Sara de Velasco takes a look at one of the most understated icons of the Fifties: Grace Kelly

While Monroe, Hepburn and Loren continue to have a more vocal fanbase, ingrained in the public mind by their iconic representations in pop art, Grace Kelly has perhaps persisted in our memories in a completely different light: she instantly comes to everyone’s mind as the representation of ladylike poise and serene beauty.

Grace Kelly’s icon status has remained intact since the tragic accident in 1982 that took her live, however and uncharacteristically, she had already been hailed as such while still alive. With her royal wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956, Kelly entered a fairytale realm, which would only allow for the most fiercely guarded and controlled glimpses into the actress’ life and personality.

This seems a constant in Kelly’s life, which was also full of contradictions. Despite her lively and fun-loving personality, while in Hollywood, Kelly was always keen to control her public image in the media and, once married, would be under the close guard of her husband.

From an early age the actress had tried to gain the approval of her traditional father, a successful business man and Olympic gold medallist, who she admired more than anyone. Upstaged by her two elder ‘more able’ siblings (athletic, sportive) and later by her baby sister, Kelly went on to develop a firm independence in her professional life, while she would still allow her parents to override her decisions in her personal life.

graceIn defiance of her controlling father Kelly went on to study by herself in New York, star in 11 films in just over five years, become a Hollywood legend and win an Oscar. In the process she would become famous for her icy beauty and sensual warm voice. She would become even more famous however for her fashion style.

Off-duty, Kelly dressed in crisp shirts, narrow Capri trousers, silk scarves and her trusted Hermes bag. On screen though, she was the personification of Dior’s New Look.

Her sartorial development can largely be credited to director Alfred Hitchcock and legendary costumier Edith Head. Together they thought up her on-screen outfits, including the colours and materials to be used in her costumes.

The obvious contradictions  of Kelly’s public persona – independent woman yet still bound to family discipline, joie de vivre personality better known for playing traditional characters – would also transpire, more controversially, into her private life.

Whilst biographers are still in disagreement about the men in Kelly’s life, what seems quite clear is that the clean-cut, almost puritanical image of the actress is nothing but the product of Hollywood spin and her willingness to meticulously control her public image.

Speculation has it that she was involved with almost every leading man she acted with, although sources close to the actress have always denied this being in character with her personality. Juicy gossip for example saw her involved with married actor Ray Milland, although press interest in this story died after hearing Kelly’s version of the story.

As she became a Hollywood star, rumours abounded about affairs with actors William Holden and Bing Crosby and eccentric designer Oleg Cassini (whose marriage proposal was accepted by the actress but not by her father) as well as with renowned womaniser Frank Sinatra, with whom she would apparently continue to meet long after her marriage to Prince Rainier.

The truth is difficult to unearth, and with many voices claiming opposite sides of the story, rather than revealing the truth, the old rumours only contribute to enhance the mystery around Kelly.

The truth is that as with many things about Grace Kelly, it is what we don’t know that fuels her iconic status and will preserve her as the always elegant and fresh beauty in our collective memory.

4 Responses

  1. Elle

    What a lovely post. Thanks so much, it was a delight to read. I absolutely adore Grace Kelly and can’t wait until the exhibition opens at the V&A. I love that she’s the cover girl for Vanity Fair this month!

    Elle x

    Reply
  2. Carmen Johnson

    She was definitely a pretty and elegant woman. At a first glance I thought she looked like Nicole Kidman. Both women have that poised demeanor. She certainly was great in one of my favorites movie Rear Window! I think Jimmy Steward and her had great chemistry in that movie. I loved each and everyone of her outfits that she wore for the movie. Can’t forget about that cute little bag that could fit her clothes in!

    Thanks!

    Carmen

    Reply
  3. Michele Marck

    I was lucky enough to have a copy of the V&A book that accompanies the Exhibition presented to me last night by my husband who bought it at Foyles in London. I can’t wait to see it.

    Fab cover and the pictures are beautiful.

    My favourite film featuring Grace just has to be “To Catch a Thief”. The clothes are gorgeous and the scenery is just picture-perfect.

    Reply
  4. Michele Marck

    Hi,

    I took a day off work to go to the Exhibition last Wednesday, but I recommend booking a ticket in advance otherwise you might get down there and have to go back at the end of the day as it’s very popular at the moment.

    I loved the 50s dresses from the films and other 50s outfits (about a dozen in total) but unless you love the 60s/70s mosts of the collection was her post 50s wardrobe and I thought most of those clothes looked a bit “hideous” and not very flattering to any figure.

    I was disappointed that the exhibition was very small, it took about 30mins., to view.

    I am waiting in anticipation for an “Audrey Hepburn” Exhibition to come to London some time soon.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.