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Madame Gres Gowns To Be Auctioned

September 15, 1998

LONDON (AP) _ For decades, the evening gowns of Paris designer Madame Gres adorned royalty, celebrities, the chic and the rich. Now, fashion collectors will be able to bid for the originals from her own collection.

``People in the know had all heard of her and longed to be dressed by her, and they were the smartest and grandest people in the world,″ said Susan Mayor, head of costumes, textiles and fans at Christie’s, which will auction the designer’s collection in 98 lots Thursday.

Madame Gres’ luxurious and elegant creations, inspired by ancient Greek sculpture and the textiles of India, were deeply and minutely pleated in silk crepe jersey.

Among the customers at her Paris workshop were Marlene Dietrich and Princess Grace of Monaco, the Empress of Iran and the Duchess of Windsor, Marie-Helene de Rothschild and the Begum Aga Khan.

``When a client admired a dress, another was made to fit her. The originals, which are in the sale, were kept by Madame Gres for reference,″ Miss Mayor said.

Madame Gres died in 1993, six days before her 90th birthday, and very little of her work has come to auction.

She was producing pleated dresses before World War II, and having found a style that women liked, stayed with it. She used enormous lengths of silk jersey for evening wear, often as much as 75 yards.

``She did really deep pleats padded with tissue paper, stitched or pinned, and draped the material around a wooden dummy the size of the model who would wear it at the show, the flow of the cloth dictating the final result,″ Miss Mayor said. ``She never used a pattern or scissors, and one evening gown might require 300 hours of hand-stitching.″

Madame Gres was born Germaine Emilie Krebs in Paris. After an apprenticeship in 1930, she set up on her own as a designer. Her professional name of Gres was a near anagram of Serge, her Russian husband’s first name.

When the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, she was reluctant to work for them and angered them by holding a show with models in the red, white and blue of the French flag. Her salon was closed and she took refuge in the Pyrenees mountains of southwest France.

Madame Gres returned to Paris after the liberation in 1944 to resume her career. A shop in Paris still bears her name.

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