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The Grace Kelly look dissected

An exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London next month promises to dissect the elusive Grace Kelly look. Kelly's signature white gloves, the neatly pressed masculine shirt teamed with narrow cropped trousers and polished loafers, the demure, tailored day suits worn with a sensible mid-heel and, naturally, the Hermes Kelly bag, will all come under scrutiny once again.

Over the years, Kelly's style has been described both as "unpretentious" and "natural" but there was nothing remotely natural about the way Grace Kelly chose to present herself. The model-turned-actress-turned-European royal controlled her image with a precision that any apparent ease belied.

Until her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco size-10 Kelly bought her clothes off the peg and was as interested in the quintessentially American aesthetic of Claire McCardell as she was in Dior's New Look. "The Grace Kelly look," says Jenny Lister, curator of the V&A show, "is classic, elegant, sensible and practical. It's restrained, but also incredibly glamorous."

Kelly's greatest fashion moments were the smart, streamlined silhouettes of the 1950s. If her oft-emulated, no-nonsense personal style was a triumph of understatement, it was her wardrobe in film -- and in those of Alfred Hitchcock in particular, designed by the great Hollywood costumier, Paramount's Edith Head -- which cemented her image as perhaps the most beautiful woman in history.

Their first collaboration, Dial M For Murder, opens with Kelly playing the English-rose heroine, dressed at the breakfast table in palest rose-coloured cardigan to match. So far, so demure.

But it's soon revealed that not only is Kelly's husband plotting to murder his wealthy wife, but also that she is concealing a lover. Her wardrobe echoes the intrigue.

In 1956, Grace Kelly got engaged and she wound up her acting career with roles in The Swan and High Society.

In six years, Grace Kelly made no more than 11 feature films and those directed by Hitchcock and dressed by Head are her great legacy to style. As if those sparkling blue-green eyes, Cupid-bow lips, gently waved hair and extraordinary bone structure weren't enough, her wardrobe, too, should be remembered as nothing short of perfection.