For Grace Kelly’s wedding gown Hollywood costume designer Helen Rose used twenty-five yards of silk taffeta and one hundred yards of silk net. The 125-year-old rose point lace was purchased from a museum and thousands of tiny pearls were hand-sewn on the veil by a small army of MGM wardrobe assistants. The wedding dress has been preserved in the permanent collection of the costume department at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
As royal wedding excitement reaches a fever pitch Seraphic Secret thought it appropriate to take a look at one of the least glamorous but certainly one of the most vital aspects of the wedding gown process: crating and moving the delicate creation from the designer’s workshop to the bridal suite.
Certainly, you’re not going to fold a fragile and costly wedding gown into an American Tourister suitcase, and then, y’know:
In 1956, the great Hollywood costume designer Helen Rose was asked by Grace Kelly to design the wedding gown for her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco. In Just Make Them Beautiful, a memoir that obscures as much as it reveals, especially about her Jewish origins, Rose explains how the MGM prop department figured out a method whereby the gown could be safely crated and shipped from Los Angeles to Monaco.
The elaborate gown was a problem to pack. The train was long and the veil was made of delicate illusion net. In the past when we faced a problem of this kind we would consult the MGM prop department. They could always come up with some sort of container when we wanted clothes to arrive at their destination in good condition and not a mass of wrinkles.
The prop men made a huge aluminum box about seven feet long and four feet wide. We laid the satin and lace gown on top—stuffed with hundreds of foam rubber pads and reams of tissue paper. It lay in the box like a beautiful stuffed doll. In among the tissue paper we placed pads of satin filled with cotton saturated with the most expensive French perfume we could find. When the box was opened after its long sea voyage, we wanted the dress not only to look like a picture but we wanted the aroma to be that of a thousand delicate flowers.
MGM assigns Morgan Hudgins from the studio’s publicity department to accompany the precious cargo on its long journey. The instructions to Hudgins are delivered with all the solemnity of a CIA operation: Do not let the box out of your sight until it reaches the palace.
Hudgins takes his assignment seriously.
…he rode on the truck to the plane and personally supervised the loading of the box into the baggage compartment. MGM carried a lot of weight in those days. When the plane arrived in New York Moran did not check the box or take it to the dock, although the ship was sailing the next day with everyone—Grace, her family, friends and Morgan—aboard. Morgan was to spend the night in New York at the Plaza Hotel so he hired a truck, rode with the driver, and when they arrived at the hotel, he instructed the bellboys to carry the box to his room.
Morgan did not leave his room that night and the next morning he again rode with the truck when it took the box to the ship. He had it carried to his stateroom… The box almost filled his stateroom… When the ship arrived at Monaco, he escorted his charge from the ship to a launch and then by truck to the palace which sits high on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean.
Grace later told me that the wedding gown arrived in such perfect condition without a single wrinkle, that it did not have to be pressed for the wedding.
Not publicized at the time, for obvious reasons, is that Grace Kelly was tied to a studio contract for seven years. To get out of the iron-clad agreement Kelly allowed MGM to film the wedding for exclusive worldwide distribution.
Later, Princess Grace regretted the agreement. The hot blinding lights intruded on the ceremony robbing it of the proper solemnity and turning her marriage into a too public spectacle.
Grace Kelly’s wedding gown was made of antique Valenciennes rose point lace, twenty-five yards of silk taffeta and ninety-eight yards of tulle. Her veil was covered with appliquéd lace lovebirds and thousands of seed pearls. The lace for the bodice and train was very old Rose Point Lace acquired from a French museum at the cost of $2,500. The dress was made of silk gros de longre, a fabric which is no longer manufactured. The petticoats were so carefully made they could have been worn separately as an exquisite evening gown. Placed at intervals on the petticoats were little blue satin bows, “something blue.” Rose also designed a white chiffon negligee ensemble as part of the wedding trousseau.
Prince Rainier designed his, um, Napoleonic wedding uniform, which looks like a costume for an Ernst Lubitch musical starring Charles Boyer. Not to be unkind, but what are all those medals? Seraphic Secret never received the memo that Monaco is a robust military power. The Prince should have consulted with Cary Grant, a man who knew exactly what to wear and when.
Seraphic Secret wishes a hearty mazal tov to H.R.H. Prince William of Wales, K.G. and Miss Catherine Middleton.
Look, Seraphic Secret knows that this is America and we don’t exactly adore monarchs, even constitutional monarchs, but come on, talk about a royally dysfunctional family. I think we can all agree that the Queen deserves some nachas.
Here’s a link to the Official Royal Wedding Program.