Grace Kelly: Style Icon V&A exhibition

"Grace Kelly: Style Icon" opens at the V&A this month. Photo courtesy of the Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

Grab your Kelly bag and jet to London! The Victoria & Albert Museum is about to launch an exhibit on the timeless style of the ultimate cool blonde, Grace Kelly.

"Grace Kelly: Style Icon," opening April 17, presents a gobsmacking array of the star's wardrobe from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Divided into three thematic sections, the exhibit charts Kelly's evolving style, from the studios of Hollywood to the throne of Monaco.

It hones in on the particular items that defined her look: the quintessentially American shirtwaist dresses, the dainty white gloves and pearls, the chiffon columns and fitted bodices.

Every section exudes glamour. "The Actress" focuses on the silver-screen decade of the '50s, when the Oscar winner starred in classics such as "To Catch a Thief" and "Rear Window."



Examples of her crisp, conservative day wear illustrate the ladylike style that swept the United States. Kelly's costumes, like the "Rear Window" black silk chiffon dress, are exquisitely graceful and ideal for her gliding walk.

"The Bride" follows Kelly down the aisle, tracing the magic spring of 1955, when she met Prince Rainier of Monaco, through to their 1956 fairy-tale wedding.

Grace Kelly civil ceremony suit by Helen Rose V&A exhibition

Grace Kelly's civil ceremony suit by Helen Rose. Photo courtesy of Consulate General of Monaco, New York

Among the displays are the floral silk dress she wore for their first meeting at the Cannes Film Festival and the lace ensemble she wore for their civil marriage ceremony. (Sadly, her lace-and-satin church wedding dress was deemed too fragile to travel.)

And there's the original pigskin Hermès handbag that Princess Grace carried like a shield after her honeymoon, hoping to hide the gentle swell of her pregnant belly from the paparazzi. Hermès savvily dubbed that purse the "Kelly" in her honor, crystallizing an iconic accessory.

The third section, "The Princess," oozes a rarified international style. Here, the European couture kicks in, with gowns from Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga. Chanel suits took the place of shirtdresses as Princess Grace stepped into her new role.

Throughout, archive film footage, photos, and other mementos give context to the dazzling collection.

The show is sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels, the jeweler that created Prince Rainier's engagement gift to Kelly, a dazzling pearl and diamond necklace.



Grace Kelly Vanity Fair May issue

The eternal cover girl on Vanity Fair magazine's May 2010 issue. Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair

A companion book, "Grace Kelly Style," will be released for the show's opening -- a good proxy for those of us who can't hop across the Atlantic.

Inspired by the exhibit, the U.S. edition of Vanity Fair made Kelly the cover girl for its May issue. The accompanying article by Laura Jacobs drives home the point that Kelly's style still influences American design, from the costumes on "Mad Men" to recent runways.

Jacobs keenly analyzes Kelly's elegant trajectory, discussing everything from the fabrics she wore to the way she pulled back her hair to accentuate her bone structure.

She argues that Kelly's style was utterly authentic, not whipped up for publicity. "So the voice, the walk, the reserved bluestocking style -- it all came together," she writes. "You couldn't say it was calculated... She was only highlighting what she had."

Grace Kelly isn't the only leading lady with dresses on display. Michelle Obama recently donated her inaugural gown to the Smithsonian.