LONDON, July 15, 2010 -- If you are in London this summer or fall, head to the Victoria and Albert museum in South Kensington to visit one of its most popular exhibitions yet. "Grace Kelly: Style Icon" explores the style of the woman who was muse to Alfred Hitchcock and wife to Prince Rainier of Monaco.
In an interview with ABCNews.com, the exhibition's curator, Jenny Lister, says she wanted "to focus purely on her style and why she has become this fashion icon. I think many people know her for being the epitome of good taste and style in the 1950s but the exhibition brings her story right through the decades of her life, through the sixties and seventies."
So what can one expect? There are a lot of film posters, stills from Kelly's most famous films, but this is an exhibition primarily devoted to clothes, and there are plenty of those to see here.
There's an LBD (little black dress) worn by the actress in Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 classic "Rear Window" -- which would not look amiss in a Roland Mouret collection today.
For those who love old Hollywood glamor, there's a gown on display from "High Society," the 1956 musical in which Kelly was cast opposite Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. As Lister explains, it's made up of "many layers of diaphanous silk chiffon, grays and pink - the pastel shades which she is very associated with. And it's full length - she wore it to dance in a scene with Frank Sinatra. And although it's demure and covered up, with full-length sleeves and a high neckline, it's actually very sensual as well."
It's a far cry from the dare-bare style preferred by so many celebrities today, but even so, Lister says she believes that top Hollywood actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet continue to emulate Kelly's example.
"I think it's because she's become this code for that classic, streamlined look which works so well on the red carpet," she says, adding that by dressing like her, "they think they will achieve the same sort of poise and elegance that she was so well known for."
You can't buy elegance or indeed, the hand-stitched dresses exhibited here (some of which -- like Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian-inspired dress -- have become famous in their own right), but if there is a lesson to be learnt from Kelly, it may be the attention she brought to classic, figure-flattering styles.
Grace Kelly's Style: Simple and Practical
As Lister says, "At the time she wore very conventional clothes in many ways, so shirt waisters, twin sets, headscarves [...] and i just think those styles have just, [they] never really go out of fashion and many women use her as a reference point while getting dressed."
It's a far cry from today's trend-driven shopping culture. Grace Kelly dressed simply, and, in a gesture which may surprise many of her fans, often wore the same clothes again and again.
The most famous example was, as Lister points out, the dress she wore when she accepted her Oscar in April 1955. "It's an ice-green silk satin, very slender, full-length dress, she had actually worn it to the premiere of the film 'Country Girl,' and [...] it's unthinkable today to think of somebody wearing a dress to a premiere, and then collecting an Oscar for the same film wearing the same dress!"
"And not only that," Lister says, "we have dresses that she wore repeatedly through the sixties and seventies and even sometimes, she would wear, for instance, a coat that she wore to arrive in Monaco in 1956, she actually wore that ten years later, so she had this very practical, down-to-earth side to the way she dressed."
Even Kelly's famous Hermes 'Kelly' handbag -- named after her when she used it to hide her pregnant stomach from prying journalists in 1956 -- looks well-used. There are no accurate estimates about the number of "Kelly" bags owned by Princess Grace, but the much-loved condition of the handbag on display in the museum suggests it's unlikely she owned as many bags as a more recent Hermes lover, Victoria Beckham.
Lister says the aim of the exhibition was to bring Kelly's influence as a style icon "to life and put the clothes in context" -- a context which, it turns out, was much more realistic and practical than her glamorous pictures suggest.