The Sphinx of Fashion


Madame Gres, as she was publicly know, or Alix Barton in private, was an exceptional couturiere and one of the most brilliant dressmakers of the 20th century. The fact that you have more than likely never heard her name is a direct testament to the fickle nature of the fashion industry as she was once a direct rival on par with fashion houses such as Lanvin and Chanel. But it goes beyond this, there were disastrous business dealings, she designed under an alternate name during the first half of her career and had to rebuild her reputation during the German occupation, and also the fact that she never courted publicity must be taken into consideration. In her time, she dressed Marlene Dietrich, the socialite Nan Kempner, Jacqueline Onassis, and Barbra Streisand. She was called the “master of the wrapped and draped dress” and the “queen of drapery.” Her works are impossible to find, mostly all commissioned and owned by the world’s top museums, and if you do happen to find one, it is worth a pretty penny. Gres’ legendary creations of austere draping are studied, and attempted second hand, by many a fashion school dropout, student, and designer alike. Her work is extraordinary, exceptional, ethereal. Several of her works are on display currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Exhibit which runs through August 2016.

Madame Gres’ original passion was sculpture. In her words, “I wanted to be a sculptor – for me it is just the same to work with fabric or stone.” Eventually, she used her formal training in sculpture, and applied her sculpting techniques to fabric forms. She is remembered as the “sphinx of fashion”as she was notoriously secretive about her personal life and was seen as a workaholic with furious attention to detail. Her work has had a lasting effect on the world of haute couture and the fashion industry and she is credited for inspiring a number of recent designers.

The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.”

Lorraine Hansberry





Attribution to Telegraph UK, The New York Times,,