Madame Grès: The Art of Draping, at SCADFASH in Atlanta

Last week I made the trip down to Atlanta to see Madame Grès: The Art of Draping at SCADFASH. With over seventy garments made over a span of about a half century, the show was a real treat.

Most of the clothing came from the collection of the late designer, Azzedine Alaïa. He was a dedicated collector of vintage fashion, and today the more than 20,000 objects in his collection form the Azzedine Alaïa Foundation. This is the second show in which SCADFASH has featured this collection. The other was Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut in 2020.

The photo above shows the types of gowns for which Madame Grès is most famous. She was a master of draping, and elaborate pleating was one of her hallmarks. This type of work is so associated with Madame Grès that it might be easy to assume she did nothing else. But nothing could be further from the truth.

While it is obvious to any visitor to this exhibition that Madame Grès loved her pleats, the show also shows that she was no one trick pony. And pleats come in many forms, as you will see.

Left to right: 1947, 1955, 1956, 1976, 1975, 1960

These three garments all feature pleats, but they are also a far cry from the pleating most associated with  Madame Grès’ Grecian inspired gowns.

Left to right: Wool jersey, 1969; Silk 1976, Silk crepe, 1946

One of my favorite gowns was this stunning silk jersey from 1975. The entire dress seems to be made from only two pieces, with the skirt pieces folded and draped to form the bodice. There’s a zipper in the skirt, but the only thing holding up the bodice is that ribbon. Tie with care!

The middle dress sure looks 1950s, but the exhibition notes date it as circa 1940. Made of very pale pink and black silk organza, the pink is repeated on the underskirt as two big hearts. It’s simply a marvelous dress.

The dress on the right is from 1959, and it shows Madame Grès’ wonderfully quirky sense of color. The dress is actually green, and the show notes describe the overskirt as rhubarb.

We can’t love everything we see, and I’ll admit that the undated dress on the left reminded me of a nightgown.

Never one to back away from drama, this dress was made in 1980 near the end of  Madame Grès’ career. It’s proof that even at the age of 77, she was still making dresses for the woman who wanted to make an entrance.

Made of black silk velvet, unfortunately this dress was behind glass and was hard to see. Still, it’s a completely stunning.

PS. The pleats are in the back.

It seems to me that some of  Madame Grès’ best designs were the ones that were unexpected. I loved this black silk gown from 1967. If you are like me, you were thinking this one was made in the 1970s.

And look at the back of the sportswear set in the background.

This three piece set was my favorite in the exhibition, and it is so wonderful that words almost fail me. I am glad the jacket is displayed separately, though it would be interesting to see it over the rest of the ensemble. The skirt is actually culottes.

In the entire exhibition, this is the closest thing there was to a print. From 1970.

Here’s a Grecian gown with a twist – the addition of velvet bands that tied on the side. This dress was placed so that visitors could closely examine the structure.

What looks to be a seam is actually the tiny stitches that hold the pleating in place. 1957.

The dress on the left is one of the oldest in the exhibition, being made in 1935.  Madame Grès was famous for being outside of fashion; for doing her own thing. Consequently, her work can be hard too date. But if you look carefully, you’ll notice the strong sleeve, a feature of many dresses in the 1930s.

The black dress is also from 1935.

The black silk crepe dress on the left is circa 1936. Already you can see how  Madame Grès is developing her trademark pleating, a technique that was in full bloom in the post WWII years.

I love the dress on the right. It’s circa 1949, made from one of my favorite fabrics, ottoman silk. I wish this dress had been mounted on a mannequin with arms because I could not see the sleeves well enough to really figure them out.

Here’s an interesting twist on pleating. It’s done only on the collar and the sleeves. Circa 1980, this dress could have been designed at almost anytime in  Madame Grès’ long career.

The back of this dress is shown on the right. I thought the wrap closure was a bit of a surprise.

The dress on the left is dated as being from the early 1940s. To look at the front, I would have guessed that it was from the late 1970s. But take a look at the back, on the left in the next photo:

Here’s her wonderful pleating again.

The dress and jacket on the right are the work of Azzedine Alaïa. I included this photo from the former exhibition to show how he took inspiration from the clothing in his collection.

An important part of any fashion exhibition is seeing it with a fashion loving friend. Here’s Liza appreciating a stunning dress and cape ensemble from 1987, the year before Madame Grès’ business was sold and her association with it ended..

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Madame Grès: The Art of Draping, at SCADFASH in Atlanta

  1. So glad you made the trip! Fashion exhibits are always more fun and informative with you. ❤️

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  2. mlle p

    Thanks for the peek – gorgeous clothes!

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  3. Deb C

    One of my favourites and you can see how influences filter down. Great review, thank you.

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  4. Debs C

    This website might be of interest too https://fondationazzedinealaia.org/en/

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  5. Even though I usually wear jeans and sneakers, I would sell my soul to own that pink cape at the end. Not sure why I love fashion so much, when I have never owned anything fashionable and would look like a plowhorse in lipstick if I did, but thank you for showing me this exhibition!

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