Jacqueline de Ribes: The Essence of True Glamour and Style at The Met’s Costume Institute

Style is what makes you different; it’s your own stamp, a message about yourself.” – Countess Jacqueline de Ribes.

The Costume Institute’s Fall 2015 exhibition, Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style, focuses on the internationally renowned style icon Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, whose originality and elegance established her as one of the most celebrated fashion personas of the 20th century.

Jacqueline de Ribes in Christian Dior, 1959 Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Roloff Beny, Roloff Beny Estate

Jacqueline de Ribes in Christian Dior, 1959. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Roloff Beny, Roloff Beny Estate

A close study of de Ribes’s life of creative expression yields illuminating insights into her strategies of style,” said Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, who organized the exhibition. “Her approach to dress as a statement of individuality can be seen as a kind of performance art. When she established her own fashion house, her friend Yves Saint Laurent gave his blessing to the venture as a welcome projection of her elegance.”

The press preview for Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style, was a somber affair. The guest of honor and the exhibition’s subject, Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, was not in attendance for obvious reasons. The Costume Institute released the following statement:

Following the tragic events in Paris, Jacqueline de Ribes has canceled her trip to New York for the opening of Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. She would like to express her gratitude to all her friends at the Met with whom she has collaborated for so many months, and hopes that they will understand her decision.

Comtesse de Ribes also knows how much Americans share the deep sadness felt in France, which confirms the enduring bond between the two countries. She hopes the exhibition will represent the joy associated with the freedom of creation.

Jacqueline de Ribes in her own design, 1983 Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Victor Skrebneski, Skrebneski Photograph © 1983

Jacqueline de Ribes in her own design, 1983
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Victor Skrebneski, Skrebneski
Photograph © 1983

As reported by Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times, the planned dinner on Wednesday, hosted by the House of Dior, in honor of the exhibition was downgraded to a cocktail reception in business dress.

While I was looking forward to seeing the Countess in person (having read so much about her in magazines and newspapers since the early 1980’s), I must also say that, even without her there, the exhibition fully represented her far-reaching talents, self-assuredness and strong belief in her own sense of what works for her and how her public life (and charitable works) changed the world around her. In a time when “style icons” are anointed based on the work of their Svengali-like stylists who tell them what to wear (usually obscenely expensive designer dresses borrowed for the night, including the jewelery AND the shoes), where to wear them (most often than not to red-carpet events) and how to wear them, the Countess is the REAL DEAL. Most everyone else is a pale imitation.

Jacqueline de Ribes, 1955 Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Richard Avedon, ©The Richard Avedon Foundation

Jacqueline de Ribes, 1955, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Richard Avedon,
©The Richard Avedon Foundation

Elegance. It’s an attitude. A frame of mind. An intuition, a refusal, a rigor, a research, a knowledge. The attitude of elegance is also a way of behaving.

Countess Jacqueline de Ribes (born 1929 in Paris to aristocratic parents) is seen by many as the ultimate personification of Parisian elegance. She was, with the American and Italian beauties Gloria Vanderbilt and Marella Agnelli, among the small flock of “Swans” photographed by Richard Avedon and written about by Truman Capote in 1959.

Married at age 19 to the late Édouard, Vicomte de Ribes (he became the Count de Ribes upon the death of his father in 1981), the traditions of her in-laws precluded her from becoming a career woman. However, as an independent spirit, she channeled her creativity into a series of ventures linked by fashion, theater, and style. In 1956, de Ribes was nominated for Eleanor Lambert’s Best-Dressed List. At the time, she had only a handful of couture dresses, as most of her wardrobe was comprised of her own designs, which she made herself or with a dressmaker. Four more nominations followed, and resulted in her induction into the International Best-Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1962.

Jacqueline de Ribes in her own design, 1986 Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Francesco Scavullo, The Francesco Scavullo Foundation and The Estate of Francesco Scavullo

Jacqueline de Ribes in her own design, 1986
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Francesco
Scavullo, The Francesco Scavullo Foundation and The Estate of Francesco
Scavullo

When I was a small child, there were two women I admired. One was a friend of my mother’s who was an ambassadress. The other was Coco Chanel. It seems I always wanted to be a designer.”

Photographed by the world’s leading talents including Slim Aarons, Richard Avedon, David Bailey, Cecil Beaton, Robert Doisneau, Horst, Jean Baptiste Mondino, Irving Penn, Francesco Scavullo, Victor Skrebneski, and Juergen Teller, her image came to define an effortless elegance and a sophisticated glamour, something you cannot say about so many of the women today that defines the term, “modern style icons.” As Carolina Herrera recently remarked in a newspaper interview (and I am paraphrasing here), “How can someone be a style icon when they are not wearing any clothes?” in reference to the trio of music and Hollywood stars who attended the recent Met Ball in “dresses” that left almost nothing to the imagination. And Mrs. Herrera is right. If you want to see what a TRUE style icon is, run, don’t walk, to The Met to see Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style.

You must remember that you’re never going to be sexy for everyone. You are sexy for someone and for someone else you are not. Being totally nude is not sexy. The art of being sexy is to suggest. To let people have fantasy.”

Gallery View, Evening Wear © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gallery View, Evening Wear
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The thematic exhibition features approximately 60 ensembles of haute couture and ready-to-wear primarily from de Ribes’s personal archive, dating from 1962 to the present. Also included are her creations for fancy dress balls, which she often made by cutting up and cannibalizing her haute couture gowns to create unexpected, thematic, and conceptually nuanced expressions of her aesthetic. These, along with photographs, video, and ephemera, tell the story of how her interest in fashion developed over decades, from childhood “dress-up” to the epitome of international style.

A muse to haute couture designers, they placed 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.

Gallery View, Evening Wear © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gallery View, Evening Wear
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

My mirror, my only truthful advisor.”

While the exhibition explores her taste and style methodology, extensive documentation from her personal archives illustrates the range and depth of her professional life, including her roles as theatrical impresario, television producer, interior designer, and director and organizer of international charity events. Continue reading

A Changing of The Guard at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Harold Koda to Step Down After Leading Met Museum’s Costume Institute for 15 Years

Andrew Bolton to Become Curator In Charge of the Department

Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced today that Harold Koda, who has been Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute since 2000, will step down on January 8, 2016. Campbell also announced that Andrew Bolton, currently a Curator in the department, will become Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute upon Mr. Koda’s departure.

During his time at the Met, Harold has brought great change to the department, including the transfer of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection to the Museum, and the two-year renovation and reopening of its space as the Anna Wintour Costume Center last year,” said Mr. Campbell. “He has led his talented team in contributing to the field of costume in groundbreaking ways including landmark acquisitions, exhibitions, and publications.”

He continued: “I am certain that Andrew, known for his extraordinary creativity and scholarship, will carry on Harold’s tradition of curatorial excellence. His rigorous research and innovative approach to installation make him a visionary curator and a great collaborator with colleagues both within and beyond the Museum.”

Harold Koda

Since rejoining the Met in 2000, Mr. Koda’s exhibitions have included Goddess (2003), Dangerous Liaisons (2004), Poiret: King of Fashion (2007), Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations (2012), Charles James: Beyond Fashion (May 2014), and the upcoming Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style. His tenure is highlighted by the transfer of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection to the Met in January 2009 and the reopening of The Costume Institute’s space after a two-year renovation in May 2014 as the Anna Wintour Costume Center.

In his earlier tenure at the Met as Associate Curator, Koda worked closely with the late Richard Martin, then Curator in Charge, on 12 acclaimed exhibitions, including Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style (1993), Madame Grès (1994), and Christian Dior (1996). Koda has co-authored 20 books, including 12 landmark catalogues for Met exhibitions. He lectures widely and contributes scholarly articles to many publications.

Prior to rejoining the Metropolitan, Mr. Koda served as co-curator of Giorgio Armani (2000) at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Mr. Koda worked for 11 years at the Edward C. Blum Design Laboratory of the Fashion Institute of Technology as Associate Curator, and Curator in the costume collection, and then as Director of the Design Laboratory, from 1979 to 1992. He was the curator of Balenciaga (1986), and worked on exhibitions including Jocks and Nerds (1989), Splash! (1990), and Halston: Absolute Modernism (1991), with Mr. Martin, and occasionally with Laura Sinderbrand. Earlier, he was an Exhibition Assistant to the Costume Institute’s Special Consultant, Diana Vreeland, working on Met exhibitions, including The Glory of Russian Costume (1976) and Vanity Fair (1977).

Born in Honolulu, he graduated from the University of Hawaii with a B.A., and a B.F.A. in Art History. He also studied at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and received his Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from Harvard University in 2000.

Mr. Koda received special awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1986 and 1997, the Costume Society of America Richard Martin Award for Poiret: King of Fashion in 2007, and the Fashion Group International Oracle Award in 2009.

Andrew Bolton

Andrew Bolton joined The Costume Institute in 2002, as Associate Curator, and was named Curator in 2006. He has worked closely with Harold Koda and independently, on exhibitions including Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century (2004), Chanel (2005), AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion (2006), Poiret: King of Fashion (2007), Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (2008), American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity (2010), Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011), Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations (2012), Punk: Chaos to Couture (2013), and China: Through the Looking Glass (2015).

The China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition, curated by Mr. Bolton, closed on Monday after attracting 815,992 visitors, surpassing The Costume Institute’s prior most popular show on Alexander McQueen, which drew which attracted 661,509 visitors. Both exhibitions are among the Museum’s top ten most visited, with China at number five, and Alexander McQueen at number nine.

Mr. Bolton has authored and co-authored more than 12 books, lectures widely, and contributes scholarly articles to many publications.

Prior to joining the Metropolitan, Mr. Bolton worked at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London for nine years, as Senior Research Fellow in Contemporary Fashion, and prior to that as Curatorial Assistant in the Far Eastern Department. During this period, he also curated exhibitions at the London College of Fashion.

Born in Great Britain, he earned a B.A. and an M.A. in Non-Western Art from the University of East Anglia. In 2007, he became a Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts in London. He has received several awards, including the 2015 Vilcek Prize in Fashion, the Best Design Show from the International Association of Art Critics for Poiret (with Harold Koda) and for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. For the Superheroes catalogue, he received the AIGA Design Award and the Independent Publisher Book Award, both in 2009.

The Costume Institute

The Costume Institute’s collection of more than 35,000 costumes and accessories represents five continents and seven centuries of fashionable dress, regional costumes, and accessories for men, women, and children, from the 15th century to the present. It combines the department’s holdings with the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, and constitutes the single largest and most comprehensive costume collection in the world, offering an unrivaled timeline of Western fashion history.

The Costume Institute began as the Museum of Costume Art, an independent entity formed in 1937 and led by Neighborhood Playhouse founder Irene Lewisohn. In 1946, with the financial support of the fashion industry, the Museum of Costume Art merged with The Metropolitan Museum of Art as The Costume Institute, and in 1959 became a curatorial department. The legendary fashion arbiter Diana Vreeland, who served as special consultant from 1972 until her death in 1989, created a memorable suite of exhibitions, including The World of Balenciaga (1973), The Glory of Russian Costume (1976), and Vanity Fair (1977), galvanizing audiences and setting the standard for costume exhibitions globally.

In 1989, Richard Martin took the helm, with the support of Harold Koda (now Curator in Charge), and began a rotating cycle of thematic exhibitions. Martin’s tenure culminated in Rock Style, the last exhibition before his death in 1999.

The redesigned Costume Institute space opened on May 8, 2014, after a two-year renovation as the Anna Wintour Costume Center with the exhibition Charles James: Beyond Fashion. The complex includes the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery, the main showcase space with a flexible design that lends itself to frequent transformation with the latest video, sound, and wireless technology. The Center also includes the Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery to orient visitors to The Costume Institute’s exhibitions and holdings. Behind the scenes is a state-of-the-art costume conservation laboratory; an expanded study/storage facility to house the combined holdings of the Met and the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection; and The Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, one of the world’s foremost fashion libraries.

Costume Institute’s Spring 2015 Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum to Focus on Chinese Imagery in Art, Film, and Fashion

Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film, and Fashion

Exhibition Locations: Chinese Galleries and Anna Wintour Costume Center

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today that The Costume Institute’s spring 2015 exhibition, made possible by Yahoo, with additional support is provided by Condé Nast, will be Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film, and Fashion, on view from May 7 through August 16, 2015 (preceded on May 4 by The Costume Institute Benefit). Presented in the Museum’s Chinese Galleries and Anna Wintour Costume Center, the exhibition will explore how China has fueled the creative imagination for centuries, resulting in layers of cultural translations, re-translations, and mistranslations. In this collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art, high fashion will be juxtaposed with Chinese costumes, paintings, porcelains, and other art, as well as Chinese films to reveal ongoing dialogues between East and West, past and present.

This is The Costume Institute’s first collaboration with another curatorial department since AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion in 2006, a partnership with the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. Chinese Whispers will feature more than 100 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside Chinese art. Filmic representations of China will be incorporated throughout to reveal how our visions of China are framed by narratives that draw upon popular culture, and also to recognize the importance of cinema as a medium through which we understand the richness of Chinese history.

The exhibition, a collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art, coincides with the Museum’s year-long centennial celebration of the Asian Art Department, which was created as a separate curatorial department in 1915. Chinese Whispers is organized by Andrew Bolton, Curator, with the support of Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, both of The Costume Institute. Additional support is provided by Maxwell Hearn, Douglas Dillon Chairman; Denise Patry Leidy, Curator; and Zhixin Jason Sun, Curator, all of the Department of Asian Art.

The Anna Wintour Costume Center’s Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery will present a series of “whispers” or conversations through time and space, focusing on Imperial China; Nationalist China, especially Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s; and Communist China, with an emphasis on changing images of Chairman Mao. These ‘whispers,’ and others in the exhibition, will be illustrated with scenes from films by such groundbreaking Chinese directors as Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Ang Lee, and Wong Kar Wai. Distinct vignettes will be devoted to “women of style,” including Madame Wellington Koo, Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Soong May-Ling), and Empress Dowager Cixi.

Directly above the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the Chinese Galleries on the second floor will showcase fashion from the 1700s to the present, juxtaposed with decorative arts from Imperial China, including jade, lacquer, cloisonné, and blue-and-white porcelain, mostly drawn from the Met’s collection. The Astor Court will feature a thematic vignette dedicated to Chinese opera, focusing on the celebrated performer Mei Lanfang, who inspired John Galliano’s spring 2003 Christian Dior Haute Couture Collection, ensembles from which will be showcased alongside Mr. Mei’s original opera costumes.

Designers in the exhibition will include Giorgio Armani, Sarah Burton (Alexander McQueen), Roberto Cavalli, Peter Dundas (Emilio Pucci), Tom Ford (Yves Saint Laurent), John Galliano (Dior), Jean Paul Gaultier, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Picciolo (Valentino), Craig Green, Ground-Zero, Guo Pei, Marc Jacobs (Louis Vuitton), Mary Katrantzou, Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel), Ralph Lauren, Ma Ke, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen (Givenchy), Kate and Laura Mulleavy (Rodarte), Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam, Isabel Toledo, Dries van Noten, Vivienne Westwood, Jason Wu, Laurence Xu, and others.

I am excited about this partnership between these two forward-thinking departments that will undoubtedly reveal provocative new insights into the West’s fascination with Chinese aesthetics,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Met. “The artistic direction of acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar Wai will take visitors on a cinematic journey through our galleries, where high fashion will be shown alongside masterworks of Chinese art.”

From the earliest period of European contact with China in the 16th century, the West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions are infused at every turn with fantasy, romance, and nostalgia,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in The Costume Institute. “In an intricate process of translation and mistranslation similar to the game of ‘Telephone’–which the British call ‘Chinese Whispers’–designers conjoin disparate stylistic references into a fantastic pastiche of Chinese aesthetic and cultural traditions.”

Internationally renowned filmmaker Wong Kar Wai will be the exhibition’s artistic director working with his longtime collaborator William Chang, who will supervise styling. Creative production company 59 Productions (exhibition designers for David Bowie is at the V&A Museum and video for the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony) will serve as the exhibition’s production designers.

William Chang and I are pleased to be working in collaboration with The Costume Institute and the Asian Art Department of The Metropolitan Museum of Art on this exciting cross-cultural show,” said Wong. “Historically, there have been many cases of being ‘lost in translation’–with good and revealing results. As Chinese filmmakers we hope to create a show that is an Empire of Signs–filled with meaning for both East and West to discover and decipher.”

In celebration of the exhibition opening, the Museum’s Costume Institute Benefit will take place on Monday, May 4, 2015. Silas Chou will serve as Honorary Chair. The evening’s co-chairs will be Jennifer Lawrence, Gong Li, Marissa Mayer, Wendi Murdoch, and Anna Wintour. This event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and capital improvements. Additional financial support for the 2015 exhibition and benefit is provided by a group of Chinese donors. The design for the 2015 Costume Institute Gala Benefit will be created by Wong Kar Wai and William Chang with 59 Productions, and Raul Avila, who has produced the Benefit décor since 2007. A publication by Andrew Bolton will accompany the exhibition. It will be produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, and will be available in early May.

Charles James Exhibition and New Costume Institute Galleries to Open in May 2014 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

(Images by Lea Christiano and Lolly Koon)

Gala Benefit May 5, 2014, with Chair Aerin Lauder and Co-Chairs Bradley Cooper, Oscar de la Renta, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch, and Anna Wintour

Exhibition Dates:      May 8–August 10, 2014

Exhibition Location: The New Costume Institute Galleries and first-floor Special Exhibition Galleries   

Press Preview:  Monday, May 5, 10 a.m.–1 p.m.

Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced today that the inaugural exhibition of the newly renovated Costume Institute in spring 2014 will examine the career of legendary 20th-century Anglo-American couturier Charles James (1906–1978).  Charles James: Beyond Fashion, on view from May 8 through August 10, 2014 (preceded on May 5 by The Costume Institute Benefit), will be presented in two locations–The Costume Institute’s new galleries as well as special exhibitions galleries on the Museum’s first floor. The exhibition will explore James’s design process and his use of sculptural, scientific, and mathematical approaches to construct revolutionary ball gowns and innovative tailoring that continue to influence designers today.

Charles James, 1947

Charles James, 1947

Charles James, 1947

Charles James, 1947

Charles James considered himself an artist, and approached fashion with a sculptor’s eye and a scientist’s logic,” said Mr. Campbell.  “As such, the Museum, and in particular, the new Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery in The Costume Institute, offer the ideal setting in which to contextualize the complexity of James’s work.

The New Costume Institute

May 2014 will mark the grand reopening of The Costume Institute space after an overall two-year renovation, reconfiguration, and updating. The 4,200-square-foot Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery will represent a fundamental change in the Museum’s approach to its costume collection, including a flexible design that lends itself to frequent transformation, a zonal sound system, innovative projection technology, wireless connectivity, and exhibitions on view 10 months a year.

Charles James, 1948

Charles James, 1948

Charles James, 1950

Charles James, 1950

Charles James, 1951

Charles James, 1951

The New Costume Institute will also include the Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery, which will orient visitors to The Costume Institute’s exhibitions and holdings; a state-of-the-art costume conservation center; an expanded study/storage facility that will house the combined holdings of the Met and the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection; and The Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, one of the world’s foremost fashion libraries. The project is funded by a gift from Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch, as well as proceeds raised at the annual Costume Institute Benefit under the leadership of Anna Wintour, and from commitments by Janet and Howard Kagan and the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, IncThe Costume Institute was last refurbished in 1992.      Continue reading