Valentino called her “the Last Queen of Paris.” Emilio Pucci prophesied she’d be the next Christian Dior. And Oleg Cassini said she was “elegant to the point of distraction.” Her name is Jacqueline de Ribes and she’s one of the most acclaimed style icons of the 20th century.
This fall, the Met’s Costume Institute will honor the fashion designer, aristocrat and muse, known as the “doyenne of Le Tout Paris,” in a fashion retrospective from November 3, 2015 to January 31, 2016, reports WWD. According to Vanity Fair‘s article “The Last Queen of Paris,” published in 2010, the 85-year-old countess has been working closely with Curator in Charge Harold Koda for four years on what is expected to be a show-stopping parade of big name couture — all of which she’s been studiously archiving since the 70s.
The countess was born on Bastille Day in 1929 to an aristocratic family. (Renowned art patron and extravagant party thrower Etienne de Beaumont was her uncle.) She first launched into the spotlight with her advantageous marriage to Vicomte Édouard de Ribes in 1948 at the age of 18. By the age of 25, she was featured on the International Best Dressed List — an honor that would happen so many times, she was finally inducted into the Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 1962.
Throughout the years, Andy Warhol photographed her, so did Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, on the behest of former Vogue Editor-in-Chief Diana Vreeland. If there was a glamorous ball held for the crème de la crème, the countess was not only invited, she was the main attraction. “It was a show. And she was the star,” Oscar de la Renta told Vanity Fair. “No one knew like Jacqueline the power of an entrance.”
On March 3, 1983, the same year she was named the “most stylish woman in the world” by Town & Country, the countess, who had previously worked with Pucci and employed Valentino, debuted her couture line during Paris Fashion Week at her French town house. In the front row sat her friends Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé, Emanuel Ungaro, Valentino and publisher John Fairchild at a time when designers didn’t often frequent their peers’ shows.
By 1985, her couture line (priced between $1,000 and $8,000) was stocked in 40 stores in the United States and was raking in $3 million annually. Her celebrity clientele included the likes of Cher, Nancy Reagan and Joan Collins, who was told by producer Douglas Cramer to model herself after de Ribes for her character, Alexis Carrington Colby, in Dynasty.
In later years, de Ribes suffered health concerns that eventually led her to close her couture line in 1994. Sixteen years later, France’s former President Nicolas Sarkozy decorated her as a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur at the Elysée Palace.