By  on July 24, 2007

Oleg Cassini has long been linked to Grace Kelly, and now that connection has been documented in "The Grace Kelly Years," a new exhibition at Monaco's Grimaldi Forum.

The exhibition, which includes many never-before-seen items and runs through Sept. 23, marks the 25th anniversary of Kelly's death in a car accident at age 52.

In the Fifties, before the "Rear Window" star morphed into a princess, she dated Cassini while dividing her time between Manhattan and Los Angeles. But after meeting Prince Rainier 3rd at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, Kelly married him the following year and became the principality's princess.

The exhibition's catalogue reads, "In spite of the romances unavoidably imagined by the press with prestigious partners such as Clark Gable, William Holden or Cary Grant, she kept her private life very discreet. Nonetheless, her greatest faithful admirer was the famous couturier Oleg Cassini, in spite of her parents' reluctance because although he was certainly a brilliant man, he was not Catholic and [was] divorced."

The designer mentioned the frosty reception Kelly's parents gave him when he visited their home one weekend and his subsequent early departure, in his 1987 autobiography "In My Own Fashion." He also recounted in the book how Kelly broke the news of her engagement to him on the Staten Island Ferry and how it seemed to come out of thin air.

But apparently, Kelly held fast to her ties to Cassini. Among her belongings on display is a note from Cassini written many decades ago. Dated merely "October 28, Tuesday" it reads in Italian, "I love you and want to marry you" and is signed simply, "O." Curator Frederic Mitterrand chose to project those words on an exhibition wall where images of Kelly and Cassini out on the town together and swimming in the surf are displayed.

A photo of Kelly wearing a Cassini-designed strapless silk gazar gown appears on the exhibition catalogue's cover. Cassini had given her the dress, which she wore with its detachable white organza sailor collar when he escorted her to the premiere of Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window." That image was also used for the commemorative postage stamps that were simultaneously issued in Monaco and the U.S. in 1993. Oleg Cassini Inc. made a replica of the dress for an exhibition, according to Peggy Nestor, director of marketing and public relations. Her sister, Marianne Cassini, who was married to the company's namesake, now runs the business.Once it closes in Monaco, the exhibition will move on to London, Paris and New York. Numerous items from the Monaco exhibition will be featured in "Grace, Princess of Monaco: A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of Grace Kelly," which will be on view at Sotheby's Upper East Side galleries Oct. 15 to 26.

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