“The Vicomtesse de Ribes is a rare person,” Yves Saint Laurent once wrote about French Countess and international style icon Jacqueline de Ribes. “With her, everything sparkles and becomes luminous again … [she] makes me dream.” 

De Ribes has that effect on people. Not only have her patrician looks and easy elegance inspired such couturiers as Saint Laurent, Balmain and Valentino, but she’s also captivated such artists as Richard Avedon, Luchino Visconti and Truman Capote, who dubbed her one of his “swans.” The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art pays tribute to the 86-year-old countess’ enduring chic in “Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style,” an exhibition bursting with some 60 of her most fabulous ensembles, opening today.

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The clothes here — sculptural ruffled gowns in hot orange and fuchsia, a spangled YSL shift paired with her grandmother's vintage scarf, a puffy "sleeping bag" coat worn with a ski sweater — bring to life de Ribes’ joie de vivre and daring. But they also reveal a woman who is more than just a clotheshorse. Indeed, the countess has not only created her own clothing (DIYing her Valentinos into spectacular costumes and opening her own fashion house in 1982), but she has also managed a ballet company, produced television specials for UNICEF and interviewed nuns, double agents and artists for documentary films. A true woman of the world. As Karl Lagerfeld once said: “Jacqueline always had a chic that had some kind of depth to it.” And how.