When you think of Grace Kelly, what kind of person comes to mind? The style icon of pure elegance and sophistication, the film star at the top of her game, or Her Royal Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco? She was all these things but so much more, as I’ve discovered whist researching this next blog. I put Grace Kelly in a league of remarkable women. There were a few other influential females during the 1950’s that also have a significant place in history. Think Audrey Hepburn, Sofia Loren and Marilyn Monroe. But Grace is the one I think of first when I’m looking for inspiration for something pure, gentle and nourishing. She not only dominated the world of film and fashion, but became a European royal and continued to showcase her serene taste in clothing while she occupied the Palace of Monaco.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to see the exhibition Grace Kelly Style, presented by the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum of London, when it toured globally and came to a regional city close to my home town. Being able to get so close to some of Grace’s personal possessions was an overwhelming experience and one I will gladly carry with me forever. It not only highlighted her impeccable taste in fashion and how she continues to influence the runways all these years later, but gave a history into the life she lead as a member of the Royal family, and all of the tremendous work she did for charitable organisations.
Grace Patricia Kelly was born on November 12 1929, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, into an affluent family. Her father was an Olympic gold medallist for his country, and worked in politics and as the owner of a large brickwork company. Her mother was a teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, and together the Kelly’s had 4 children, raising them all in a Roman Catholic household. Grace and her siblings never wanted for anything, and Grace attended a prestigious girl’s Catholic school. It was here that she dabbled in the arts, being involved in modelling, drama and dance. From this sample of the entertainment business through her schooling, Grace wanted to pursue a career in acting, either on stage or film. Her father was not impressed by her choice in further studies, but no less agreed to Grace moving to New York to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Being a competent and dedicated student, Grace went on to master her acting skills, and on her graduation, secured roles in theatre productions. From working on the stage, Grace then continued to improve her talent, and moved on to television productions, and then finally landed the Hollywood dream of being a film actress.
In 1951, Grace debut in the film 14 hours, directed by Henry Hathaway. The film was not a roaring success, but it did lead Grace to Gary Cooper, who asked the actress to star in his new film High Noon (1951). From here on in, Grace became noticed more and more, and signed a contract with studio MGM in 1952. The contract was for seven years, with Grace earning $850 a week. In 1953, Grace had her biggest success to date, earning an Academy Award for her role as Linda Nordely in Mogambo. She stared alongside Ava Gardner and Clark Gable. The following year the Academy came knocking again, this time earning the rights to Best Actress for her role as Georgie Elgin in The Country Girl. By now, Grace had cemented herself into acting royalty, and was in high demand amongst producers and directors. One director who Grace formed a close bond with for the remainder of her life was the dexterous Alfred Hitchcock. The pair made a few films together, and Grace became Hitchcock’s number one leading lady. Their first film together was Dial M for Murder (1954), followed by Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). Following her time with Hitchcock, Grace went on to make two more films before leaving Hollywood. The Swan and High Society (both 1956), were the height of sophistication in Grace’s motion picture career. Over her relatively short stint in Hollywood, only lasting five years before life as a Royal took over, Grace made eleven films.
It was during Grace’s reign as a Hollywood starlet that she met her husband. In 1955 at the Cannes Film Festival in the Mediterranean hideaway of the French Riviera. A striking young Grace met Prince Rainer Third of Monaco. There was an instant attraction between the two, and the media enjoyed every minute of their courtship. A short time after their initial encounter, the pair announced their engagement, and the future Princess of Monaco had arrived. Grace had to make a sacrifice many women these days would find difficult, giving up her own hopes and dreams to become a Royal. She was no longer able to continue her life as an actress, as royal protocol ensured that she was no longer working, but rather involved in royal duties and obligations (much like todays fairy-tale of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle!). The couple had two weddings, one a religious ceremony, the other civil. The civil ceremony took place on 18th April 1956, in the Palace Throne room in Monaco. The service only lasted sixteen minutes, but included all the official necessities, comprising of Grace receiving one hundred and forty two official titles! The grand ceremony and religious service took place the following day at St Nicholas Cathedral in Monaco, and was televised to thirty million viewers worldwide. There were seven hundred guests at the reception, including Aristotle Onassis, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant and Gloria Swanston. The gown which Grace wore was designed by MGM head costume designer Helen Rose, and took six weeks and three dozen seamstresses to construct.
The couple went on to have a family on three. Princess Caroline was born in January 1957, followed by Prince Albert (the current serving Prince of Monaco) in March 1958. A few years later, Princess Stephanie was born in February 1965. Grace fell naturally into her role as Princess and took on her royal duties with confidence and commitment. She was offered parts in film and on stage numerous times after her marriage, but was not allowed to accept. This left Grace feeling somewhat incomplete, but she channelled these emotions into giving her three children the best upbringing she could have imagined.
Tragically in September 1982, the world lost Princess Grace in a car accident. It’s reported that she suffered a stroke while driving her daughter Stephanie home, losing control of the vehicle and crashing off the side of a cliff. Princess Stephanie survived her mother, with Grace sadly passing the following day after her life support was turned off. At her funeral service five days later, four hundred mourners attended to pay their respects to this gracious woman. Again Cary Grant showed his solid friendship to Grace by attending the service, alongside Nancy Regan and Diana, Princess of Wales. Her eulogy was given by close friend James Stewart, and through his heartfelt words, Princess Grace was laid peacefully to rest. Prince Rainer never remarried, and in 2005 when he passed away, he was buried alongside Grace in the family mausoleum.
There were many legacies Grace left behind, with none being bigger than her influence on fashion. She has remained a style icon into the twenty first century, with designers constantly looking towards her wardrobe for inspiration. One of the most notable contributions to fashion the Grace made, was popularising a handbag made by designer brand Hermes. Dubbed the ‘Kelly’ bag, Princess Grace was always photographed with this bag over her arm, in what many believe was an attempt to shield her pregnant belly. Even today, the ‘Kelly’ bag is hugely popular among celebrities, and is in constant demand. Grace also made popular the ‘Fresh Face’ look. She always wore her makeup as natural as possible, or even none at all. She had a pale complexion accented by her shiny blonde hair, and had a look of pureness about her. Grace loved fashion as much as it loved her, and throughout her life she continued to follow trends and experiment with new styles as the world changed from one decade to the next. Helen Rose of MGM studios played a large role in the construction of Grace’s wardrobe. During her time at MGM, Rose worked on over two hundred films. She was bestowed the honour to make both of Grace’s wedding garments. At the civil ceremony, Grace wore a beige lace and rose silk suit. It had a fitted bodice with a silk cord tied in a bow at the neck. Lace covered buttons ran the length of the jacket. The skirt fell fourteen inches above the floor in a glorious full hem. Short white gloves, matching lace covered shoes and a small silk trimmed hat completed her outfit. For her religious ceremony, Grace wore one of the most recognisable wedding gowns in history. Composing a high neck, the rose point lace hugged Grace’s arms and torso. A cummerbund of ivory silk was positioned over the waist, and a full skirt cascaded below. The skirt received it’s voluminosity from pleats carefully constructed in the sides and back, with three petticoats and a hoop assisting in keeping it all in place. This most famous of gowns has been replicated many times over for brides across the globe, with a nod of acknowledgement coming from the Duchess of Cambridge at her wedding to Prince William in 2011.
One of the most well-known outfits worn by Grace Kelly came from humble beginnings. At her introduction to Prince Rainer, Grace was wearing a floral dress that was constructed from a 1955 McCalls pattern. The fashion world went crazy for the design, and it is one that I am fortunate enough to have a replica of in my own extensive collection of vintage patterns. The design is said to be Dior inspired, and consists of five yards of thirty five inch fabric. After her wedding, Princess Grace was obliged to support French couture. She was often photographed in the latest designs from Dior, Lanvin and Balenciaga. In later years, she wore designs by Marc Bohen, Yves Saint Laurent and Madam Gres.
The wardrobe of Her Royal Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco has thankfully been kept in glorious condition by her children and fashion enthusiasts. In 2006 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Princess Grace’s wedding gown went on display at what would have been her fiftieth wedding anniversary. Four years later in 2010, the Victoria and Albert Museum put on a stunning exhibition of clothing and accessories worn by the Princess. This exhibition travelled the world, and I was fortunate enough to see it in Australia in 2012.
The Grace Kelly effect on fashion is one that I believe will remain for many years to come. With its overwhelming sense of femininity, sophistication and allure, the Grace Kelly style is a directional influence on fashion that I personally will continue to model. This woman was not only a stunning display of couture, but a loving, caring and passionate lady who did all she could to support her family, her friends and her passions. Vale, Grace Kelly!
Love Always, Anastacia Rose xx