Regarded as one of the most stylish women of the 20th century, Grace Kelly was an icon in her own right even before she became Princess of Monaco in 1956. An established Hollywood actress, she was and still is synonymous with sartorial elegance. Despite being only active in the industry for around six years, Kelly starred in pictures that were later to become screen classics, including Rear Window and To Catch A Thief. She embodied everything that audiences wanted from their leading ladies – sophistication and wholesomeness, with a subtle sex appeal and undeniable allure.
As one of the most photographed women in the world, Grace Kelly was most often pictured in her impeccable fairy-tale looks, from chic cocktail dresses to ballgowns. However, her off-duty style was as much a part of her enduring iconic status as her formal wear. A recent exhibition focused on a particular relationship that Kelly was faithful to for many years; that of the knitwear brand Pringle of Scotland. In collaboration with Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, the design house explored the less documented images of Kelly’s life. The actress favoured the simple Pringle twinsets often paired with a string of pearls, and her daughter Princess Caroline remembered her mother wearing these knitwear separates during their happiest times. The design house later presented a knitwear collection designed by MA fashion students from the university, inspired by and based on pieces from Grace Kelly’s archives. The Pringle twinsets were undeniably elegant and classic, yet embodied an altogether more relaxed look for Kelly; perhaps illustrating that her natural grace was present in whatever outfit she wore.
One of Grace Kelly’s most iconic dresses was a design created by Edith Head for Rear Window (pictured above). Head was undoubtedly the most prolific Hollywood costume designer during Kelly’s era and perhaps of all time. This particular piece features a chiffon and tulle mid length skirt, nipped at the waist with a simple black bodice with cap sleeves, and patent belt. The inevitable question to be posed is, did Head predate Dior’s renowned “New Look” (or Corrolle Line) collection of 1955? Prior to the 1920s, the opening of a film often tied in with a new fashion; not just clothes, but also interiors and other trends. After the Second World War, this pattern was turned on its head and fashions began to be inspired by the images on the big screen. Unquestionably, fashion trends and film often go hand in hand. For example, the flapper trend seen across the catwalks and now in high street stores has coincided with the release one of the most anticipated films of the year, The Great Gatsby. Whether Head pre-empted the styles worn by Grace Kelly or not, Kelly epitomised the sophisticated 1950s style that is now synonymous with Christian Dior.
So, does Grace Kelly’s style still have a place in fashion today, or will any reference to it now be seen as a pastiche of the era of classic Hollywood glamour? It is impossible to comment on Kate Middleton’s wedding dress worn for her marriage to Prince William, without making reference to Kelly’s own dress. Designed by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, the delicate lace bodice, high-waisted silhouette and slim sleeves mirrored the design worn by Kelly in 1956. Raf Simons’ 2012 couture offerings for Dior are undoubtedly indebted to the early designs of the house’s namesake, but also to the women who wore them. Grace Kelly’s innate dignity and poise are timeless and would be difficult to imitate; yet the image of Kelly, be it on screen or in her personal life, will be remembered in fashion history for many years to come.
To see more of Camilla’s work, go to www.camillafloraharrison.wordpress.com.