By BRIGITTE DUSSEAU
MUSE TO THE world’s most celebrated designers, aristocrat and international symbol of Parisian elegance, Jacqueline de Ribes is the star of the latest New York exhibition.
“Jacqueline de Ribes, the art of style,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute showcases her unparalleled wardrobe and life as a French aristocrat, loved by Saint Laurent and Valentino.
She first graced the international best dressed list in 1956, and in 1962 was elected to the fashion hall of fame.
De Ribes, 86, who lives in Paris, had been due to attend a dinner in her honor in New York on Wednesday, but cancelled after last week’s attacks on the French capital killed 129 people.
“After Friday she said ‘to be celebrating when other people are grieving?’” said Harold Koda, head of the Costume Institute.
“Her thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” said the Costume Institute in a message.
The exhibition, which will run until February 21, showcases 60 outfits from haute couture to ready-to-wear, the oldest from 1962 and all preserved by “the last queen of Paris,” who has been passionate about fashion since childhood.
This was the woman who at just 19 married Vicomte, later Comte Edouard de Ribes, and in 1962 announced to stunned relatives that she intended to set up her own fashion house.
They doubted her, but aged 53, nothing stood in her way. Her first collection won rave reviews from the international press and the United States quickly became her biggest market.
She ran the label until 1995, then stopped for health reasons.
Some of the clothes on show are her own designs, others made by great couturiers – often tailored made to meet her specific attention to detail or precise request for nuance.
Among the greats on display are Giorgio Armani, Pierre Balmain, Bill Blass, Marc Bohan for Dior, Roberto Cavalli, John Galliano, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Guy Laroche, Yves Saint-Laurent and Emmanuel Ungaro.
Videos retrace her life as a countess of singular beauty. A loveless childhood turned her into a free spirit despite the constraints of her class, which led her to dabble in journalism, theatre, television and interior design.
Koda said she hadn’t wanted to do the exhibition.
“She was happy to share her archives, but in the initial discussion, what she was really comfortable with was the idea of the passage of a certain kind of life... to preserve it,” he said.
“She didn’t want to be the focus.”
But Koda spent three years putting the exhibition together dividing her extraordinary clothes thematically – “emblematic looks” when she was a young mother with two children, “black and white for night,” “evening wear” and “haute couture”.
Also on display, in a separate room, are two spectacular dresses created for fancy dress balls, which she often made by cutting up her haute couture gowns.
“There is beauty, and there is incredible exceptionalism,” said Koda, who has been fascinated by her since their first meeting, dressed as only she could be, audacious, creative, a perfectionist.
“Her own style is so strong, she was always in fashion, but was never following trends,” he said.