Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mme. Gres

This July I had the privilege of learning the pleating technique Madame Gres used from Madame Pico, a seamstress that worked in her couture house until it's close in the 1980's.

This is the leaf detail I completed in about 6 hours of sewing.
An entire dress made using this technique took professional sewers an average of 300 hours to complete, and would cost about as much as a new car. Through pleating she reduced yards and yards of specially produced silk jersey to mere inches. Her customers included Jackie O, Grace Kelly, and Jane Birkin (who Mme. Pico revealed came to her fitting sans undergarments.)

Here are segments of an unfinished Mme. Gres bodice to give you an idea of the construction. 
Madame Gres had two ways of doing pleats. As you can see, this was done by sewing along the whole edge of the pleat.The other way was to tack down just the edge of the pleat for something like a skirt.

While in Paris, I attended a retrospective of Madame Gres' work at the Musee Bourdelle, pairing her draped statuesque dresses with Bourdelle's sculptures. I took a lot of pictures.
These white dresses span from the 1940s to the 1970s. The 5th from the left is the oldest, and the 6th, the most recent.
 Madame Gres started her career as a sculptor and turned her talent towards making dresses. She opened her couture house in 1942 and stuck to her principals of making high end, timeless designs till she went bankrupt in the 1980s. Her perfume sold well, but she was unable to adapt to a ready to wear world. She was devastated by the bankruptcy. The police came to her studio and burned all her unfinished dresses, dress forms (which she had specially made for her clients' proportions), and supplies. Some of her sketches and notebooks were saved by her sewers, but much was lost forever. It was wonderful to see her work honored at the exhibition.


  1. This is fantastic, thank you. Would you care to share more details of the techniques for making Gres-like pleats?

  2. Lovely! I am glad I was able to find information, and photos like these on her. By the way, glad I found your blog too. It's not always you get to find a fashion designers blog when they're starting off, and showing their ideas :)FOLLOWING FOR SURE NOW! I'm an artist/fashion designer myself.

    Brigitte Trevino

  3. hey! Thank-you so much for the detail shots of the unfinished garment. I have learnt so much from looking at the photos. I noticed that the edges of the pleats are clipped on a angle which is interesting and also ther seams to be about 6-7 times the amount of fabric than the finished size of each pleat!!! I found an old Australian newspaper article that said she used wool jersey a lot as well.

    many thanks!!


    1. Thanks for your comment! I'd love to see, if you make anything using this technique. Cheers.

  4. It's gourgeous:) I should try:) Thanks for inspirations!

  5. Can you show us how this is done please??!!

  6. They BURNED her stuff?! How could they gyp humanity of such history like that?!

  7. Can you please please share more about this techniques? I always wondered how this narrow pleats are made.

  8. What a sad end for such talented artist..I feel very sorry