The rare beauty and stunning self-possession that propelled Grace Kelly into the Hollywood pantheon, onto the Best-Dressed List, and ultimately to Monaco’s royal palace were more than captivating – they were completely genuine. As the Victoria and Albert Museum in London unveils an exhibition devoted to Kelly’s style, which still inspires fashion from Hermès to Tommy Hilfiger to Mad Men’s costumer Janie Bryant, the author looks at the intertwined qualities of an icon: white-gloved ingénue, elegant goddess, passionate and frankly sexual romantic.
Kelly’s biggest fashion moment came with the culmination of her romance with Prince Rainier on 19 April 1956, when 600 guests and 30 million television viewers watched her become Her Serene Highness. She wore a gown by Helen Rose, made of 450 yards of Brussels rose-point lace and silk-faille and a diamond necklace from the bounteous Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery box the Prince had given her as an engagement present. Later, Kelly said of the day that she found it “kind of hard to describe the frenzy… it was nightmarish, really”, while her husband recalled, “Grace kept saying, ‘Maybe we should run off to a small chapel somewhere in the mountains and finish getting married there.’ I wish we had, because there was no way either she or I could really enjoy what happened.”
The year 1955 was a big one for Grace. She had four films in the theaters and was the year’s highest-earning female star; at the Academy Awards, not only did she win an Oscar but Bob Hope declared, “I just wanna say, they should give a special award for bravery to the producer who produced a movie withoutGrace Kelly.” That same year she rose to the top of the Best-Dressed List, sharing the No.1 spot with socialite and Über-Wasp Babe Paley, who wore mostly Mainbocher. That Grace, who did not wear couture, could tie with Babe, who did, attests to Grace’s discerning eye. “The stylish image of Grace Kelly was everywhere,” writes H. Kristina Haugland in Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride, “including department store windows. In the fall of 1955, her likeness was used to create a line of mannequins.” It was in 1955 and ’56 that Grace ascended to something white, silent, majestic.
”When I branched out into women’s wear,” says designer Tommy Hilfiger, who has an Andy Warhol silkscreen of Grace Kelly in his New York apartment, “I began to really study icons of style. Grace stood out. Style is enduring and forever. It’s something you cannot buy. There is a chic-ness to conservative style done in an elegant way. You know, we did a book called Grace Kelly: A Life in Pictures. We did this as an inspiration book, not only for ourselves. We find that the French are obsessed with her, and the Japanese are intrigued.”
Grace Kelly is everywhere this Spring. The new Salvatore Ferragamo campaign draws on the atmosphere of To Catch A Thief, featuring the car used in the film; the hair, colours and gloves. She is also featured on the cover of FOUR SEASONS Magazine, distributed worldwide to guests of the luxury chain. Four Seasons has identified in Kelly the quintessence of elegance and style, perfectly matching the informal luxury for which the Four Seasons hotels are so famous for.
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