Princess Grace at TIFF

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.

Grace Kelly's namesake Kelly bag, by Hermes, c. 1955

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.

Grace Kelly's civil wedding service suit, 1956, by Helen Rose

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?

Grace Kelly's Going-away suit, by Christian Dior, 1956

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.

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Joe Allen Hong

With the upcoming royal wedding I thought it might be interesting to look at some other famous royal wedding dresses…

The dress worn by Grace Kelly on April 19, 1956 to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco was a gift from MGM, the studio where Grace Kelly had been contracted. Kelly still had a seven year contract outstanding with the studio when she left to marry Rainier. In exchange for breaking the contract, MGM was granted permission to film the wedding — a decision Princess Grace later wished she had not agreed to due to the invasiveness of the cameras. A perk of the deal included a wedding dress designed by MGM costume designer Helen Rose, but the rest of the bridal party’s clothes were designed by Joe Allen Hong, the subject of this installment of the ‘obscurier couturier.’

Joe Allen Hong was born in El Paso, Texas on November 28, 1930 and attended the California College of Arts and Crafts. After a short stint in the army, he landed a job as a fashion designer for Neiman Marcus.

At the urging of Lawrence Marcus, Hong entered a competition to design the bridesmaid and flower girl’s dresses for the royal wedding, and won! The pale yellow dresses were demure and in keeping with the royal status of the wedding dress. The flower girl’s dresses were embroidered with tiny floral sprigs, in keeping with the spring time date of the wedding.

Hong eventually settled in San Francisco where his designing talent extended beyond the realm of fashion to include everything from posters to the gift box design for Joseph Magnin Co. Hong died on February 28, 2004.