|Grace Kelly by Andy Warhol|
I was in Europe, when I heard the news of the car crash that took the life of Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. I had just been in that beautiful principality the week before and so the news was particularly shocking to me. It seemed surreal and everyone in Europe was discussing it.
Last week I went to the Grace Kelly exhibit at Toronto's Lightbox. For those of you who are not from Toronto, the Lightbox is the headquarters for the Toronto International Film Festival, (TIFF). Along with the theaters and gift shop, their is also a small gallery space dedicated to rotating exhibits. When I first learned that this show was coming to Toronto I was very exited. I was disappointed that I had missed it when it opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and so my expectations were quite high. The show had previously premiered at the Grimaldi Forum in 2007 in Monaco and was now in circulation.
|Grimaldi Forum, 2007|
|V & A exhibit|
The show opened with the image painted by Warhol of Grace (above) accompanied by a display case containing three pairs of gloves. The relationship between the two escaped me and all I remember thinking was how small her hands were!
|Exiting TIFF show|
|Engagement photo, Dior|
At right and above (top row) dress worn by Grace on April 18, 1956 for the civil service ceremony performed in Monaco. The colour was described as, "Ashes of Rose" taffeta under applique of Alencon lace. If you look closely at the hemline, the lace has been scalloped to allow for the contrast of the silk taffeta to show through. The suit was designed, along with Grace's wedding gown, by MGM's Helen Rose and exemplifies the tailored look made fashionable by her favorite designer, Dior.
The high light of the show should have been another dress designed by Helen Rose and that, of course, was the wedding dress worn at St. Nicholas Cathedral the next day. Undoubtably, this dress was the crowning achievement of Rose's career and the finished creation was valued at $7,200 at the time. It took 6 weeks of work by three dozen seamstresses and consisted of a long-sleeved gown with a fitted bodice with an overlay of 125 year old rose point lace. The skirt of silk taffeta, peau de soie, tulle and lace was complimented by a circular veil of tulle that contained ninety yards of fabric! After the wedding Grace donated the dress to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
|Helen Rose wedding gown|
I was already aware that the original dress was too fragile to come to Toronto and that a reproduction was to be shown and for me this was the biggest disappointment of all. Not the fact that a reproduction had to replace the original, I understand the ephemeral nature of textiles, but that the reproduction was so poorly executed. The textiles were cheap and the skirt did little to support the silhouette achieved by Rose's work. It looked as if it had been made by one of those cheap knock off houses in the garment district.
|Edith Head for "High Society"|
|Installation at TIFF, Lightbox show|
At the Grimaldi, Moscow and Victoria and Albert Museum shows, more examples of the Hollywood connection were included. One question that the Toronto show did not answer, but which I would have liked to have known, was "Did Grace keep and incorporate these iconic dresses into her own wardrobe or had they been assembled from various outside sources for the purposes of the exhibition?" Either way, I have included them here, (below). It seems that the films High Society and Rear Window were the sources chosen for the exhibition halls. Both examples of the work of Edith Head.
|Edith Head, Rear Window|
The news footage of some of the Grimaldi's charitable works, including balls, were much more interesting. Below, the Moscow exhibit had the space to display two costume gowns worn by the Princess at these masked balls. In the background, you can see an enormous second empire inspired gown worn by Princess Grace in the photo above.
The show did share one interesting and entertaining tidbit. Grace Kelly was true to her own style which was relatively clean in line coupled with immaculate attention to construction and details. She saw fashion as an art form and appreciated the technical side of fine craftsmanship. She was a practical dresser and had a way of choosing the most appropriate ensemble to correspond with the demands of the occasion. One such incident involves a dress that Grace brought with her when she arrived in Monaco for her new life. It was a simple floral dress that she had modeled for the pattern company, McCall's. Not intending to wear this dress to a public reception, she was forced to due to a power outage at the palace. Her luggage had yet to be completely unpacked and nothing had been pressed. The only dress that had survived the voyage was the polyester number worn below. What a coupe for McCall's! You just can't buy advertising like that.
|1955 McCall's catalogue|
|Left to right. Dior (maternity dress), Balanciaga, Chanel|
|Photo by Howell Conant|
As well as clothing, personal items that helped to accessorize the actress' and princess' personal style were showcased.
|A collection of personal jewels|
One year before her death, Princess Grace wears Dior at a benefit at London's Barbican. It is here that she meets Diana for the first time. Ironically, Diana will represent Britain's royal family at the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco.
|In Dior at the Barbican with Lady Diana Spencer & HRH Prince Charles|
As disappointing as the Toronto exhibit was, I am still glad that I made the pilgrimage to worship at the shrine of fashion and "material culture." Her clothing could have been presented on a rolling dress rack and I still would have discovered a technique, colour or line that would have inspired my own work.
With the upcoming sale of Elizabeth Taylor's estate at Christie's, in New York, it is hoped that perhaps another exhibit of the fashionable taste of one of Hollywood's icons, will be shared with the public.