As one third of the iconic mid-20th century style triumvirate including Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, the model-turned-actress-turned-real life princess made her mark on the way women across Europe and the USA dressed for most of the 1950s and 1960s. But while Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn have become bywords in the last decade for a polished style of timeless, restrained, retro chic comprising little shift dresses, big sunnies and low-heel courts, Grace Kelly with her cool, blonde, debutante style was less copied.
But that’s all set to change. With Grace Kelly: Style Icon, the exhibition which opened last weekend at the V&A, the late Princess Grace of Monaco is set to have a fashion moment all of her own.
The exhibition, sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels, a suite of whose jewellery was her first gift from Prince Rainier, is a must for everyone with an interest in fashion. Following the evolution of her style from 1954 to the 1980s, it gorgeously chronicles how she became an icon for classic American fashion and later for Paris couture. One of the most gorgeous, and quintessentially Grace Kelly pieces is an exquisitely understated navy coat from 1956. It has bracelet-length sleeves, flared skirt, and a bow at the high waistline, and is by New York-based label Ben Zuckerman.
Although later, as the wife of Prince Rainier, Kelly would turn to Paris’s loftiest couturiers — Balenciaga, Givenchy, Yves St Laurent and Christian Dior — during the mid-50s, while still pursuing a movie career, she chose the designers from the big Hollywood studios to make many of her key pieces, notably Paramount’s chief costume designer, Edith Head (born Edith Posener to Jewish parents), and Helen Rose, MGM’s Jewish costume designer.
On display is a stunning, floor-length evening coat and dress in aquamarine silk-satin, designed by Head, as well as a collection of evening and cocktail wear and neat little suits by Rose, who also made Kelly’s exquisite lace and silk-satin wedding gown.
Alongside the Hermes bag, which she transformed from merely a portmanteau handbag into the “Kelly”, a symbol of up-scale style, are many of the glasses and sunglasses which were also part of her signature look. Four of the eight pairs on display were made by Oliver Goldsmith, the peerlessly modish optical brand of the 50s and 60s, resurrected five years ago by north Londoner Claire Goldsmith, granddaughter of the founder.
For any woman who wishes to reproduce Grace Kelly’s brand of polished chic, a sensibility perfectly matching the current mood of post-recession investment dressing, this exhibition shows how to do updated classic and look fabulous. Her style details, the nipped-waist jackets, sheath dresses, the profusion of satin, the velvet collars, the Capri pants, the mid-heel courts and the ladylike handbags, huge sunnies and pearls, are all out there, ready for us to emulate amazing Grace.
Where to get the look
Peach chiffon A-line dress with embellished V-neck bodice by Ann Louise Roswald, £549 from Fenwick, W1; nude pink floral brocade shift dress, £739, and matching opera jacket, £529, Dice Kayek at Fenwick, W1; beige metallic sleeveless dress £285 with matching ¾-sleeve jacket, £355, MaxMara Studio, Fenwick, Brent Cross; black satin, high-waist shift in black, £189, James Lakeland.
Coats and jackets
Silver brocade coat, Ann Louise Roswald £799, Fenwick, W1; cream jacket with bows, Zetterberg, £195, Wild Swans.
Black leather croc Kelly-style bag, Osprey, £495, Fenwick, W1; F&F Kelly-style tote, £20, Tesco; red patent leather bag, Lulu Guinness, £195, Fenwick, Brent Cross; peep toe court shoe, £170, Jaeger; suede and snake mid-heel court, £185, LK Bennett; Pointed toe court in nude and navy suede, £160, LK Bennett; Hermés silk twill scarf 90cm square, £250; Yellow floral silk square, £295, Liberty; silk squares, Guess, £30, Fenwick, Brent Cross; silk scarves, Echo Vintage Collection, from £32, Fenwick branches; oversized black vintage sunglasses, £228, Oliver Goldsmith; long satin evening gloves, black or ivory, £12, John Lewis; black leather gloves, £18, John Lewis.