Thursday, May 27, 2010

Exhibition Review: Grace Kelly, Style Icon

Grace Kelly
Photograph by Erwin Blumenfeld New York, 1955. 
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld 2009

The thing that made her stand out is what we call 'style'. 
McCall's magazine 1955

Classic beauty, cool elegance, and impeccable style are the words that come to mind when I think of Grace Kelly. And even though she died nearly thirty years ago, I seem to have lots of company in my admiration for this legendary actress and princess. On a daily basis, there are crowds of people attending the Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the shows are selling out.

Installation Shot copyright of V&A Images 2010

On display are an exquisite array of clothing and accessories that trace the transformation of the actress into a princess. The exhibition includes costumes from High Society and other movies, dresses from her trousseau, the ballerina style wedding suit worn for her civil ceremony to Prince Ranier, and an selection of haute couture gowns worn in her role as the Princess of Monaco including several fancy dress ballgowns. Several of the exhibition cases are backed with mirrors making the backs of the garments visible and the show is enhanced by photographs and film clips. Nevertheless, I heard a few grumbles in the crowd from people who were disappointed that the gown worn for the formal wedding ceremony was not on display (apparently because of its fragile condition).

Installation Shot copyright of V&A Images

Having studied the press materials and the book Grace Kelly Style in advance of the show, I had some idea of what to expect. But seeing a photo of a dress and seeing it in person do not equate! With a few exceptions, all the dresses have a simplicity of line and understated embellishments which create a harmony and elegance of form. My favourite pieces included:
* a floral silk dress made from a McCall's pattern that she wore on her first meeting with Prince Ranier in 1955 (shown in the first installation shot above),
* a stunning purple evening gown in silk by Hubert de Givenchy from 1960 (seen in the second installation shot above),
* the silk organza dress in pale blue designed by Helen Rose for the movie High Society.

My overall impression was that Grace Kelly embodied elegance, both in her clothing choices and in her life.

Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco, 1956
© Snap/Rex features

If you have the opportunity to visit this exhibition before it closes on September 26, 2010, be sure to buy your tickets in advance to avoid long line ups and disappointment. Also worth considering are the lectures and workshops listed in the events calendar.

Victoria and Albert Museum
South Kensington London SW
+44 (0)20 7942 2000

Note: All photos in this post were provided by the Victoria and Albert Museum and are subject to copyright.