PHILADELPHIA — It was a dress only a princess could wear.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of hometown girl Grace Kelly’s marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco on April 19, 1956, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is exhibiting her gown — donated to the museum by the princess two months after the wedding — as well as her headdress, veil, shoes and the lace- and pearl-encrusted prayer book she carried down the aisle. One of the bridesmaid’s gowns and the flower girl’s gown are also on display.
“This has really been a chance to explore everything that surrounded this royal wedding,” said Kristina Haugland, associate curator of Costumer and Textiles, who spent a year working on the exhibit, “Fit for a Princess: Grace Kelly’s Wedding Dress,” which runs through May 21. She also worked for six months putting together the accompanying book, “Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride.”
The dress was a gift to the actress from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was designed by the studio’s costume designer, Helen Rose, and crafted by a 35-member team over six weeks. The gown is a combination of rose point lace, silk faille, silk tulle, seed pearls and wax flowers.
“It was such an intricate dress,” Haugland said. “It was kept a secret until just two days before the wedding. Everyone wanted to see it.”
Modest compared with many current wedding dresses, the gown featured long sleeves and covered the bride’s entire front and back. Made in four parts, the dress consisted of a bodice with an attached underbodice, skirt support and slip, which were covered with a skirt and a smoothing petticoat, a ruffled petticoat and an attached foundation petticoat. A cummerbund was then added, as was a lace insert in back.
“Helen Rose always said she wanted the focal point to be in back, since that’s what most people saw during the ceremony,” Haugland said.
One of the bridesmaids, Maree Rambo, attended the opening tea reception for the exhibit Thursday. Rambo and Kelly both attended the Stevens School in Philadelphia and Rambo’s dress was on display next to the gown.
“We were all so skinny back then,” said the still-reed-thin Rambo, looking at the picture of Grace and her bridesmaids. Rambo, who also donated her dress, was with the wedding party on board the Constitution during the luxury liner’s sail to Monaco. Haugland’s favorite moment in her research was a comment made by an onlooker when the ship arrived: “Never have so many women brought so much luggage to such a small country for so few days.”