Thursday, April 18, 2013

Grace and Her Kelly: An Interview with H. Kristina Haugland

Rainier and Grace the day they announced their engagement in 1956. ©Bettmann/Corbis

Let’s get one thing straight.

You may have read, in more than one place, that Grace Kelly, Academy Award-winning actress and Princess of Monaco, in an attempt to shield her pregnancy from the paparazzi, used her namesake Hermès handbag to hide her baby bump, a picture which landed her on the cover of Life magazine.

H. Kristina Haugland, author of Grace Kelly Style and the Le Vine Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, wants you to know that this is simply not true. It is one of the first things she brings up when I interview her by telephone about Grace Kelly and her Hermès accessories. It is a legend at this point, that this supposed picture of Grace made the cover of Life magazine, and the story routinely shows up in books about handbags. I tell Haugland I cannot find this cover after a rather extensive search of Google and eBay. “That’s because it doesn’t exist!” she says with a laugh. Looking for it herself in her research about Grace Kelly and the hallmarks of her style, she approached Hermès for more information, or perhaps even a copy of the cover. They too repeat the story, Haugland says, but never got back to her with any evidence. “She didn’t particularly shield her stomach and she carried many bags during her pregnancy,” Haugland notes. Why, then, does the tale persist? “People like myths,” she says.

Another photo from January 5, 1956.

A moment later. Grace is NOT pregnant in any of the above photos!

From Grace Kelly Style, Grace with her Barenia and Toile Kelly in 1955. ©Rue des Archives/AGIP

The origins of Kelly’s association with her namesake bag go back to her days before she was a princess. In the mid-1950s large briefcase-style handbags were popular, as seen in the 1954 film Rear Window when Grace’s character Lisa carries a black Mark Cross case-shaped bag. Off camera Grace frequently used an Hermès bag, known originally as an haut à courroies, modeled after a saddlebag and downsized for daywear in the 1930s. She was photographed with the bag often, such as when she arrived in Cannes in 1955 for the film festival, holding the Barenia and Toile version. As she became more famous for her acting accomplishments, including her 1955 Best Actress Oscar win for The Country Girl, and the world was swept up in the romance of her engagement and wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, more photographs of Kelly with the bag appeared. By the summer and autumn of 1956, the year Grace and Rainier married, while Hermès did not officially rename the bag, it became known as a Kelly since it had become associated with her.

Just how many Kellys did Grace own? Haugland insists that she was not a 1950s version of today’s Hollywood celebrities, many of whom have extensive collections of Hermès handbags. “She wasn’t amassing them. It wasn’t a collection. She used them because she liked them.”

Indeed, if you see the Kelly Grace was most photographed carrying, of a caramel-colored leather, you can note how well-used it was. “She was quite thrifty and practical with her wardrobe,” Haugland points out. “She thought of her old clothes as her old friends.”

Another page from the book. Grace & Rainier in Switzerland in 1958. © Rex Features

She estimates that Grace owned four Kellys of different leathers, based on the photographs she’s sifted through in penning two books about Kelly’s style, Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride and Grace Kelly Style, which accompanied the exhibit Grace Kelly: Style Icon at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2010. Haugland also says it can be hard to tell the precise number of Kellys Grace owned since so many of the photographs of her are in black and white.

The Hermès bag was just one part of what became known as “the Grace Kelly look.” Other accessories Grace favored included silk scarves, masculine-style sunglasses, hats, and white gloves, all of them contributing to her timeless ladylike style.

Grace with Caroline, Mommy & Me chic!

Grace’s Kelly.

Grace Kelly Style by H. Kristina Haugland.

The Grace Kelly exhibit that Haugland wrote the catalog for is slowly making its way around the world. After successful runs in London at the V&A in 2010 and at the Bendigo Art Gallery in Australia in 2012, a version of the exhibit will arrive in North America this year. From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly—Beyond the Icon will be at the McCord Museum in Montreal, Quebec from June 6 to October 6, 2013 before traveling to the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, where it will be on display from October 28, 2013 to January 26, 2014. The show will include 100 objects and archives, including film clips, photos, love letters, and clothing and accessories belonging to the late princess. It may possibly include one of Grace’s Kellys!

It will no doubt highlight that Grace Kelly will forever be known as, in Haugland’s words, “the epitome of glamorous good taste.”


Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

Fabulous post, Jill! What an exciting interview and loved all of the information about the bag...great work!!

Anonymous said...

LOVE this post Jill! I think it's wonderful to learn how 'thrifty' she was and perhaps this was just how people were in those days - they bought the best to use and love forever. So interesting!

PinkCheetahVintage said...

Gorgeous woman and gorgeous bag!
Becky :)


Hi Jill! Really wonderful read, thanks for sharing this interview. I love that handbag and her beautiful, but paractical style! xx/Madison :-)

Heather Lindstrom said...

Simply so glamorous and chic was she! The handbag is the iconic 'it' bag of all times in my mind. What a beauty.
What an interesting interview Jill.
Thanks for sharing this little glimpse into the past.
xx, Heather

Lisa said...

Jill...this is a fascinating post. I love the photos, the glamour and of course that gorgeous, iconic bag.

Katherine said...

This was such a fascinating read! THank you for taking the time to do the interview and share this. Love the note about Grace being thrifty and practical.

Also thank you for the little shoutout to my blog - I really appreciate it ! :)

Anonymous said...

Such a great post Jill. Wouldn't it be amazing to have one?


jill815 said...

Ladies, thank you for all your kind comments. Katherine, I love the interviews you feature on your blog, when I do my next workshop for the Brooklyn Public Library, about interviewing techniques, I will be highlighting your blog again! And Gina, yes yes yes, it would be amazing to own a Kelly. It's still one of my dream items! XO, Jill

JohnL said...

Reading the interview brought back memories. When I was a kid during the 1950s, my mother, then a dept mgr at Bala Cynwyd Lord & Taylors, would tell us upon coming home for work about accompanying Grace Kelly when she shopped there whenever she came home to Phila for a visit. She also said that the Prince bought his shirts there, too.

Jill said...

Hi John, oh wow what a memory, thank you for sharing this story with me. That must've been amazing to accompany Grace on a shopping trip! XO, Jill