Movie actress Grace Kelly, a Philadelphia native, wore this wedding dress for her marriage to Prince Rainier III in the cathedral of Monaco on April 19,1956; Academy Award-winning designer Helen Rose, who had created Kelly’s costumes for the films High Society and The Swan, was chosen to design the gown, which was constructed by the MGM wardrobe department. In style and detail the dress was conceived to complement the “fairy-princess” image of the bride. A bell-shaped skirt of ivory peau de soie supported by three petticoats, a high-necked bodice of Brussels lace was re-embroidered so the seams would be invisible and then accented with seed pearls. Pearl-embellished lace also covers the prayer book, shoes, and cap, which is surmounted by an orange-blossom wreath. The circular silk net veil, especially designed so that the bride’s face could be seen, is decorated with appliquéd lace motifs including two tiny love birds
This dress is a one-off commission, not a dress from a collection. It was designed specifically for Madame Alec Weisweiller for the 18th birthday party of her daughter (who was also dressed by Balenciaga). She was a real Parisian personality and friendly with Balenciaga and Cocteau. This dress is interesting for being a particularly Dior-like Balenciaga design. Balenciaga favoured linear shapes and bold colours and embroidery, which is arguably contrasted by this dress of delicate floral patterns.
The inspiration here is highly personal – the designer’s own heritage – which goes at least some way towards explaining the exquisite hand-craftsmanship that goes into each piece as well, of course, as bird head-dresses and McQueen tartan. The collection is luxurious and romantic but melancholic and even austere at the same time. The silhouette – all nipped waists, bustles and exaggerated hip lines – is designed to exaggerate a woman’s form and each piece is unique, a one-off couture creation with emotional content intended to be handed down from generation to generation like the most precious of heirlooms.