17 October 2012

Readers' Top 10 Wedding Gowns: #2. Princess Grace of Monaco

Movie stars wear costumes, even when they marry princes. Grace Kelly was under contract with MGM when she met and became engaged to Prince Rainier of Monaco, and MGM’s designers provided wedding gowns for their stars as part of their publicity machine. And so Grace headed to Monaco for her April 19, 1956 wedding with a costume from MGM’s Helen Rose in tow, the dress that would turn her from movie star into a princess.
Actually, it’s not a dress at all, at least not in the way we typically define the garment type. It’s actually multiple separate pieces which come together for a dress effect. The first piece is the bodice, created from rose point lace with small buttons down the front. This piece also includes the first layer required to structurally support the skirt’s distinctive bell shape.
The next piece, separate from the top, is the bottom: the skirt and its three levels of attached petticoats (talk about engineering – this bell shape is no joke). The skirt is made of taffeta, and the layers underneath are Valenciennes lace. Separately, a lace train insert is added to the back of the skirt which creates a modest length train. The insert is rose point lace just like the bodice. Another piece is the pleated taffeta cummerbund, added to create a transition between the top and skirt while emphasizing the bride's waist and the shape at the top of the skirt. Finally, the intricately adorned Juliet cap and veil (finished in more rose point lace) were added on finish it off.
Helen Rose knew her audience, as any good costume designer should. The dress was designed to play well on camera, of course, since photographs and film of the wedding would be spread around the world. But she didn’t forsake the audience in attendance at the wedding either; the lace insert was added to give some interest to the back of the gown for the guests with a mostly back view of the bride. And the whole effect is perhaps overly modest and covered, even with a matching prayer book to carry – just the thing to convert someone from Hollywood to Proper Princess.
She hit her mark astonishingly well. Every individual piece of this dress has become a Grace trademark, from the lace top to the cummerbund to the bell skirt, and countless gowns have been compared to Grace’s no matter how sketchy the connection (see: our discussion on the Duchess of Cambridge’s gown). I’m terribly picky about the use of the word “iconic”, which is thrown around far too often these days, but I would indeed say this is iconic. Honestly, I'm a little surprised that it grabbed only the #2 spot on your countdown. (It was #2 on my countdown too, mostly because I like a dose of the unexpected. Perhaps you do too.)

What puts this gown in the Top 10 for you? 

Photos: Corbis/Rex