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Examining 'Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style'

A peek into the Metropolitan Museum of Art's latest Costume Institute exhibit

Walking into Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — the Costume Institute's fall showcase that opens to the public this morning — is like walking into a fairy tale. After passing through the Egyptian Wing of the museum, you walk down an out-of-the-way staircase into a dimly lit exhibition space. Whimsical, classical musical plays and overhead lights illuminate drop-dead gorgeous items of couture clothing from the wardrobe of the socialite and French Countess Jacqueline de Ribes.

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de Ribes in 1983

From evening dresses to blouses to costumes, each piece radiates elegance. The designers whose creations are included in the show reads like a laundry list of the best in the business: Giorgio Armani, Pierre Balmain, Mark Bohan for House of Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Valentino Garavani, Jean-Paul Gautier, and Yves Saint Laurent — just to name a few. De Ribes also ran her own successful design operation, and the show includes her creations.

At the opening preview, Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, spoke about de Ribes's creativity and passion for clothing. "She was always DIY," he said, commenting on her modifications and special requests for various pieces. He explained how each ensemble, instead of merely focusing on a back and front, featured 360 degrees of carefully considered detailing. He lauded the "intellect, discipline, and rigor" that went into each piece, and recalled de Ribes's incredible memory for every seam in her clothing.

A wall of framed magazine articles humanizes this countess for whom the world's best designers were always a mere phone call away. Don't miss the Reinaldo Herrera interview in the September 1982 issues of Interview, entitled "Allure, the Quintessential Vicomtesse." Herrera asks de Ribes about the first time she was struck by beauty. In response, de Ribes recounts the time she and her sister became sick on a boat ride to the Balearic Islands. De Ribes was vomiting into an ordinary pot and became envious of the "marvelous looking, pretty, golden, shining basin" that her nanny had given her sister. She made a fuss until the nanny gave young Jacqueline the prettier vessel. "I knew that at least I was going to be sick en beauté," she said.


Like any real fairytale (before Disney butchering), de Ribes's story also has its dark side. During World War II, de Ribes's nanny went to a concentration camp. Her father had to escape the Germans, and the German army occupied her family's properties.

Also lending a dimmer side to the exhibition is de Ribes's sudden change of plans and decision not to fly from France to New York to attend the show's opening festivities. The now 85-year-old felt the trip would be "unseemly" after the recent attacks in Paris, and instead elected to stay with the mourning families in her country. She did, however, express her hopes that this show will introduce some joy at this dark time.


The beauty and exquisite craftsmanship in each piece of this exhibition should certainly provide visitors a temporary transportation to a fantasy realm, if only for a short time. Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style is on view at the Costume Institute today through Sunday, February 21st.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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