Calling to mind a celebrity who has embodied the meaning of their own name more authentically than Grace Kelly is a difficult feat. A floating, well-groomed and white-gloved picture of perfection, she was simply just that, Graceful. Few style icons rival Kelly’s impeccable taste and sophistication which was accompanied by a transfixing austerity. The personal life of the Academy Award-winning actress was veiled in mystery and a short-lived career in Hollywood left everyone wanting more. In three years time, Kelly acted in 11 films, made the country fall in love with her, and then disappeared suddenly to fulfill her life’s greatest role; as Her Serene Princess Grace of Monaco.
Born in 1929 to a Philadelphian upper class family, Kelly grew up one of four children in a lively and privileged household. Her father, an Olympian and entrepreneur, was politically and socially engaged. Her mother, an educator and former model, turned a blind eye to her husband's uninhibited romantic engagements. Despite their problems, the family managed to survive the great depression, having not been involved in the stock market and continued to live a prosperous life through the 1930s & 40s, settling in an East Falls mansion. Grace was unlike her siblings, and her father made it apparent that her older sister Peggy was indeed the preferred child. With her father, Peggy shared a love of athletics, a hobby that Grace was not particularly keen on. Instead, Grace harnessed a powerful imagination that would eventually carry her to the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan and then later to Broadway and Hollywood. Kelly was tenacious. She paid her own tuition, earning money from weekly modeling gigs. She perfected her posture and altered her voice to suit the needs of the stage. During this time, she became poised not only for blockbuster films, but for royalty as well.
A life in New York helped Kelly’s style blossom from traditional and conservative to elegant and chic. Her beauty was controlled and captivating. It was only a matter of time before she was working opposite Hollywood’s leading men, Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. She was dressed by famed costume designer, Edith Head, for pictures directed by Alfred Hitcock which made her a household name. By 1955 she was the highest paid actress and climbed to the top of the Best-Dressed list. Grace dazzled in ethereal, lightweight fabrics like silk chiffon and organza which added even more levity to her already poetic walk. Her looks were colorful and dramatic yet easy. They lived somewhere between a Grecian goddess and a Russian ballerina. In 1955 Kelly’s style caught the eye of Prince Rainier Grimaldi of Monaco. She desired a family and upon proposal agreed to wed. This historical event was a frenzy for the media, attracting thousands of reporters and broadcasting to over 30 million viewers, an unprecedented number at the time. Of her newfound existence Kelly claimed, “The idea of my life as a fairy tale is itself a fairy tale.” She was acutely aware of the distinction between her public image and the reality of a royal lifestyle which came with many restrictions and barriers, geographically and emotionally. However, despite living outside of the fantasy facade everyone imagined her to be in, she still looked and played the part. She continued to exude class and style, remaining a fashion icon long after her untimely death in 1982. Her presence in the royal family played a major role in the political controversy between Monaco and France at the time, eventually winning the hearts of locals and putting her permanent footprint on the tiny principality. Her ability to perfect the transition as American-star-turned European-royal rendered her a forever source of inspiration for women and designers today.
By Alexis Kanter
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