Richard Avedon put her in profile. Neutral background. Black and white. Only the exotic traits as protagonists, with her long eyes accentuated by an heavy black eyeliner. An image to remain stuck in memories, such as the subject portrayed. Jacqueline de Ribes, ” the last queen of Paris”.
Jacqueline de Ribes is the woman who enchanted photographers, designers, and now museum curators. As the exhibition “Jacqueline de Ribes – The Art of Style” demonstrate. On show at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of New York until February 21st.
JACQUELINE DE RIBES
Jacqueline was born in Paris on July 14th 1929 (“I’ve been a revolutionary since the very beginning”, de Ribes later joked). Discovered by Diane Vreeland as a fashion icon, the viscountess Jacqueline always rode the wave of a glamorous life more than simply living it. Instead of laying back on the splendor of nobility, she examined it; had fun with it; and she ended creating her own luxury, personal and recognizable.
It’s not a surprise that she was the muse of names like Emilio Pucci and Yves Saint Laurent. The latter being at the time the fashion director at Dior and always looking for a woman who could reunite elegance and fierceness. Valentino Garavani called her “the last queen of Paris“. Truman Capote collected her like one of his “swans“, the most refined women in his entourage.
However, being a simple object of attention – even the most precious – didn’t suit Jacqueline de Ribes. And in 1982 she announced that she was going to become a fashion designer. To the detriment of potential prejudices that could have originated from her social status, press and buyers loved her collection: it was a pret-a-porter that carried her own traits. So it’s not a case that among her clients there were personalities of show business and high society. Such as Cher, Barbara Walters, Olympia Rothschild, Rachel Welch.
The museum’s rooms which contain de Ribes’ clothes are purposely unfurnished. A dark but luminous background. Not for a mere wardrobe, but for what should be considered an archive of more than 60 years of fashion.
It’s a journey into “that arc of creativity from a child to a designer“: as the exhibition’s curator Harold Kuna described it. An evolution in taste that sees de Ribes always experimenting: creating looks by mixing different designers, having intuitions on emergent designers. Such as Alexander McQueen back in the ’80s. Playing with excess but never hiding the Parisian rigor that her DNA brought.
Unique pieces are countless. From Dior to Jean Paul Gaultier, who dedicated to her an entire collection in ’99. To her friend Guy Laroche. Ending with de Ribes’ own creations. Satin cascades, brocades full of tinsels, evanescent lace, and lots and lots of color.
What maybe is the most magnificent part of the exhibition contains the ball gowns. Someone stated that Jacqueline “cannibalized” the gowns, modifying them with cheap fabrics and applications, to obtain the astounding effect she desired. Describing a grand dress with a turban and a fur cloak, de Ribes stated: “Imagine how a Victorian would picture a Mongol princess. That’s my costume.”
Philanthropist, theatre and art patron, Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, most elegant woman in the world. The life and style of Jacqueline de Ribes are now placed where they should be: in the house of artworks.