Jean Desses, was born in Alexandria, Egypt (although his ancestry was in fact Greek) in 1904. He originally studied law, before taking an interest in design and taking up work with a well known Parisian couture house called Maison Jane. He eventually opened his own atelier in 1937, although he didn’t become very well known, until after the war had ended.
Early on it was quite obvious that his own family history and back ground had influenced the way he designed. His technical complexity was very similar to Vionnet and Balenciaga, in that, it was all about sculptural aesthetics. He was a master with his 2 preferred fabrics, chiffon and mousseline.
His dresses often featured intricate pleating and beautiful draping, which covered structured formal bodices. He also, often featured, full skirts swept back at different angles, all resulting in visually stunning, beautifully elegant pieces.
These weren’t the only materials he used however, he was also extremely adept with other materials, such as rough tweeds and dress wools. When he wasn’t focusing on gowns, some of his favorite features were, voluminous sleeves, dropped shoulder lines and draped collars.
Jean Desses designs were extremely popular among the Hollywood elite and much of the European royalty. He designed the wedding dress for princess Sophia of Greece to her marriage to Prince Juan Carlos of Spain. (Juan Carlos. doesn’t get any more Spanish than that!)
In 1951, Vogue called his latest collection of dresses, the ‘Fords’ of his career and indeed they were! (Jennifer Lopez wore one to the 2006 Academy awards, Renee Zelleweger wore one to the Oscars in 2001 and Kirsten Davis wore one to the snore fest that was the SATC2 premier).
Desses continued to operate his clothing house into the 1960s. He did not find the changing times of fashion difficult to adjust to, as his skills lended them selves well to using stiffer fabrics with simple silhouettes. However due to failing health, he closed his couture house in 1965 and retired to Greece, where he passed away just 5 years later. His work and influences were passed on to many other designers, including his two rather well known assistants, Guy Laroche and Valentino Garavani.
Of course anyone in the fashion world is familiar with these 2 names. Valentino would go on to open his own house in Rome in 1959 and LaRoche in Paris in 1957. Both of these men have often referenced Jean Desses as a huge inspiration to them and their collections. The most obvious being, the shade Valentino called Valentino red after Jean Desses started to favor a similar color in his later collections.
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