Thursday, November 19, 2015

Women We Love: Jaqueline de Ribes

Jaqueline de Ribes, 1955
When this incredible image by Richard Avedon appeared in Harper's Bazaar, I had just become an ugly duckling (aka teenager). Among other things, I hated my nose. Hers didn't inspire me to love mine, but that confidence was mesmerizing. Perhaps I could learn something.

Jaqueline de Ribes floated through my high gloss fashion magazines during the '50s, '60s and '70s. I knew little about her other than she was a French countess, a member of the International Jet Set (before everyone flew jets) and one of Truman Capote's "swans".

Elegance personified
Starting today (until February 21, 2016), the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will be showing sixty examples of her clothing, from haute couture lions like Yves St. Laurent and Valentino to creations she cobbled together for fancy-dress balls (of which the world is presently in very short supply). Rounding this out will be "photographs, video, and ephemera (to) tell the story of how her interest in fashion developed over decades, from childhood 'dress-up' to the epitome of international style."   

Party gal

At age 86, she is one of the few women still living whose claim to fame sprung from being born in the right place and possessing a certain beauty (hard to define but you know it when you see it).

Turns out there was always a lot more to her.  Yes, Jaqueline de Ribes was born into royalty through her father, a count and a banker. Her mother was a writer and translator of Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway. Her husband Edouard was also from a family of "ennobled financiers". She became a countess when they married in 1948. Jaqueline was eighteen.

Mom... and supermodel

Since childhood she loved the fantasy and theatricality of fashion. She carried her interest in the arts into adulthood, balancing marriage, motherhood and the expectations of society with becoming a theatrical impresario, television producer, interior designer, and director and organizer of international charity events. This was not mere patronage but real work, which shocked and surprised staid Parisian society.

As far as being one of Truman Capote's "swans" she said, "It's a lovely word, and the idea of the woman as the swan with the long neck, sailing quietly on the water, is very elegant (but) the swans of the time of Truman Capote did nothing. They did not work. They didn't fight for life."

Working gal

She credits the indomitable Diana Vreeland for encouraging her drive by ordering her to follow her instincts "and you'll never be wrong". Although well received, her own design line begun in 1982 closed in 1995 when she fell victim to chronic back pain after surgery.

Returning to the swans, who I think are also very tough birds. Jaqueline de Ribes would seem to be one, in my book.


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