L: © L. Degrâces et Ph. Joffre / Galliera / Roger-Viollet R: Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2016 The Museum at FIT
L: Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2016 The Museum at FITR: Photograph © Zach Hilty/BFA.com
The Countess Greffulhe patronized the greatest couturiers of her time, but she was often the real creator of her dresses. This is certainly true of the famous “lily dress.” It has a princess line that was atypical for the period, but very flattering to her tall, slender figure, and the Bertha collar resembled bat wings, alluding to Robert de Montesquiou’s personal symbol, the bat. Finally, the motif of fleurs de lys refers to a verse he composed in her honor: “Like a beautiful silver lily with black pistil eyes.” She had herself photographed by Paul Nadar, wearing this dress and posing in front of a mirror.
Robert de Montesquiou by Boldini, 1896. Musée d’Orsay, Paris
“Her dresses, invented for her or by her, must resemble no one else’s,” observed the press, adding that she preferred to look “bizarre” rather than “banal.” The writer Edmund de Goncourt admired her “supreme aristocratic and artistic elegance,” but he also once described the Countess Greffulhe as “a distinguished eccentric,” adding that she reminded him of a “female version” of Count Robert de Montesquiou.
Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.
Evening gown, known as “La Robe aux Lis” (the lily dress), circa 1896, altered later
Black silk velvet, ivory silk satin appliqués in the form of lilies embroidered with metal sequins and glass pearls; modern collar
GAL1978.20.1, gift of the duc de Gramont to the Musée Galliera
This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.