Madame Grès’s non-Western – or ethnic-inspired fashions – represent a third important stylistic theme of her career. Although she had experimented with “exotic” themes as early as the 1930s, at that time Grès was not particularly concerned with the actual construction of ethnic costume.
However in 1958-59, inspired during a trip to India, Grès began to drape garments that took their construction cues from saris, as well as caftans and kimonos. She expanded her entire body of work during this last phase of her career by creating cutting-edge garments that blended her newly discovered interest in global costume with her well-honed draping skills. Minutely modified geometric forms, ranging from rectangles to circles, were cut to fit each client’s individual physical specifications.
Widely covered by magazines of the late sixties and early seventies, Grès produced evening and “at-home” pajamas in ever greater numbers. She often combined these ethnically-inspired pieces with the latest fashion trends, such as hot pants and mini-skirts. Not only do these garments prove that Grès kept up with the latest fashion developments, her work also inspired a cadre of younger designers both in Europe and the United States.
Most traditional non-Western clothing emphasizes the importance of textiles and, as a result, rarely is cut to make fitted garments. While Grès’s ethnic-inspired creations demonstrate a basic respect for loom-woven textiles by minimizing cutting and sewing of the ground fabric, these deceptively simple garments also embrace important couture elements. All are beautifully finished inside, with seams that are overcast by hand, and some have hidden structural supports that help hold these loosely-cut garments in place.