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Jennifer Ferrise
Nov 19, 2015 @ 11:00 am

Countess Jacqueline de Ribes once said, "Style is what makes you different; it’s your own stamp, a message about yourself." And it’s that message, both wonderfully elegant and distinctly original, that echoes loud and clear throughout The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibit, "Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style”.

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Richard Avedon, ©The Richard Avedon Foundation

Featuring approximately 60 ensembles of haute couture and ready-to-wear from the Parisian style icon's archive, the gallery highlights her artistic approach to fashion that was cultivated from an early age. De Ribes knew how to dress impeccably for any occasion, but she pushed boundaries, too, by cutting up haute couture gowns so they matched her own aesthetic more clearly and mixing designers in an era when head-to-toe looks were the norm.

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“It’s very rare that she leaves something untouched,” says Harold Koda, curator for The Met's Costume Institute, who worked closely with de Ribes for eight years on the project. "She loves to change the color, the fabric, and the dimensions of a gown.”

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Instead of being angry that their work was altered, designers began to open up their ateliers so that she could work on her own creations. And though she had extensive knowledge of draping and construction, she couldn't sketch her ideas which led her to enlist the help of Valentino Garavani, then an assistant, to realize certain looks for her.

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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The natural progression, of course, was for de Ribes to become a full-fledged designer herself, which is illustrated with a selection of her own pieces in the exhibit, alongside others like Roberto Cavalli, Yves Saint Laurent, and Emanuel Ungaro. She ended up directing her own line from 1982 to 1995. 

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Her style was not about following trends,” says Koda, of the showcase that is organized by emblematic looks, haute couture, evening wear, and other elaborate costumes, that range in date from 1962 to present. "She filtered fashion moments to conform to her own fashion identity. This exhibit isn’t just simply about an elegance, which I feel is disappearing, but I think there is a nuance to seeing where and how these clothes were worn and if they have still contemporary relevance.”

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

De Ribes, who is now 86, was supposed to travel to New York for the opening, but canceled her trip in the wake of the tragedy in Paris, instead sending her thoughts and prayers to the families affected. Adds Koda, “It was her hope that the exhibition could introduce some joy in a moment of confrontation and represent the freedom of creativity.” 

“Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style” is on view from Nov. 19, 2015 through Feb. 21, 2016. For more information, visit metmuseum.org

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