Grace Kelly: Style Icon - Exhibition (London, UK)


grace kelly exhibition v&a londonDress by Maggie Rouff - on the the steps of the Princely Palace of Monaco in 1956 (top image: V&A).

As this past weekend (Nov 12) would have marked Grace Kelly's 81st birthday, I realized I hadn't gotten around to posting about this exhibition. I had planned on seeing it back in April, but couldn't make it and ended up postponing subsequent visits until I finally dragged myself to the V&A museum - two days before closing. While the presentation was relatively small, the moderate selection of her surviving clothes aptly explored the story of her transformation from Hollywood actress to a princess of one of Europe's oldest royal families. It's no secret that Grace Kelly, one of the most photographed women of the 20th century, had an impeccable style: a kind of low-key glamour that inspired millions of women around the world. Yet apart from simply showcasing pretty clothes that once belonged to someone famous, the one thing I got out of this exhibition was a distinct feel for what made Grace Kelly so classy and chic.

That 'something' wasn't her selection of designer gear which she amassed after she became a princess. In fact, it's the exact opposite. If there's one thing I realized during my visit, it was just how thrifty Princess Grace actually was. This might be rare for someone who's not just famous but a member of royalty. Yet considering how most regular people these days seem to embrace throwaway fashion (let's not even talk about today's celebrities), I think Grace Kelly's view on style is aspirational and more relevant than ever. So instead of just taking this as a presentation of all things beautiful, I'd like to think this exhibition was something most people could learn from.

V&A had split the exhibition into four categories, each representing a period in Kelly's life or career. Every outfit was accompanied by photographs of her wearing that specific piece, while video footage of her wedding, movies and other events played in the background - bringing her style to life.

Actress

Most of Grace Kelly's dresses during her movie career were created by costume designers, with whom she worked closely with - notably MGM's Helen Rose and Paramount's Edith Head. The gown she wore to accept her Oscar for 'The Country Girl' in 1955 had previously been worn to the movie's premiere and made another appearance on the cover of Life magazine. Likewise, a pale pink dress by Oleg Cassini was worn by Kelly in Cannes (1955) and on several other occasions including her journey from NYC to her new home in Monaco a year later.

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonGrace Kelly's Oscar gown by Edith Head (lower left) and another favorite dress by Oleg Cassini (top right) were worn during several public appearances. Other items on display: a no-name dress from NYC (lower center) and her Academy Award (top left image: V&A).

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonSome of the movie gowns, incl. dresses from 'High Society' by Helen Rose (left and lower right), 'Rear View' by Edith Head (center) and a simple cotton number from 'The Swan'.

Bride

Grace Kelly first met Prince Rainier III during her trip to the Cannes Film Festival in 1955 when French magazine 'Paris Match' organized a photo shoot between the two. The famous floral dress Kelly wore for the first meeting was labeled by the press as 'Dior inspired', though it was merely an 'easy to sew' garment from a McCall's Pattern Book - a last minute solution after a power cut in her hotel forced her to select the only item that didn't require ironing. This dress had also been previously worn by her, when she modeled it for the magazine. Kelly's love for simple classic American style was also evident from her choice of shirtwaist dresses and jacket-skirt ensembles. Many such outfits were worn throughout her engagement and formed part of her wedding trousseau. Helen Rose ended up designing dresses for both the civil and church ceremony.

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonThe silk taffeta McCall dress worn to the first meeting - Grace Kelly had previously modeled it for McCall (top right image: V&A).

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonAbove: Bodice & skirt worn during the civil wedding ceremony (stock image: SNAP/Rex Features).
Below: shirtwaist dress from Branell, worn during the official engagement announcement (stock image: Bettman/Corbis).


grace kelly exhibition v&a londonMore outfits from the trousseau from mainly American designers. The Dior suit, which Kelly wore when departing for her honeymoon (above right) was an exception.

Princess

In her new role as princess, Grace Kelly, like other members of European royal families, started patronizing the grand couture houses of Paris. Her approach: "Our life dictates a certain kind of wardrobe", but also "I think it is important to see the person first and the clothes afterwards". Though more extravagant, many of her designer outfits were still classy and elegant. During this time she became especially associated with the fashion house of Christian Dior, who supplied her with an array of formal but eye-catching clothes. Once again, it needs to be noted that various outfits were worn to more than one public occasion, whether it was the green Givenchy number, the polka-dot Dior gown, the Chanel suits or dazzling Balenciaga outfits.

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonDresses by Hubert de Givenchy (top left, lower center) and Cristobal Balenciaga. The green dress was worn to a White House lunch with JFK/Jackie Kennedy and several times more, incl. a trip to Dublin (top right image: V&A).

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonOther favorite pieces included a beaded Balenciaga outfit (center), a Dior gown worn for the cover of a magazine and other occasions (left) and two Chanel pieces worn throughout her role as princess (right).

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonKelly owned several dresses by Marc Bohan for Christian Dior (top left image: V&A). Also on display: a selection of gloves and shoes (lower right).

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonMore Dior dresses. The polka dot gown (top left) was another favorite: Grace wore it at Cannes in 1970 and again in 1972 for the cover of Vogue.

Enduring Icon

Even as fashion and silhouettes changed in the 60s and 70s, Grace Kelly remained true to the classic, streamlined style she had favored as an actress, adapting her look only slightly to include fine jewelry and elaborate hairstyles for parties or balls. She disliked many of the new fads, such as short skirts, commenting: "After all, who has pretty knees?" further stating that she avoided ‘too blatant curves, too tight dresses, too lavish furs’. Despite other women taking the fashion lead during this time, the media never stopped paying attention to her and she was frequently featured on magazine covers. Her savvy accessorizing skills were adopted by women around the world, whether it was her love of sunglasses, the use of bright scarves and hats (to draw attention away from her pregnant belly) or the famous Hermès bag which was later named after her.

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonFancy dress ball gown by Andre Levasseur (left). Sequined silk gown by Dior with a pretty incredible head piece (center, lower right). Sketches of various Grace Kelly hairstyles (top).

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonMore dresses, incl. a black/white shirtwaist dress (top), a Dior gown (lower left), the purple Yves Saint Laurent dress she wore to a benefit gala in 1981 where she first met Princess Diana (center) and the famous 'Mondrian' dress by YSL. Small images showed Grace wearing the dresses (lower right).

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonDraped gowns by Madame Grès. The middle dress seemed to be rather boring, but looked spectacular on Grace herself (top right; image: Camera Press Digital).

grace kelly exhibition v&a londonIt's all in the accessories: jewelry by Van Cleef & Arpels, the famous 'Kelly' bag by Hermès, monogrammed suitcases, chic shades, more bags and a selection of hats (stock image: Corbis).

While the exhibition revealed many details about Grace Kelly (did you see how tiny her waist was?) - the one thing I noticed was how worn some of the items were, whether it was the scuffs on the Hermes bag, the cracks on the shoes or the washed out look on some of the clothes. When asked why she didn't donate some of her garments to charity, Kelly replied: "I am not eager to give away my things just because they’re worn. I keep my things longer than most people [do]." She was also said to be 'loyal to her old clothes' just like she was loyal to old friends, and held on to them for sentimental reasons, stating that "I just buy clothes when they take my eye, and I wear them for years."

With regard to her clothing budget, she said "The truth is, I don’t spend a great deal of money on clothes. There are other things I’d rather use it for." - though her husband enjoyed taking her on lavish shopping trips which counterbalanced her thriftiness a little.

In a day and age when most celebrities (and others) latch on to the newest trend which sees them wearing shouldered Balmain pieces one day, then Celine capes the next only to be replaced by Burberry shearling a month later - it was incredibly refreshing to realize that someone as high-profile as Princess Grace not only stayed true to her style, but had enough common sense to re-wear outfits in public - something that is almost unheard of today. Most current celebrities expect to be gifted with the newest expensive clothes by designers or borrow them for the Red Carpet, further fueling the thought that wearing something more than once isn't really cool. But thankfully there are still reminders of how being timelessly elegant and staying thrifty can go hand-in-hand.

Official Grace Kelly exhibition site (V&A)
The official book "Grace Kelly Style" can be ordered via Amazon

(text sources/quotes: V&A, Daily Mail, Telegraph UK, F.Tape)

52 comments:

  1. Really, really love how you did this. Most movie star wardrobes don't hold up over time, beginning to look somewhat cheesey and of a time. This selection is almost timeless, classical and beyond fashion.

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  2. Truly an icon then, now & forever. One of the Houston women, Lynn Wyatt, was her friend & continues work on Princess Grace's charities even today. A beautiful post, Sarah. More like a brilliant piece for a magazine.

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  3. Wow!! The pieces are just as stunning now, as I'm sure they were back then! It's also great to know that Grace Kelly was not in the clothing rat race! Another great example of how having style has less to do with the clothes you wear than how you carry yourself!

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  4. Oh! So romantic and lovley post!! Always love your blog!
    xx

    johanna, sweden
    art

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  5. Timeless chic, so romantic and so inspiring. Loved this post and the photos are wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

    http://redumbrellachronicles.wordpress.com

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  6. You've written a great bio here! I love Grace Kelly- she was such an inspiration and a great style icon.
    Looks like a really fun exhibition. Hope I'll still be able to catch it when I get back to London.

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  7. i would love to have seen this exhibition but ran out of time when i was last in london. so thank you so much for sharing. but however did you manage photos, are they not forbidden in the v&a?

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  8. hello, my dear friend ... this is a comment for the previous Lanvin post as it stroke a cord with my current strong obsession with Alber Elbaz. it is a great thing that, seemingly (no matter for how long or short), the world is once again taking notice on this brilliant man. Everytime I listened to one of his speeches, it reminded me why fashion is such a beautiful thing and why there is intellectual to it (rather than the common notion we are experiencing nowadays, i.g. everybody-can-be-a-desginer-symdrome). thank you again for sharing this post. did you know the face were supposed to be the male/female version of Alber Elbaz??

    xx

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  9. She is stunning, as are your finds!!

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  10. it's cool how the costumes she wore back in her times, they are still wearable now, it just shows that classic styles never go out of style!

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  11. Most of her gowns I found superb-just a few a bit boring! (I was never that keen on fashions of that decade anyway!)

    XOXO Lola:)

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  12. Oh I just loved her. She was exquisite! I so would have loved to have seen this exhibit.

    Hope you're having a great week! xoxo

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  13. i love grace kelly! she's so graceful (nice pun on her name, lol?) and elegant, just like a pristine white swan! =)

    http://pinkchampagnefashion.blogspot.com/

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  14. Oh I would love to see that exhibition!

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  15. interesting research about her long worn clothes. your posts are so detailed, you're such a good resource :)

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  16. such a style icon!
    Excited to see the original Kelly bag!!

    xo

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  17. What an incredible exhibition! I love clothes exhibitions.. I once went to see a Matthew Williamson one I think it was.. my boyfriend at the time was thrilled. The dresses are just incredible! :) x

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  18. Omgah!! I cannot breath! GRACE KELLY?! I am OBSESSED with her. I probably would've died if i saw this exhibition! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  19. How lucky you were, to go and see this wonderful exhibition. Grace Kelly was always so glamorous and I enjoyed seeing all her fabulous garments.
    How lovely that she had a dress made from a McCalls pattern book.
    Thanks for showing your lovely post.

    Hugs
    Carolyn

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  20. What an amazing exhibition! What I would have done to have been able to go... The sequined Dior with the headpiece is my favorite. It's completely timeless. Well, minus the headpiece. Thanks for sharing this! She was such an icon.

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  21. GREAT GREAT post. i completely agree with that last paragraph, in the days of celebrities and trends, its refreshing to know people are still in awe of grace kelly's elegance. her name simply says it all. now if only girls can follow her example. it seems like a great exhibit and i wish i could visit in person.

    www.amoreeggrorr.blogspot.com

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  22. How interesting about her clothes being very worn in! Refreshing and timely actually - but I would love to try on these dresses, next best thing are your pics, thanks for posting; I remember reading about the opening a while back.
    xo
    christine
    http://un-stitched.com/
    thank you for stopping by u-s by the way!

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  23. I wish I could see this exhibition in real...her wardrobe was definitely one of a kind...in my opinion each one of these creations are pure art. Thanks for this post! I'm planning to share some photos of Grace Kelly in my "Cup of Grace" series and will definitely link back to this post.

    Cheers: Evi

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  24. my kind of girl! how long did you spend on this post? what did you read in school? you're just so darn good at it.

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  25. Grace Kelly is so fascinating to me and her classic style will always be inspiring. I especially love your last paragraph and couldn't agree more. It's better to stay true to your style than following trends blindly. xxoxoxoxoo

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  26. What an amazing exhibit!
    Thanks for sharing these magnificent pics, darling!

    xoxox,
    CC

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  27. What an exquisite exhibit - I adore Grace Kelly! And I would love to get my hands on that book - it sounds enchanting!! :)

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  28. I absolutely love this post. I have admired Grace Kelly a great deal ever since I saw "Rear Window." I remember being in awe of her elegance. Her style was equally breathtaking especially after seeing this post! That The silk taffeta McCall dress particularly stands out to me. I loved reading about her and had no idea that she was somewhat thrifty!

    Thank you for this my friend!

    Rachel

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  29. amazing post! I loveeeeee Grace Kelly!
    Keep up the great work!

    http://blog.gabygorescu.com

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  30. this is such a wonderful post! such the opposite of what we see and hear day in and day out.

    and i love how you describe her as having low-key glamour. she was beautiful, elegant, classy, and never seemed to be trashy or overly obsessed with trends. what a lesson we can all learn from that!

    and i am also very pleased that she was thrifty and wore clothes repeatedly. it gets tiresome trying to keep up with all of the latest fashions and designers, and most designer items are unaffordable for the masses. trying to have style and be tasteful (within our means) seems to be a reasonable goal -- at least for me. :)

    SUPER POST!

    sorry if this comment comes across as holier-than-thou or preachy!!!!

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  31. Best. Post. Ever.

    I learned SO much about Grace Kelly in this post. Thank you so much for all your research and information. That is so cool that she not only kept her clothes, but wore them over and over again. As a princess/actress/icon, that is extremely admirable of her to do so. It makes me proud to be so thrifty. :) I wish more people (famous or not) were like her.

    What a lovely exhibit. I wish I could have attended! But your post is the next best thing. xoxo

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  32. Somehow I can understand that she didn't want to part with these clothes - even as a princess - they are like a fashion history class.

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  33. I seriously can't even begin to imagine how awesome that would be to see in person. She is an icon in every sense of the word!

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  34. That stuff is crazy good I want it all, some might make great curtains, a others a bed spread, but it would be horrible to ruin the hermes bags! www. fashionbaggage.com

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  35. Would have loved to have gone to the exhibition. She truly is an icon in so many ways!

    Leia

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  36. OH! WOW! What a fantastic exhibition. I love the idea of braking it in 4 sections so show all that this lady meant. I adore her style. Great post!

    xoxo
    B* a la Moda

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  37. i actually think i was in cannes and saw her grave.
    what a legend she is <3

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  38. I have never understood the appeal of Grace Kelly...UNTIL NOW. You are the first one to show me why she was worthy of a place in fashion history. Being an advocate of eco-fashion esp in its simplest forms like re-using and reducing, I see here that she is a fine example of all the values I cherish. Thank you for your unique angle on this exhibit.

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  39. It's bewildering and hilarious to see that wearing things only once and borrowing from design houses has become the norm for celebrities. Nobody seems to own anything they wear anymore, so it's refreshing to read your recap of the Grace Kelly exhibit and see that it wasn't always like this. Her integrity in not straying from her sense of style is an inspiration.

    Have you read Derek Blasberg's book Classy? It's a breezy read and very entertaining. He talks about how celebrities used to own their clothes and offers famous socialite Nan Kempner as an example, citing the fact that she donated her extensive wardrobe upon her death. Then he quips something like "Can you imagine what we'd find if one of today's celebrities did that? Probably nothing more than velour tracksuits and some used false eyelashes."

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  40. Hi!! It's so nice to be back browsing here again. I love your last post on lessons to be learned from fashion! I'm certainly learning a thing or two now... being here in Brazil (for work this time!) gives me a fresh new perspective on things!

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  41. THANK YOU, millions THANK you for this post! I enjoyed every word and every picture! I have purchased the book which was published to accompany V&A exhibitiona and I simply can not get enough of it. I wish I could see it with my own eyes!:-)

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  42. Thanks for the detailed review!! I've been lazy in the summer and didn't go to the exhibition although I was in the V&A... it is not exactly my favourite style, even though it's obviously fundamental for the history of fashion!
    So thanks for this 'documentary' anyway ;)
    Have you seen they just removed the previous items in the 'Fashion' display? I wonder what's coming next!

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  43. Wow I love looking at old clothing. It's so much fun to look at how things were during different times, and some of the garments are so gorgeous!

    http://red-soledfashionista.blogspot.com/

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  44. It was such a great exhibition, you've captured it beautifully

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  45. what a wonderful post.
    i have not heard or read much about her other than her name. so this was truly interesting.
    thanks for letting us in on the exhibition.
    the pieces are so classic and divine.
    hope you're having a great weekend
    xx

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  46. WOW! Awesome! Thanks for sharing...

    Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ

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  47. Beyond wonderful post!!!

    Just Graceful,fantastic images and oh...how much I would LOVE to see it with my own eyes:-)))*

    Thank you so very much for sharing all these information with us,my dear,dear Friend!

    Much Love to you,
    ***Violetta***

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  48. i have to admit that it took 3 days to finish this post because i find it so fascinating and well written - and especially appreciate the message behind this- that i had to maek sure that I read it through.

    i could not agree more with you on the fast fashion trend ... don't you feel it's kind like a "playboy" syndrome?? always chasing after new things and ditch the old?? so, it's very refreshing to see history's example and be reminded by one of the most brilliant women ....

    xx

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