Visiting the Grace Kelly, Style icon exhibition was an extremely anti-climatic experience. After many near-visits, prevented by sold-out slots, and the amount of press the event had gathered, including a lengthy spread in Vanity Fair, I expected to get out with a better understanding of who Grace Kelly was, and how her style evolved. I was in for a big disappointment.
The exhibition is rather small. Relegated to Room 40, at the center of the V&A fashion gallery, it only shows 30 or so outfits, mostly dresses and a few skirt suits. Nearly all of them, with the notable exception of an Yves Saint Laurent dress, are official attires, which really doesn’t tell anything about Kelly’s real style. I believe that a woman’s style is best judged based on what she wears away from prying eyes. Dresses worn at balls and for official ceremonies tell a lot about the persona she wanted to project, but little about who she was on a day-to-day basis.
Jenny Lister, the exhibition curator organised the dresses by designers rather than chronologically. Although this clearly shows how much Kelly loved Marc Bohan’s work at Dior, it makes getting an overall idea of her style evolution throughout her 26 years at the Principauté difficult.
Alongside nearly every garment is a picture of Kelly wearing it, which gives the exhibition a feel of authenticity. Unfortunately, the pictures are often too small. The number of people in the room when I went meant that it was impossible to really spend time looking at them or at the dresses in details.
Star dresses, aside from her Edith Head Oscar outfit, are not on display. Her wedding dress, which was both her last movie costume, since the ceremony was her last film with MGM, and her first dress as a real-life princess, is nowhere to be seen.
Despite a Van Cleef & Arpel sponsorship, accessories, including jewels, hats, spectacles and the infamous Hermes Kelly handbags, are relegated to few display cases. Kelly found fame as an actress, but the two screens showing extracts of her movie and films of her Monaco life are placed in such a way that standing in front of them for too long blocks the flow of exhibition visitors.
After 15 minutes in Room 40, I left feeling that the V&A had put together a blockbuster exhibition aimed at making money and gathering press interest but caring little about what the visitor would get out of it.
Grace Kelly, Style Icon, is on at the V&A until September 26th. Adult tickets cost £6, and early booking is strongly encouraged