Wednesday 20 September 2017

Fashion idol: Grace Kelly's enduring style status

Couturier Peter O'Brien explores Grace Kelly's enduring style

Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier at their wedding
Grace Kelly
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

Peter O'Brien describes Grace Kelly's fashion style as a "waspish, white, Anglo-Saxon protestant style. She was an Irish Catholic girl but her look was a very waspish style – rich, upper class, understated, never vulgar".

He adds: "It's funny, I love old jewels and the jewels I like the least are pearls but hey, they go with her look, the camel cashmere two piece, the cardigan worn over the shoulder, the Hermes bag, the skinny flannel trousers; it's good taste dressing, rules one to 20."

Peter, who worked as creative director at the House of Rochas in Paris, observes how Grace Kelly's clothes "were never overtly sexy but as everyone knows, you don't have to be overtly sexy to be sexy."

He says the aesthetic of the full skirt coincided with the time she was a movie actress. "That whole 1950s thing: tight bodices and big swinging skirts, they hung around for a long time in the 50s."

He references the 'High Society' full length dress, which featured layers of grey over rose chiffon appliqued with rhinestones and pink and white embroidered flowers. Helen Rose, the chief costume designer for MGM studios, created all of Grace's costumes for the movie, which was released in 1956, the same year as her wedding. The chiffon dress was a favourite of Grace's and later, she brought it with her to Monaco. It was bought by Newbridge Silverware and can be viewed at the exhibition in the Newbridge Silverware Style Icons museum.

"Grace was very slim and consequently, she was a great clothes horse," O'Brien explains. "She had a body more like a model than an actress."

Pointing to the popularity of Grace Kelly's wedding dress in 1956, O'Brien says he recently designed a wedding dress for a bride in the UK. "Her mother had bought antique Edwardian lace and the image they kept referring to was Grace's wedding dress. It had a high neck, it had a lace bodice and it had sleeves."

Looking over the images on these pages, O'Brien says: "I love the outfit with the white shirt and capri pants – it's the uniform of the rich, waspish women with their boats in Connecticut and New England. It's almost the antithesis of the movie star because it's not a big skirt or ballgown."

There's a picture of Grace with Prince Rainier on a balcony and she's wearing a shirtwaister with long sleeves: "It's all terribly polite and well bred, that's the word, well bred. There is nothing vulgar about her at all and much as we love say Marilyn or Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner, there are shots where you could say that they border on vulgar. That's never the case with Grace, she always looks polite and well bred."

In conversation with Bairbre Power, Fashion Editor

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