Madame Gres' work has had profound effects on Haute Couture and her influence still resonates to this day. Her attention to detail, master draping techniques and respect for the female form is unparalleled. She was known for designing and creating garments directly on her models and this became a signature of her work. She opened her first atelier, La Maison Alix in 1932. A partnership briefly changed the house's name to Alix Barton and then the label went to simply Alix. In 1942 she married, and the label made its last change to became Madame Gres, which was a partial anagram of Serge, her husband's first name. Her work spans over five full decades with the vast majority of it, with the exception of a short-lived RTW line begun in 1980, dedicated solely to creating Haute Couture. She is one of the greatest couturiers of our time and her pieces are very rare and hard to find. This one is exceptional
I have dated this dress based on information from my client and on a variation of this dress held in the collection of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. I have included a reference photo of that dress and you can see the similarity in cut and fabric. The collection notes on the museum held dress even mention a matching cape. This 1970s period is about the time period where she turned her attention from using primarily jerseys to incorporating more taffeta and silks into her work. That and the fact that the Museum dress also has a matching cape feels too coincidental for it not to be from that same collection. It is also interesting to note that the Museum held dress has been exhibited twice. Once for the "New Look to Now", at de Young Museum, 1989-91; and it was lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for "Mme. Gres" in 1994.
Both pieces are made from a fine silk taffeta dyed to a deep green colour. This fabric choice keeps the weight of the dress down despite its volume and the fabric also holds the intended shape beautifully. The bodice has no sleeves and is cut so that the shoulders slightly extend off the shoulder with this subtle little curved line. The bodice skims over the body in a long column to the dropped seam at the top of the hip. There is actually an inner skirt under the full top skirt that falls right to the floor with a high side slit up one side that allows you to be able to walk in it. This also gives a very unexpected flash of leg when you move or sit in the dress. The top skirt is pure drama. It is cut on a curve that comes up at the front and then swoops down to the floor and falls behind you at the back for a slight trained feel. That curving line is almost sculptural and gives the dress a different feel from every angle that you see it from. The outer skirt is set to fall away from the body with lots of volume and shape but the fabric is so light that you also get movement and a floating feel when you move. This was achieved by gathering the taffeta into soft pleats all along the curved seam there. Underneath the skirt there is a second shorter ruffled peplum layer that supports the fabric and holds the shape. Over this is a matching silk taffeta cape that is almost monastic in its simple lines. It simply hooks into place at the neck with one tiny hook and then falls beautifully over the shoulders. The cape flows and extends down the back mimicking the curved line of the skirt. At the front it hits right where the skirt begins and this is a clever way to extend the eye downwards. It is cut so that it falls in soft rounded folds that pick up the soft pleats of the skirt below it and ties everything together beautifully. It is magnificent. Both pieces are completely made by hand. The proper Madame Gres Haute Couture label is present. This is an exceptional gown. I love it. This is a rare opportunity to own an original Haute Couture Madame Gres. It is an extraordinary thing to see in real life. Excellent condition with a minor note below.
Both pieces are unlined with hand done couture seams throughout. The dress closes with a off-set back zipper that is camouflaged along a vertical seam. It then closes along the top of one shoulder with a series of hooks and snaps. The cape has one single hook & eye to close. Inner peplum that supports the skirt as described above. I see some very tiny marks on the bodice. Please see the photos after the label shot. There is a very faint perfume smell on the dress from a fitting for a potential award show. I did not want to clean it again as its extremely faint and not an issue. The dress should fit a range of sizes since it is not meant to be very fitted.
Bust: to 18.5" flat across from side seam to side seam
Natural waist: 16" flat across from side seam to side seam
Hips at dropped seam: 20" flat across from side seam to side seam
Natural Hips: to 22" flat across from side seam to side seam
Bodice: 23" from neck to dropped seam where over skirt begins
Inner skirt: 37" from dropped seam where over skirt begins to hem
Total Length: 60" from neck to hem of inner dress, 67" to longest point of the back of the trained top skirt
Slit: 20" from the hem up
Cape: will fit any size and falls to 30" a its longest point at the back
Modern Sizing Equivalent: SML-MED
Reference Photos: 1977 Madame Gres Dress from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. / Cherie, Owner of Shrimpton Couture.
This garment has been professionally steamed and sold in, clean, as found condition. Thoroughly checked over before shipping, it will be ready to wear upon arrival.