Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jacqueline de Ribes - The Art of Style

We had the great pleasure of visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute to see its current exhibition Jacqueline de Ribes - The Art of Style.  Since de Ribes was an internationally renowned style icon, and the show was such an eye-opener, we wanted to share our adventure and some of our new-found knowledge about her with you.

Jacqueline, Comtesse de Ribes is a French aristocrat, designer, fashion icon, businesswoman, producer and philanthropist.  First inducted into the International Best Dressed List in 1956, she was voted into its Hall of Fame in 1962. David Lees took this photo of de Ribes in 1985 wearing a gown of her own design.

Now 86, de Ribes planned to attend the November 19th opening of the show at the Costume Institute, but decided, in light of the then-recent terrorist attacks in Paris, to remain in France as a show of national solidarity.

Although she wore clothes by the most celebrated designers of the time, the Costume Institute exhibition focuses not only on her collection of haute couture gowns by such legendary designers as Valentino, Dior, Saint Laurent, and Ungaro, but also highlights her own designs. A striking woman (as all these photos demonstrate), de Ribes dressed to accentuate her height, slim build and aristocratic features. The dramatic portrait of her below was taken in 1961 by Raymundo de Larrain.

In the 1959 photograph below, she wears a dress by Christian Dior. The Greco-Roman design of her dress, jewelry and hair style further accentuate her own classic profile.

Her originality and elegance established her as one of the most celebrated fashion personas of the 20th century.  (Jean used to adore reading about her in W Magazine.) The thematic show features about sixty ensembles of haute couture and ready-to-wear primarily from de Ribes's personal archive, dating from 1962 to the present. In this 1959 photograph by Richard Avedon, she wears an Yves Saint Laurent gown.

Now widowed, Jacqueline is a countess by virtue of her marriage to Count Edouard de Ribes (m. 1948-2013).  One of the last of a dying breed of European aristocrats, she explains in her own words in the video below how she was born into a life of fashion.

Also included in the show are some of her astonishing creations for fancy-dress balls, which she often made by cutting and cannibalizing her haute couture gowns to create nuanced expressions of her aesthetic. These, along with photographs, videos, and ephemera, tell the story of how her interest in fashion developed over decades, from childhood "dress-up" to the epitome of international style. She was photographed more than fifty years ago by Richard Avedon, in this 1955 portrait.

A muse to haute couture designers, de Ribes had at her disposal their drapers, cutters, and fitters in acknowledgment of their esteem for her taste and originality. Ultimately, she used this talent and experience to create her own successful design business, which she directed from 1982 to 1995. Victor Skrebneski photographed her in 1983 wearing this pink gown of her own design.

While the exhibition focuses on her taste and style, extensive documentation from her personal archives illustrates the range of her professional life, including her roles as theatrical impresario, television producer, interior designer, and director and organizer of international charity events. The photograph below, taken in 1986 by Francesco Scavullo, shows her in another gown of her own design.

Want more?  Of course you do!  Did you see the link provided at the opening of the post?  No?  Never mind.  Just click here for background.  And here for great photographs.  And here for more great photographs.  And here for Judith Thurman's interview with the Countess herself in The New Yorker.


  1. She oozes elegance and class - what a striking profile! Would have loved to have seen this exhibit.

  2. A truly elegant woman! Your post is fascinating and love your coats.