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Miniature evening ensemble
  • Miniature evening ensemble
    Grès, Madame, born 1903 - died 1994
  • Enlarge image

Miniature evening ensemble

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1950 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Grès, Madame, born 1903 - died 1994 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silk jersey, hand and machine sewn

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mr David Sassoon

  • Museum number:

    T.20:1, 2-2007

  • Gallery location:

    Fashion, Room 40, case CA12 []

This is a quarter-scale couture reproduction of a late 1940s Madame Grès evening dress. Grès was famous for her mastery over silk jersey. She made it into flawlessly draped Grecian goddess evening gowns such as this, which became her signature style.

These scaled copies use the same fabrics and show the same superb craftsmanship as their full size equivalents. We have four of these miniature dresses which the donor acquired from the archive of the wholesale house of Dorville. Wholesalers would buy the copyrights to couture dresses so that they could sell modified ready-to-wear copies. It is thought that these quarter-scale dresses were sold alongside the patterns to show how the dress looked when made up.

Place of Origin

Paris (probably, made)

Date

ca. 1950 (made)

Artist/maker

Grès, Madame, born 1903 - died 1994 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Silk jersey, hand and machine sewn

Marks and inscriptions

'89'
Handwritten number on linen tape inside skirt. Could be 68, but the underline indicates 89.

Dimensions

Height: 12.5 cm, Diameter: 25 cm, Weight: 0.1 kg

Object history note

Given by David Sassoon of Bellville Sassoon Lorcan Mullany, who acquired these from the ready to wear house of Dorville in the early-mid-1970s.

Historical significance: Fascinating example of miniature couture dressmaking from the period.

Historical context note

Madame Grès (1903-1993) was one of the great couturiers of her time. She launched as "Alix" in ca.1934 , and worked under that name until 1939. Her sense of proportion and her taste for strong dramatic statements soon manifested themselves in her designs. After 1939, she started working as Madame Grès. The Grès signature is most clearly seen in her Grecian gowns of pleated jersey. Her column dresses of silk jersey, a challenging fabric to work with, are immaculately pleated, draped, and controlled with a masterly hand. She continued to work in jersey throughout her career, making it her signature fabric. In addition to this example, we have at least three full-size examples of her jersey dresses, including T.250-1974 and T.246-1974, which are both white jersey, the former from 1968, the latter a 1971 Grès replica of a 1955 design. The third dress is a 1977 yellow jersey dress, item T.34-2979.

According to donor, these dresses were bought with the toiles by wholesale companies who copied and adapted these dresses for the ready to wear market. During the post-war fabric shortages, items such as this would have provided a way to show a wholesale-purchaser what the dress looked like without the expense of making a full-size dress with all the attendant usage of fabric. The ready to wear houses and representatives would buy couture models to reproduce and copy.

An early theory was that the dress was intended for the Théâtre de la Mode travelling exhibitions (of 1944 and 1946),but didn't make the final cut. Théâtre de la Mode was intended to show the world that Paris still had mastery over dressmaking and couture, and featured quarter-scale dolls dressed in the very best miniature garments that Paris could procure. A connection is unlikely, as while the dress demonstrates superb couture craftsmanship and perfect miniature scaling, it does not appear it would fit one of the very small-waisted Théâtre de la Mode mannikins, making the theory unpalpable. The Maryland Museum, who own the 1946 Théâtre de la Mode mannikins, have confirmed that these objects are not connected to the Théâtre de la Mode.

What is clear is that they are amazingly well-made, beautifully hand-finished, exact scale models of couture dresses, using the same fabrics as their full size equivalents.

Descriptive line

Miniature evening ensemble, designed by Mme Grès, late 1940s.

Labels and date

[Ready-to-wear Vitrine]

Licensed miniature models
Various couturiers for Dorville
London
About 1950

These dresses were made for the wholesale company Dorville to show what the garments would look like without the expense of a full size model.

1. Cocktail dress and jacket in fine wool with polka dot silk
Christian Dior (1905-57)
V&A: T.18:1, 2-2007

2. Day dress in pleated silk tussah
Jacques Fath (1912-54)
V&A: T.19-2007

3. Evening dress in silk jersey
Madame Grès (1903-93)
V&A: T.20:1-2007

All given by David Sassoon [22/09/2007-06/01/2008]

Materials

Silk jersey

Techniques

Hand sewing; Machine sewing; Pleating

Categories

Evening wear; Fashion; Textiles; Clothing; Shopping

Production Type

Haute couture

Collection

Textiles and Fashion Collection

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