Clothes on Film Visit the V&A Grace Kelly Exhibition

Last week Clothes on Film visited the Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition at London’s V&A museum. This is what we found out.

Grace Kelly is mostly known for her ‘blossoming flower’, 50’s New Look dresses with tiny waists and huge, poufy skirts. Yet these only represent one period in her life, essentially the big movie star years 1954-56 and early marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco. There was far more to Grace Kelly’s enduring chic than silk organza, although two constants did remain throughout: clean, simple. She rarely deviated from this style.

That the Victoria and Albert museum (that’s the V&A in case you were unsure) have recognised her life was not the fairytale existence it is sometimes made out to be makes for a credible exhibition. It may not be as extensive as you would hope and there is no wedding outfit (that is still in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA) but providing you dress for tropical temperatures and do not attempt to take any photographs (not permitted – hence the blurring here), spending an afternoon perusing a fashion icon’s wardrobe makes for a informative, if unavoidably intrusive experience.

Here are some things that struck us most at the exhibition (date attended 7th May):

  • It really is very warm, the same way that shops are at Christmas.
  • One favourite dress is Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Mondrian’ from the mid-sixties, mainly for being so ‘un-Grace’ like (you do see a photo of her wearing it).
  • Look out for a lightly tailored, raw silk two-piece suit by Christian Dior. Sharply cut but straightforward and quite plain, it is a good example of Grace Kelly’s early style.
  • Grace continued to champion simplicity into the 1960s, certainly on her own time, as exemplified by the two tweedy Chanel box suits on display.
  • Not that many film costumes unfortunately, but plenty of dresses she wore to award shows, including a green gown and robe designed by Edith Head.
  • Head’s black silk and chiffon dress from Rear Window (1954) is a highlight…
  • …As is a machine embroidered cotton voile gown designed by Helen Rose for The Swan in 1956.
  • Grace wore a lot of pillbox hats.
  • The exhibition gift shop is more like a kiosk.
  • Grace Kelly’s handbags are even more popular than her diamond jewellery. Several clutch variants, but the satchel-like Hermes ‘Kelly Bag’ drew the biggest crowd.
  • Another favourite outfit is a John Carter yellow cotton sundress cut in the ‘Y’ silhouette with big chest bow she chose for her honeymoon. It is the most ‘Betty in Mad Men’ piece at the whole exhibition.
  • Don’t miss Grace’s prescription sunglasses, all designer of course – very ‘Talented Mr Ripley’.
  • Look out for a classic silk organza dress with tiny waist she wore for High Society (1956).
  • Grace went a bit hippy in the 1970s with long empire line dresses, lots of silk jersey in some pretty wild colour schemes.
  • She was always beautiful.
  • Visit the Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition until Sunday, 26th September 2010.

    © 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.