Saturday, 16 June 2012

Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition

On the weekend, my friend Vera and I went to see the Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery.

I've been to a couple of other exhibitions at Bendigo, the Golden Age of Couture and the White Wedding Dress, so I was sure that this would be worth seeing.  They are quite large exhibitions, and everything is beautifully arranged, usually in glass cases where one can walk around the dress and view it from all sides. The exhibition was divided into three parts - Grace Kelly the Actress, the Bride, and the Princess.

Grace Patricia Kelly (1929-1982) was an American actress who made only eleven films before marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco and giving up her acting career. Kelly's look was immensely popular in the 1950s, and her great beauty and simple, elegant way of dressing have ensured her status as one of the twentieth century's style icons.

The Actress 

 Born into a wealthy family, Kelly wanted to be an actress from the age of eleven. Despite her father's misgivings (he viewed actresses as "a slim cut above streetwalkers"), Kelly graduated from the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts in New York, and after some success as a stage and television actress, had a small part in the 1951 film Fourteen Hours (she was 22 years old).  This was followed by roles in High Noon and Mogambo, the latter for which she won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, both for Best Supporting Actress.

Her next film was Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, where she played Margot Wendice, a woman who's husband tries to have her murdered. I was a little disappointed that there were no costumes from either this film or 1954's To Catch a Thief in the exhibition.  The latter especially had a stunning wardrobe designed by Edith Head, and included this gold dress (below), which I would loved to have seen!

Kelly's second Hitchcock film was Rear Window, considered to be one of Hitchcock's best works.  It tells the story of a photographer (Jimmy Stewart) who is stuck in his apartment after breaking his leg, and begins to suspect his neighbour of murder.  Kelly played his wealthy socialite girlfriend who worked in the fashion industry.  The costumes for this film were all designed by the immensely talented Edith Head, who was Hitchcock's favourite costume designer.

This beautiful dress from Rear Window is part of the exhibition.  It's wonderful seeing it close-up, it's all silk of course (almost all the dresses at the exhibition were) with the finest pleating, and a tightly cinched black patent belt.  According to this website, Kelly had a  23" waist, and I noticed that the armholes of her dresses were tiny, as were her gloves.

Kelly won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role of a long-suffering farmer's wife in 1954's The Country Girl.  Although the costume designer was again Edith Head, Kelly was mostly dressed in tired cotton dresses and shapeless cardigans throughout the film.  However, she wore this stunning pale-green silk Edith Head dress to accept her Oscar in 1955, which I saw at the exhibition.  It had a divine matching swing coat to go with it, so glamorous!

In 1956, Kelly starred in The Swan as "a young Ruritanian princess who is courted by a crown prince (Alec Guiness) and a handsome tutor (Louis Jourdan) and learns to put duty before love." In a strange blurring of life and art, Kelly had just announced her engagement to Prince Rainier of Monaco, and was on her way to becoming a real life princess. The costumes for this film were designed by Helen Rose, who had dressed Kelly in Mogambo and Green Fire (both had boring costumes so we won't talk about them), and who would design Kelly's wedding dress.

photo by Terri-Ann Kingsley/ABC Local

The Swan was set in 1910 and the white, high-waisted dresses and period hairstyles started fashion trends. This dress was in the exhibition, a pretty soft cotton dress with machine lace.

The filming of Kelly's final film, High Society, took place in early 1956, amidst a publicity storm over her engagement.  Kelly played an aristocratic young woman, divorced from her first husband (Bing Crosby), who is about to remarry.

The costumes for this film were also created by Helen Rose. Several of them were at the exhibition, including this gorgeous dress.  The colour is not at all right in this photo, it was actually a layer of grey chiffon over a pink chiffon underlay.

The colour is much better in this photo, which also shows the amazing silk embroidery and tiny diamantes scattered all over the dress.  MGM studios gave Kelly all her costumes from High Society for her trousseau (this was unusual, as studios usually kept the costumes) and she wore this dress several times afterwards.

Another dress that I saw was this classically elegant goddess gown that was actually a swimming cover-up!  How very classy.

Another of my favourites was this lovely blue-and-white striped dress.  I love the sheer sleeves and the full striped skirt with the chiffon overlay.  So fresh and pretty!

The Bride

This section of the exhibition included the wonderful wedding dress and also the dress for the civil ceremony (the wedding dress is a copy of the original, which is too delicate to travel), as well as outfits Kelly wore to her engagement announcement, and on her pre-wedding tour of Monaco. I'm saving them for another post, coming up soon!

The Princess

Kelly's new duties as Her Serence Highness Princess Grace of Monaco were primarily as wife and mother.  She had three children - Caroline (born in 1957), Albert (1958) and Stéphanie (1965).  However her elegant style meant she still influenced fashion and remained one of the most popular women in the public eye.  She favoured mostly wool dresses and sweaters and skirts for the day time, but always dressed for dinner and her frequent official visits and social events required an extensive wardrobe of evening gowns.

This romantic gown by Maggy Rouff was part of the exhibition, and was worn by Kelly in 1958.  After her marriage, Kelly tended to wear clothes by French rather than American designers, in deference to her new homeland.

The exhibition included one of the Hermès handbags Kelly favoured, which became known as the 'Kelly' bag.  She famously shilded her pregnancy from photographers with one of these bags.

A lot of the outfits were from  the 60s and 70s and didn't interest me at all - lots of jewelled caftans and strange hats.  There are dresses from Balenciaga, Marc Bohan, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.

Fashion even played a part in the princess's untimely death in 1982.  As the back seat of the car was covered with dresses she was taking to be altered, she dismissed her usual chauffeur and drove the car herself, with her daughter Stéphanie as passenger.  On the winding cliff road, she suffered a small stroke and the car plunged off the road. While her daughter suffered minor injuries, Princess Grace died of her injuries the following day, aged 52. 


  1. Thanks so much for this post. I was not able to make this exhibition before I left Australia was it was great to get such a good insight into it. I lover her wedding dress, so can't wait to see more info about this in your next post! M x

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