April 19, 1956 — three months before high society, Grace Kelly’s latest film was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer — the Hollywood princess got real by marrying Prince Rainier III of Monaco at St. Nicholas Cathedral.
Grace Kelly’s wedding made history because the big ceremony was the first royal wedding to be broadcast live to 30 million people across Europe, thanks to MGM. (In the pre-satellite TV/internet days, American fans anxiously awaited the return of the physical film to the United States.) An unprecedented 1,800 journalists toured the European principality for what might also be considered, by modern standards, the first broadcast celebrity wedding. Around 600 guests, including Hollywood A-listers such as Cary Grant, Gloria Swanson, Ava Gardner and tycoons including Aristotle Onassis and Conrad Hilton, watched as the film and fashion icon exchanged vows in ivory silk faille and 19th-century Brussels lace pink polka dot dress by MGM costume designer Helen Rose.
With sublimely intricate details, such as pearls accented with needle lace motifs and a pleated silk braided sash at the top of the hem, Grace Kelly’s wedding dress style continues to be interpreted – even by royalty and celebrities – more than six decades later. “The reason why Princess Grace’s wedding dress still resonates with so many brides today has at least as much to do with who wore it as the dress itself. The design is beautiful and timeless, but the way the dress sits at the intersection of Hollywood and royalty makes it a particularly evocative and highly aspirational fantasy piece for many brides,” she says. Lorenzo Marquez, author, podcaster and co-founder of the fashion and culture website, Tom + Lorenzo. “Kate Middleton was particularly clever to evoke the dress without copying, emphasizing her own status as a commoner marrying a prince, but also avoiding any comparisons to previous brides in the British royal family.”
Apparently Grace Kelly and her wedding dress designer Rose, who previously collaborated on High society and two additional films, they may have looked to the MGM archives for inspiration. Dorothy McGuire’s 1952 Graceful Lace Bodice with V-Front Dress. Call, as well as Elizabeth Taylor’s 1950s high-collared, long-sleeved dresses Father of the bride—both from Rose—offer a tailor’s line. (Rose also custom designed Taylor’s dress for her first marriage to Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr. in 1950.)
“Rose was a longtime Hollywood veteran. She had the trust of Grace Kelly, but also of Lena Horne and many other big stars of that period,” explains Oscar-nominated costume designer Dr. Deborah Nadoolman Landis, distinguished professor and director of the David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design at the UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television. “The relationship between costume designer and actress is one of trust and intimacy.”
Under the top-secret patronage of MGM, Rose created the dress with the help of the studio’s resources, including 30 seamstresses. The two-time Oscar winner specially designed the circular veil, attached with a traditional Juliet cap of lace and pearls (instead of the expected tiara), to brilliantly portray Kelly’s famous face for the black and white television screen.
“Grace Kelly’s face was a jewel in a lacy setting. High collar, long sleeves, lace cap and long veil; The only skin that was visible was her magnificent face and hands. It’s a great design, thanks to the master: Helen Rose,” says Nadoolman Landis. (Rose also created Kelly’s elegantly chic pale pink taffeta and Alençon lace tea-length dress, also accented with a Juliet cap, for the civil ceremony the day before.)