In fashion, Kelly brought Hollywood glamour to typical American look

A multicolored bayadere chiffon by Marc Bohan, for Christian Dior. It was designed for Kelly in 1967. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
A multicolored bayadere chiffon by Marc Bohan, for Christian Dior. It was designed for Kelly in 1967. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: October 28, 2013

Grace Kelly's aquamarine Academy Award gown beckons visitors into the James A. Michener Art Museum exhibition honoring Philadelphia's most fashionable daughter.

Just past the 8-foot-tall case - where Kelly's gleaming Oscar statuette also rests - are rooms full of her Chanel jackets, Givenchy suits, and Yves St. Laurent shirtwaist dresses.

It's enough to make a fashionista's heart flutter right . . . out . . . of . . . her . . . chest.

And that's just the clothes.

From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon also features the accessories that turned East Falls' favorite girl-next-door into a fashion plate.

We are talking must-have Mark Cross luggage, a few Christian Dior hats, and pink stiletto heels with the actress' name stenciled inside.

And then there is the simple, brown leather handbag Kelly was photographed holding on that day in 1956 when her engagement to Prince Rainier III was announced. The classic, trapezoidal purse sits unassumingly in a case next to a muted brown Dior skirt and jacket ensemble.

But this would become the bag Hermés would gleefully rename "Kelly" after women all over the planet demanded their own. In fact, it's the world's first "it" bag.

"Her look was something the average American woman could aspire to, and many did," said H. Kristina Haugland, associate curator of costumes and textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "She was well-bred and she made good taste glamorous. She brought a dash of Hollywood glamour to the typical, American sporty look, and women loved it."

The exhibition

Philadelphia to Monaco is teeming with Kelly memorabilia, from the huge Technicolor posters celebrating the actress' earliest films to guest lists for royal Sunday brunches. There are Kelly family Christmas cards, and even a copy of the menu from the first cruise Grace took from America to Monaco.

But at its core, From Philadelphia to Monaco is a fashion exhibition. Forty-one dresses tell the story of Kelly's fairy-tale life. There are the style-defining costumes by Hollywood legends Edith Head and Helen Rose (the gowns she wore in High Society, including the soft blue-and-white fit-and-flare, will make your jaw drop), and the grand, floor-skimming Armani and Yves St. Laurent gowns she wore (and rewore) during her 26-year reign as princess of Monaco.

Seven-hundred square feet dedicated to one of the most-watched royal weddings punctuates the show.

There's the lace-covered headpiece Rose designed to complement Kelly's long-sleeved bridal gown; Kelly's prayer book, accented with lace and sea pearls; the ivory shoes custom-made by David Evans; and the embroidered floral suit Rose designed for the civil ceremony.

But the antique lace wedding gown with the high neck and full silk faille skirt by Rose is too fragile to be moved from the Museum of Art, where it currently lives, to the Doylestown museum. Instead, the museum will feature a picture of the then-new princess in her dress.

"We did not want to devalue the elegance and the precision of the real wedding dress by using a facsimile," said Lisa Tremper Hanover, director and CEO of the Michener.

The fashion legacy

In the early 1950s, Marilyn Monroe was sexy, Gina Lollobrigida was sultry, and Katharine Hepburn was fiery. But no one was as angelic and pristine as Kelly. A size 10 with a 21-inch waist, her svelte figure made her the ideal muse for classic American designers-of-the-moment Oleg Cassini and Philadelphia's own James Galanos.

Her understated, fresh, collegiate vibe became known as the "Grace Kelly look," the inspiration for countless magazine articles about how to appear just as perfect when dressing for everyday, work, travel, church - you name it, there was a Kelly outfit that corresponded.

Kelly continues to inspire today's runway giants - think Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. And those clean, pastel looks that Francisco Costa presents year after year for the Calvin Klein runway are Kelly all the way.

What would the Hollywood red carpet be without the Kelly legacy? Actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Jennifer Aniston have been channeling her fashion spirit at awards ceremonies for decades now.

And it's pretty clear that even Lyn Paolo - costume director for ABC's Scandal - is infusing Kelly's cool attitude into the persona of the well-dressed Olivia Pope. Those studious glasses, those gloves, those pastels - it's all so Kelly.

"She could wear casual clothes or formal clothes and look comfortable and elegant," explained Haugland, who has written two books on Kelly's style. "She had fun with fashion, but she didn't let it take over her look . . . . She just really knew how to wear clothing. And she was meticulous about her look throughout her life."

After Kelly died in a 1982 car crash, her husband packed away her clothes, where they stayed out of the Prince's sight for decades, explained Catherine Alestchenkoff, director of cultural events at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, the palace branch responsible for curating the exhibition.

But in 2007, two years after Rainier's death, the couple's son Prince Albert gave permission to open the collection, what turned out to be a treasure trove in excellent condition.

"Grace Kelly was famous for saving clothes," Haugland said. "She loved her clothing like old friends. She brought everything with her from her Hollywood days to her new home when she got married."

Along with her clothing, curators found sketches by St. Laurent and Dior (part of the Michener display, too).

Then the collection traveled: That year, a large show was presented in Monaco, with several small exhibitions throughout Europe. In 2010, the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum in London displayed the clothing. And last year, From Philadelphia to Monaco was housed at the McCord Museum in Montreal.

Eventually, the curators decided to bring it home.

Why Doylestown? With the Philadelphia Museum of Art booked, the Michener Museum became the next best thing. Incidentally, Kelly starred in The Bridges of Toko-Ri, a 1954 film made from the James Michener novel.

"It makes perfect sense," Temper said. "It's about time she received the kind of recognition she deserves in her hometown."


ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704

@ewellingtonphl

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