Haute Couture meets Personal Brand
One of the things that I am hoping to accomplish in my blog posts is to highlight people who inspire me – particularly women who are breaking the mould, ahead of their time, or just simply doing extraordinary things.
In this post, I’m going to share my love of fashion, while telling the story of Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, a woman who I encountered on my recent trip to New York City (Flying Solo in the Big Apple). De Ribes inspired me greatly not only because of her creativity and boldness, but in how she established and maintained her own Personal Brand. Despite the variety of roles she assumed throughout her career: theatrical impresario, television producer, interior designer, and director/organizer of international charity events, her Brand was rooted in: she knew who she was, what she did she did well, and she stood out! In fact, her father-in-law described her as a “cross between a Russian Princess and a girl of the Folies Bergère.”
The Jacqueline de Ribes: “Art of Style” exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to the life and achievements of this internationally known style icon. It closed on February 21, 2016
From childhood “dress-up” to the epitome of international style, her originality and elegance established de Ribes as one of the most celebrated fashion personas of the twentieth century. While she never learned to sew herself, she learned the techniques by watching her grandmother’s dressmakers at work. If scraps were ever left behind, the young Jacqueline would take them and combine with whatever she could lay her hands on: shawls, nightgowns, boas, to make – what else but – costumes! At age 28, when de Ribes was first named to the International Best-Dressed List, she only had a handful of couture garments to her name. The rest of her wardrobe was mostly her own designs, rooted in her Personal Brand. Six years later she made it into the Hall of Fame joining the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn. As I worked my way through the exhibit, I was struck by her ingenuity and her boldness. As a woman in a male-dominated field she was certainly stepping outside of the lines in a very unique way, but confident doing so. She knew who she was and she stood out!
The show presented about sixty ensembles of haute couture and ready-to-wear primarily from de Ribes’ personal collection. I admired her whimsical creations for fancy-dress balls, which she often made out of haute couture gowns but then chopped them up, as a way to express her own personal aesthetic. While the people of the day may have been appalled at her boldness (or maybe madness), I applauded her for breaking barriers, and having the confidence to freely express herself. The masquerade ball costumes (left and right) started as couture gowns, but then were cannibalized with the addition of inexpensive fabrics and fine embroideries. But Jacqueline knew her craft and her designs were rooted in historical knowledge, combined with a technical precision but delightful sophistication. She knew what she was doing, and she did it well!
A decade before rich bohemians were mixing street vintage with haute couture, de Ribes was already experimenting with puffer coats over sequins. In another ensemble, she ordered only a portion of a full evening dress from Armani and topped with one of her own bodysuits, then added a belt. The belt rests snugly on the hips rather than at the waist creating the illusion of a hip yoke on the transparent Armani skirt. Voila! She was consistently pushing the edge. She stood out.
Frequently in the public eye, in her interviews about her collections, the Countess is seen essentially wearing the same ensemble: a knit cashmere dress, relaxed and blouson at the waist and snug over the hips. That a designer of her caliber would repeat her look year after year speaks to de Ribes’ logic of dressing. If you are comfortable, if you look good, there is no requirement to change for the sake of change. By insisting on an enduring appeal, her looks transcend the cycles of fashion and trend. In her own words, “Elegance is never out of date”. She knew who she was.
As she says, “In every era, no matter what the fashion, and however extreme, you can always find examples of elegance”. Her look portrayed an aura of relaxed confidence and precocious sophistication, at once noble yet mysterious, amplified by an aura of exoticism.
In 1982 (when she was 53) de Ribes created and launched her ready-to-wear collection, from her home, with Saint Laurent, Bergé, Ungaro and Valentino in the front row The collection was an immediate hit. When Saks signed her to a three year contract she attracted a roster of international celebrities including Joan Collins, Raquel Welch, Cher, Barbara Walters, to name just a few. By then, she had perfected her signature style with her approach that “clothes like good architecture have to correspond to a rhythm of life. You can’t be elegant without being graceful, and you can’t be graceful if you’re not at ease”. Words to live by – and dress by!
So what’s your Personal Brand? Can you define it, do you live by it in your personal and professional life? It should be consistent, and it should reflect who you are. And in some way, it should allow you to shine above others, because that is how you will stand out. Eventually, you will be known by your Brand as you move through your career. The stronger your Personal Brand, the easier those moves will be. Need some help – let me show you how!