Sunday, 18 April 2010

Darling Grace

Grace and glamour come to the Victoria and Albert Museum this weekend with the opening of their latest fashion exhibiton ‘Grace Kelly. Style Icon’.

From the V&A’s website – ‘This exhibition explores, through her surviving clothes, the story of her transformation from Hollywood actress to a princess of one of Europe's oldest royal families. Examining her enduring appeal as a style icon, it features her film costumes, the much-publicised dresses made for her trousseau and wedding, and the French haute couture - a different kind of costume - that she required for her subsequent role as Princess of Monaco.’

An accompanying book has been published entitled Grace Kelly Style. Fashion for Hollywood’s Princess. “Style”, “Fashion”, “Hollywood”, “Princess” – all words that sum up this twentieth century icon. It is not strictly a catalogue of the exhibition and does not contain a listing of the exhibits. A foreword by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, is followed by three chapters on ‘The Actress’, ‘The Bride’ and ‘The Princess’, with mini biographies of the key couture designers interspersed. The text is accompanied by archive photographs and modern shots of the dresses and their details (although there don’t seem enough of these). A great structure and typically informative but with only 112 pages this book feels slightly meagre and the closeness and busyness of images and text fails to deliver the feeling of rich glamour that a book on Princess Grace deserves.

(Grace Kelly Style. Fashion for Hollywood’s Princess, by Kristina Haugland with Jenny Lister and Samantha Erin Safer, V&A Publications, London, 2010)

Another book on the Princess that has been sitting on my shelves for a couple of years is Grace. Princess of Monaco. A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of Grace Kelly. Published by the Consulate General of Monaco in New York in conjunction with Sotheby’s it is also linked to an exhibition. Compared with the V&A book there are a lot more photos, a lot more jewellery and the layout is clean and stylish. The beauty of the illustrations speak for themselves. The text is mainly confined to captions but once again there is a foreword by Prince Albert. However this isn’t the only familiar aspect. The dresses exhibited are uncunningly similar to those examples featured in ‘Grace Kelly Style’. I’m not aware of the history of the V&A exhibition and where the collection comes from but it appears that New York’s exhibition has come across the pond in a familiar guise.

(Grace. Princess of Monaco. A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of Grace Kelly, Consulate General of Monaco, New York, 2007)

For a truly indulgent Grace fix I would turn to The Grace Kelly Years. Princess of Monaco. This is yet another exhibition book but is almost double in size compared to the first two titles. The exhibition at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco in 2007 was not confined to Grace’s wardrobe, although it did feature heavily – of course! Childhood, family and personal snapshots, official photographs, clothes, jewellery, letters and archival media were all on display. This is reflected in the content of the book which is essentially a rich visual scrapbook of Grace’s life and style. We see the dress, then we see Grace wearing the dress, then we see the magazine showing the picture of Grace wearing the dress.

(The Grace Kelly Years. Princess of Monaco, by Frédéric Mitterrand and Bertrand Meyer-Stabley, Skira Editore, 2007)

But certainly the prize for the best cover does go to the V&A. Erwin Blumenfeld’s portrait of 1955 is exquisite.