Last Friday an abridged edition of the Princess Grace exhibition, previously shown in London, opened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) gallery. Normally I feel strongly one way or other about a museum exhibition, but the Princess Grace show left me with mixed feelings. On the good side, there were images (moving and still) I had never seen before from her brief modelling career in the late 1940s.
There were also clothes from her pre Princess days that oozed classic elegance: a simple lace frock by Oleg Cassini, a flowered dress made from a McCall’s pattern she wore to meet Prince Ranier, a suity looking shirtwaist in gold and cream wool by Branell (a 7th avenue manufacturer), and a Hermes handbag in brown leather that was named for her – the Kelly bag. One of the highlights was the pink lace suit she wore for the civil wedding ceremony to Prince Ranier in 1956 with the matching custom made shoes by David Evins. These clothes were the epitome of the understated, elegant Grace Kelly we know from her Hollywood days.
The disappointments with the show include the stark, antiseptic installation and verbose label copy. There are table-top cases filled with encapsulated playbills, telegrams, and pictures, lined up like specimens in a natural history museum. The white mannequins are plonked, evenly spaced, faced forward, and all garments are shown without any accessories or shoes, which is especially noticeable because the mannequins have sculpted toes but no heads. The biggest disappointment is the wedding dress because it isn’t the real dress, but a copy. Is this a wax museum? Is everything here fake?
The clothes in the exhibition that date from after her marriage to Prince Ranier are a mixed selection of Parisian designer-made fashions. There is a beautifully draped maternity dress by Dior, and a perfectly tailored Chanel suit, as well as a tame example of YSL’s Mondrian-inspired dress. However, some of the 21 outfits on display are surprisingly dowdy including a fluffy pink dress by Maggy Rouff from the late 1950s, and a YSL polka-dot day dress from 1970. Untypical for both designer and wearer, was a dramatic piece by Marc Bohan for Dior consisting of a gilded breastplate and high waisted red silk chiton-like gown paired with a Medusa-inspired headress for a fancy dress ball in 1968. It may have been worn by Princess Grace, but it looked like it was made for Barbarella!
Unfortunately, there was no catalogue. I do wish galleries would realize you don’t have to have a 400 page coffee table book catalogue to accompany an exhibition – a 30 page desk-top published booklet would be fine – especially when visitors are not allowed to take photographs. Overall, the exhibition is okay but not stellar. The exhibition runs until the end of January and costs $15.00 for admission.