk chiffon dresses for the evening. Her inventions were many and varied, and all bear the unmistakeable imprint of Haute Couture.╩

Immediately before World War II, the stars of the world and the stage flocked to this new star of elegance.╩ He Her royal clients included the Duchess of Talleyrand, the Countess Munose, Princess Matilda of Greece, Lady Deterling, Lady Mendl, the Duchess of Windsor and the Princesses of Bourbon Parma. She dressed Marlene Dietrich at her peak. Even gems such as Greta Garbo, Vivian Leith, Dolores del Rio, Yvonne Printemps, Arletty, Sylvana Mangano and Madeleine Renaud were in her golden book. Her complicated draperies attracted the most eccentric clients: one even ordered the same design six times. Among her first muses was Isadora Duncan, the first dancer to dance barefoot in a short tunic.╩

In 1942 she starts to work under the name of GRES, the anagram of her husband"s first name: Serge Czerefkov and also his alias, as he signed his paintings with the name GRES. Shortly after she married the Russian painter in 1937, he left France for French Polynesia and forgot to return. In her solitude, she was consumed by the intensity of her love for the fabrics that tempted her creator"s imagination.╩

During the German occupation, her fashion company was closed in 1943, six months after it opened. Patriotic to the core, Madame Gres designed her first collection around the blue, white and red colours of the French tricolore flag, and she defiantly hung a huge tricolore from the first floor windows of her Fashion House at 1, rue de la Paix. And she╩ used fabrics that were obviously purchased on the black market: Madame Gres refused to follow the restrictions imposed on the use of fabrics. She tended to order her artificial silk knitwear and her jerseys directly from manufacturers, and in large quantities. Seeking refuge in the Pyrenees during the war, she returned to Paris when it was liberated, wearing the angora jersey turban that was to become her hallmark.

In 1956, Madame Gres was chosen by the Ford Foundation from all the Paris Couturiers, to travel to India to study the best way to adapt Indian weaving techniques for the Western market. Fascinated by all the new rare and exotic fragrances she discovered, she imagined creating a perfume and offering it to women as one might offer a jewel. For the woman she invented: CABOCHARD.╩This fragrance was to inspire a new generation of leather chypre accords: Miss Balmain (1967), Aramis (1964), Cachet (1970) and Montana (1986) to name a few.

Many awards and titles were attributed to this great fashion designer. She was President of La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and in 1976, Madame Gres is the first to be awarded De d"Or de la Haute Couture and in 1980 she is considered The most elegant woman in the world and in the same year Madame Gres became also a Chevalier de la Legion d"Honneur for her contribution to France"s glory worldwide. This was also the first year, that Madame Gres who always resisted to ready to wear launches her first collection: Gres Boutique.

Vogue"s History of 20th Century Fashion edited in 1988, named her as the greatest living couturier. Her work was held in the highest esteem by her peers. Bill Blass, for example, was once asked whether he agreed that fashion design was an art. No he replied. It"s a craft. Sometimes a creative one, sometimes a technical one. It only becomes an art in the hands of Mme Gres or Balenciaga.

In 1982, Madame Gres was forced to sell the perfume business, her most profitable venture. She reinvested the money in her haute couture company, but in 1984 she finally sold it to Bernard Tapie, a French businessman. At that time, he was thought to be an aggressive, young╩ entrepreneur whose reputation had not yet been soiled by lawsuits and scandals. He sold the company three years later to Jacques Esterel group. The Gres company is the excluded from the Chambre Syndicale due to failure to pay its

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By Courtney Lynne
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