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PARIS — Designer Koji Tatsuno figures the time is ripe to resurrect the fabled house founded by Madame Alix Grès.

This story first appeared in the March 3, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“So many of the designs you see on the catwalk today have been inspired by Madame Grès’ draping and style,” said Tatsuno, 40. “The irony, though, is that many of the young designers don’t even know who she was or what she stood for. It’s about time we change that.”

Indeed, Grès remains a well-kept secret, which is fitting: The enigmatic designer, known for her artistry with draping and her eccentric turbans, went to extremes to guard her secrecy. Even her death, in 1993, was surrounded by subterfuge: A year elapsed before news of it finally leaked out.

Acquired in 1988 by Japanese distribution group Yagi Tsusho, the house has recently stuck to developing business in Japan, which today runs about $60 million wholesale. With Tatsuno’s arrival, though, the company is broadening its horizons, most notably aiming at the U.S. and Europe, where its business is marginal.

Tatsuno’s first step was to revamp Grès’ two-floor Paris flagship, on the Rue Saint-Honoré, a project he oversaw from start to finish. The house hopes to open similar units in London and New York as well.

“I thought the shop in Paris should project modernity, but it should also be very couture, very transparent and very light, in the Grès tradition,” explained Tatsuno of the 1,300-square-foot space, which has Plexiglas shelving units and tables.

Tatsuno, whose résumé includes a stint at Garrard designing fashion accessories and his now-discontinued signature line, has also started laying the groundwork for a new Grès style.

Although the spring-summer diffusion collection — Grès Boutique — was his first work at the house and already hangs in the revamped shop, Tatsuno’s debut signature collection will be shown to buyers and press in a showroom presentation here on March 9.

“When you imagine something very feminine and pure, you think of Grès,” said Tatsuno. “I wanted to keep those references but make it more modern.”

Tatsuno said he would work with Grès’ draping hallmark, but he said he would play around with the idea of draping rather than using draping per se.

“I’m more interested in playing with new volumes,” he said. “Juxtaposing, for instance, skinny knits and trousers with voluminous coats. Or assembling pieces of fabric in dresses that have an unusual drape. I’m going to make that look softer and sportier. Isn’t that the way we live?”

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