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Make Free Flowing Garments Using Simple Shapes

The couture salon of Alix Grès is located in a lovely old Parisian building on the rue de la Paix, overlooking the Place Vendôme. I enter Maison Grès from an elevator off a courtyard. All is white, serene, austere, elegant, with high ceilings and large windows. The elevator is flanked by niches into which life-sized classical sculptures of women have been set. I wait on a white leather sofa for Madame Grès to descend from the atelier. She has the walk and carriage of a middle-aged woman, and while she is inches shorter than my own 5 feet 2-1/2 inches, she conveys none of the frailty one reads about. Her face is lively, her eyes really wonderful. She is wearing her usual turban and an angora-jersey skirt and sweater over a cashmere turtleneck. Her voice is full, rather low. As she enters the room, she issues a reminder: She has only 15 minutes to spare before meeting a client. She doesn’t make herself comfortable when she sits down to my right, on the edge of the sofa. In 19 minutes, she’ll be gone, murmuring regrets.

I have traveled to wintry Paris in April, having submitted in advance the questions I intend to ask Madame Grès. A shy and fiercely private person, her aversion to interviews is well known. Forewarned of the brevity of the interview, I dare ask only about her design process and how she works with fabric. Her desire to accommodate me is evident in her answers.

Madame Grès’s fame rests mainly on the draped and pleated silk-jersey or chiffon evening gowns in the classical mode that she has been creating for over 50 years. Her work is known for its prodigious use of luxury fabrics in a personal method that is both time-…

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