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 Fall Exhibition to Focus on Fashion Icon Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style

The Costume Institute’s Fall 2015 exhibition, Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style, will focus 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. The exhibition will be on view in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Anna Wintour Costume Center from November 19, 2015 through February 21, 2016.  

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 is organizing 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.”

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 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. 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.  

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.

In 1999, Jean Paul Gaultier dedicated his haute couture collection to her with the title “Divine Jacqueline,” and in 2010, she received the Légion d’Honneur from then French President Nicolas Sarkozy for her philanthropic and cultural contributions to France.

The thematic exhibition will feature approximately 60 ensembles of haute couture and ready-to-wear primarily from de Ribes’s personal archive, dating from 1959 to the present. Also included will be 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 and ephemera, will 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.  

While the exhibition will focus on her taste and style methodology, extensive documentation from her personal archives will illustrate the range and depth of her professional life, including her roles as theatrical impresario, television producer, interior designer, architect, and director and organizer of international charity events.

Designers in the exhibition will include Giorgio Armani, Pierre Balmain, Bill Blass, Marc Bohan for House of Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Jacqueline de Ribes, John Galliano, Madame Grès (Alix Barton), Valentino Garavani, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Norma Kamali, Guy Laroche, Ralph Lauren, Ralph Rucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Fernando Sanchez for Révillon Frères, and Emanuel Ungaro.

Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style will run November 19, 2015–February 21, 2016 at the Anna Wintour Costume Center at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.