There is a place in fashion – somewhere that exists in the eye of a perfect storm of elegance and originality, in which style statements as distinctive as they are beautiful are made. It’s a way of dressing that celebrates the individual, requiring and displaying a sense of very personal confidence and chic entirely particular to the wearer.
Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, the subject of this year’s Costume Institute Exhibition at the Met, falls firmly in this camp. Along with other fashion luminaries and all round standout dames such as Diana Vreeland and Iris Apfel, she is one of a rare breed of woman that we at Kotur look to time and time again, one of those who manages to make their own individual style statements with strength and often a small smirk, stopping us all in our tracks and setting new notions of beauty as they go.
Working in her studio, 1985.
The daughter of a count and wife of Edouard, Vicomte de Ribes, Jacqueline is a French aristocrat known for her striking beauty and trailblazing approach to glamour. Now a Great Grandmother of three, she cannot however be pigeonholed simply as an impeccably dressed Countess. Long fascinated by the world of fashion and creativity she found at her fingertips growing up in Paris, she rolled her sleeves up and immersed herself in it wherever she could – and at a time when others like her did not do the same. “I was always looking for a way to escape the cage,” she told Harpers recently. She has turned her hand to everything from television production to interior design and even wrote an anonymous column for French Marie Claire on ‘how to be chic on 2 francs,’ for a while, as well as managing the Marquis de Cuevas’s International Ballet and finally launching her own fashion label in 1982, running it until 1995.
All this has been done against a backdrop of a life lived making the very most of the fashion on offer to her – which, it turned out, was the best of the best – as found in full evidence at the Met. For her months long skiing adventures, de Ribes had huge fox fur hats dyed to match each jacket, for the parties there was the most beautiful couture courtesy of the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino or Marc Bohan of Dior and for the real epitomy of dressing up, the fancy dress balls she frequented, there were extraordinary concoctions of dresses, each made up of customized outfits created to cause the ultimate effect.
De Ribes at Baron Alexis de Rédé’s Bal Oriental in Paris, 1969.
Of one particular occasion, when she went to dinner with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor before Baron Alexis de Redé’s “Bal Oriental in 1969, Oscar de la Renta, a fellow guest, told Vanity Fair in 2010, “The first course, the second course, the third course, and finally dessert arrived, and still Jacqueline de Ribes had not appeared. The Duke was furious! Suddenly the dining-room doors opened, and in glided the Vicomtesse de Ribes. An exotic vision, the aristocratic beauty was swaddled from the pinnacle of her tasseled hat to the tips of her pointed slippers in a fantastically opulent Turkish disguise, ingeniously cobbled together by the Vicomtesse herself from three of her old haute couture dresses; organza lamé from a remnant market; and a sable cape, acquired from an impoverished ballerina. It was a show. And she was the star. No one knew like Jacqueline the power of an entrance.”
De Ribes with Diana Vreeland
Jacqueline de Ribes, dress by Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, July 31, 1962
De Ribes credits that other doyenne of individual chic and general KOTUR heroine Diana Vreeland as being the person who encouraged her to be brave enough to blaze her own trail. She was shot by Richard Avedon for Harpers Bazaar in 1955, and told the magazine last year that, “At that time I was not so secure. Diana did help me. She told me, ‘Jacqueline, don’t be afraid. Whatever you do, just remember: Follow your instincts and you’ll never be wrong.” And, from the huge fox fur hats to the customized couture, the baby pink ruffles to the exquisitely draped Grecian Dior, and even to the feathered headdresses, she wasn’t. There’s a style lesson in we at KOTUR love to celebrate – and that’s well worth learning.
Photo courtesy of the Met Museum, Getty Images, AP Images, AGIP/Rue des Archives/Granger, NYC, Richard Avedon, David Lees/The Life Images Collection