They say that, in terms of fashion, the Hollywood of the 1950s was a war. And that in that war there were not two armies, but two blondes: Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly. In front of her colleague from Con faldas ya lo loco, who offered a carnality without fashion flaunting, the actress from Catch a Thief and Rear Window promulgated from the screen an ideal of beauty based on the ideals of the upper class: simple lines, luxury materials and brands (Dior, Gucci, Hermès) whose terse names were (and are) in inverse proportion to the astronomical price of their designs. A statement of principles in the pre-ready-to-wear era.
Now that Kelly’s 91st birthday has passed, this iconic condition can be explained in many ways. Noting, for example, that it is natural in a woman who was first the daughter of a real estate mogul (John B. Kelly, Olympic medalist and ‘King of the brick’ of the East Coast), then a movie star and, finally, Princess of Monaco . But maybe there is an anecdote that sums it up better: an anecdote that includes a walk along the Côte d’Azur, a costume designer and a shop window.
Let’s put ourselves in a situation: this is 1954, and Alfred Hitchcock (filming Catch a Thief at the Kill of Monaco and Cannes) has given Grace Kelly and her friend Edith Head a day off to buy Hermès items in stores from the French Riviera. For the best-dressed star in Hollywood and a designer who just won her fifth Oscar by dressing Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, it’s clear that the couple is not going to settle for anything. But what nobody expects is that her walk ends up creating an earthquake in the world of accessories.
It turns out, the story continues, that Kelly saw a leather handbag in a shop window and felt what could only be described as love at first sight. The piece of yore, known as sac à dépêches, was the latest evolution of a bag designed for aristocrats who love horseback riding. And it is possible that the actress already knew it by hearsay, since, in 1923, it had been launched on the market as the first bag with a zipper.
The thing is, Grace Kelly put her eyes on that bag, and ended up making it one of the key pieces of her outfit. In 1956, to top it all, she discovered another application for the bag: hiding from prying eyes (much more prying than James Stewart’s, if that’s possible: here we are talking about paparazzi) that belly that showed an advanced pregnancy. As a result of all this, the sac à dépêches ended up being renamed the ‘Kelly bag’, and if you want to get one, we wish you luck, patience and a well-stocked checking account.
But, beyond anecdotes and super-luxury accessories, it is true that the Grace Kelly look is inseparable from the postwar period, giving a touch of American efficiency to that rectilinear and severe ‘New Look’ that Christian Dior promulgated from Europe. Plus, with that privileged hanger and well-groomed gestures, it’s no wonder Hollywood’s leading costume designers were fired up about dressing her, both in front of and behind the camera.
Her alliance with Edith Head, who had already designed the dress in which she went up to collect her only Oscar (for The Anguish of Living, 1954), reached its climax that same year with Rear Window. Maybe that “she never wears the same dress twice” was an exaggeration of the dialogues, but the amount and variety of outfits she wore in that film is dizzying: from a little black manual dress in silk and organza to The hyper-mythical combination of a top with a v-neckline, white gloves and a tulle skirt, passing through her pistachio green dress, each one of them is a lesson in style. And also an implementation of Hitchcock’s instructions, who wanted her actress to look like “an untouchable piece of Dresden porcelain.” ”
Still, Kelly didn’t use Head’s talents out of the blue. The outfit she wore to the premiere of Rear Window was the work of Oleg Cassini, who accompanied her to the event. And the wedding dress with which she went up to the altar with Rainier of Monaco was in charge of Helen Rose, the designer of The Cat on the Tin Roof, Captives of Evil and Forbidden Planet. We don’t know if Sarah Burton, Alexander McQueen’s chief creative officer, thinks
As soon as she began to climb the steps of the Monegasque throne, yes, Kelly associated her name with that of Christian Dior, who signed the dress for her engagement ball and her first official portrait. After the designer’s death in 1957, the princess put herself in the hands of her successor Marc Bohan, accumulating an impressive collection of dresses and accessories (hats drove her crazy). After decades in the closet, 90 of these pieces starred in a traveling exhibition in 2019.