Daughter's cover-up of French designer's death stuns couture world

THE BALTIMORE SUN

By all appearances, it was a great year for Alix Gres, the French fashion designer. There was a retrospective of her work the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute in September, attended by Yuzo Yagi, the chairman of Yagi Tsusho Ltd., the Japanese company that bought her name in 1988 and sponsored the exhibit.

And she was being heralded by fellow couturiers like Yves Saint Laurent, who marveled at the exhibit in an interview in Women's Wear Daily. Her daughter, Anne Gres, provided the fashion industry newspaper with a response she said her mother had dictated on Oct. 9: "Coming from an artist and colleague whom I admire, I'm greatly touched."

So the fashion world was startled to learn Tuesday that Madame Gres, as she is always called in her trade, has been dead for more than a year. Born on Nov. 30, 1903, she died on Nov. 24, 1993, in the South of France, a fact that was carefully hidden by her daughter.

In a story in the French newspaper Le Monde, Anne Gres said she had disguised the death of her mother for the last 13 months for two reasons.

"First of all, I looked to protect her," she said. "All those who have profited from her would again find the means to draw on her money." The second reason was respect for the older sister of Madame Gres, who is still alive.

No one knew about her death until the article appeared. Not her closest friends and peers, Pierre Cardin and Hubert de Givenchy. Not Jacques Mouclier, the head of the Chambre Syndicale, the governing body of French fashion, where she held the title of honorary president for life. And, not Yagi, the owner of her name.

Although some have questioned if there could have been a commercial reason for her daughter's actions, it seems unlikely, given the number of houses in Paris that continue after the designer has died, from Balenciaga, to Chanel and Christian Dior.

One reason Madame Gres was able to fade away was that she was no longer active in her house, which she sold in 1984 to the French industrialist Bernard Tapie. She later told Pierre Cardin the decision was the worst she had ever made, recalled Bernard Danillon, the communications director for Pierre Cardin.

Mr. Cardin had tried to stay in touch with Madame Gres, Mr. Danillon said, but "every time that anyone asks about Madame Gres to Jacques Mouclier, the answer was given by her daughter, and she said always, 'Madame Gres wants to be quiet, she doesn't want to be disturbed, she doesn't want to talk to anybody.' After years and years of getting this answer, you don't call again."

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