I mentioned before that I was supposed to be in London a couple of weekends ago but couldn’t go due to the whole volcanic ash thing… One of the exhibits I had hoped to attend was the Grace Kelly one in the V&A and I was raging I missed it! Luckily, my mate Roisin went along and has kindly written this piece on her afternoon there! Its a fantastic read, and if you are on twitter you should follow @roisinod for more of her daily musings or check out her blog.
Grace Kelly’s life story reads like a modern day fairy tale. Daughter of a wealthy Irish-American, model, Oscar-winning actress and princess who died tragically in a car accident, she is also remembered and revered as a style icon. Her love of fashion, her innate sense of style and her sizzling on-screen presence set her apart in 1950s Hollywood as a woman to admire and imitate for women all over the world. She has left an indelible mark on the world of fashion (she carried one particular Hermès bag so much they eventually named it after her-the perennially fashionable ‘Kelly’ bag) and to celebrate this legacy, an exhibition has been touring various cities, bringing the glamour of Grace Kelly’s life to us regular, Topshop-frequenting plebs.
For those of you who have never made the trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum, it is located in the leafy, affluent neighbourhood of South Kensington in West London. The area itself has been dubbed Museum Land as it is home to the vast and impressive Natural History Museum as well as the labyrinthine V&A. I arrived at the V&A last Sunday on a sunny afternoon. Niamh had booked two tickets for us to go and see the famous wardrobe but fire and brimstone conspired to keep her effectively trapped in Ireland. As the event was completely sold out and I had a spare ticket, I offered it to a gentleman who had none. He took it gratefully and skedaddled off to peruse the collection tout seul. The exhibition is housed in the fashion wing of the V&A. The collection itself consists of carefully chosen pieces that marked the various transitions and changes in the actresses’ life. From her modelling days in the early 50s to the halcyon days of her acting career, culminating in her Oscar win for The Country Girl, her wardrobe acts as a kind of timeline for her meteoric rise to fame to her fairytale wedding to the prince of a tiny European principality.
The exhibition includes reels and film from her days as a model, costumes from movies such as Rear Window and High Society and, of course, her wardrobe for her engagement to Prince Rainier of Monaco and the various outfits she wore on her honeymoon. Carefully placed and interspersed throughout the exhibition were smaller collections of her accessories. Grace had very bad eyesight but instead of taking a leaf out of the classic movie “How to Marry a Millionaire” in which the famous line “Boys don’t make passes at girls who were glasses” was uttered by her contemporary, Marilyn Monroe, Grace incorporated glasses into her casual wardrobe, popularising horn-rimmed glasses. According to the blurb beside a collection of her sunglasses, she famously dropped her glasses when she won her Oscar. Her collection of white kid gloves was seen as a trend setting move on her part, was actually a throw-back to her Irish Catholic upbringing in Philadelphia.
The dresses were, of course, gorgeous. Some of the world’s top designers vied to dress the actress with the fashion house of Christian Dior being one of her favourites. Some of the pieces are so timeless that you could well imagine them being sent down the runway at Paris Fashion Week 2010. I surreptitiously took some illicit photos on my phone. Cameras were not allowed so forgive the quality; they do the garments no justice. The collection houses pieces from Grace’s modelling days, costumes from movies such as High Society and Rear Window. It also boasts some beautiful haute couture gowns from her days as Princess of Monaco and hostess extraordinaire of various charity balls in the principality. There are pieces by Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and a host of others, including a home cut pattern dress! The story goes that the palace in Monaco had a power cut on the day of the announcement of the engagement. Grace was without an iron to press her outfit so she made one from a cut out pattern and wore it with some designer accessories and a matching headpiece. Voila, style icon and level-headed, practical woman.
While I enjoyed the entire exhibit, one of the highlights for me was the projection of news reels from the various stages of Grace Kelly’s charmed life on the walls beside the glass cases of fashion history. At one point it was a case of “Spot the Irish Girl” as a news reel brought to life the wall before me with a scene of Prince Rainier and the Serene Princess Grace of Monaco’s state visit to Ireland. I stood there, gaping at this glamorous, elegant lady shaking hands with Sean Lemass and De Valera, a goofy smile slowly spreading across my face. Her trip “home” to Mayo should slap a similar smile across the face of Metro Chica!
There’s something about icons like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn that inspire a kind of reverence and awe in people, and it is this “something” that ensures the Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition is set to be the most visited exhibition in the V&A this year.