On April 19, 1956—three months before High Society, Grace Kelly’s final film was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer—Hollywood’s princess became a real one, as she wed Prince Rainier III of Monaco in Saint Nicholas Cathedral.
Grace Kelly’s wedding dress made history as the grand ceremony was the first royal nuptials to be televised live to 30 million people across Europe, courtesy of MGM. (In pre-satellite TV/internet days, American fans anxiously waited for the physical film to be flown back to the States.) An unprecedented 1,800 journalists descended upon the European principality for what could also be considered, by modern-day standards, the first broadcast celebrity wedding. Around 600 guests, including Hollywood A-listers, like Cary Grant, Gloria Swanson, Ava Gardner and tycoons, including Aristotle Onassis and Conrad Hilton, watched as the silver screen and fashion icon took her vows in an ivory silk faille and 19th-century Brussels rose-point lace gown by MGM costume designer Helen Rose.
With sublimely intricate details, like seed pearls accenting needle lace motifs and a pleated silk faille cummerbund atop the skirting, Grace Kelly’s wedding-dress style continues to be interpreted—even by royals and celebrities—over six decades later. “The reason Princess Grace’s wedding gown still resonates today with so many brides has at least as much to do with who wore it, as the dress itself. The design is lovely and timeless, but the way the dress sits at an intersection of Hollywood and royalty makes it particularly evocative and very much an aspirational fantasy piece for many brides,” says Lorenzo Marquez, author, podcaster, and cofounder of fashion and culture website, Tom + Lorenzo. “Kate Middleton was particularly smart to evoke the dress without copying it, underlining her own status as a commoner marrying a prince, but also avoiding any comparisons to previous brides in the British royal family.”
Reportedly, Grace Kelly and her wedding-dress designer, Rose, who previously collaborated on High Society and two additional films, may have mined the MGM archives for inspiration. The graceful V-front lace bodice of Dorothy McGuire’s gown in 1952’s Invitation, as well as Elizabeth Taylor’s high-collar neckline and long sleeves in 1950’s Father of the Bride—both by Rose—offer a sartorial throughline. (Rose also custom-designed Taylor’s dress for her first marriage to Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr. in 1950.)
“Rose was a longtime veteran of Hollywood. She was trusted by Grace Kelly, but also by Lena Horne and many other great stars of the 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 Theater, Film, and Television. “The relationship between a costume designer and an actress is one of trust and intimacy.”
Under top secret auspices of MGM, Rose created the dress with the studio department resources, including with 30 seamstresses. The two-time Oscar winner specially designed the circular veil, held in place with a traditional lace and pearl-embellished Juliet cap (instead of an expected tiara), to brilliantly showcase Kelly’s illustrious visage for the black-and-white television screen.
“Grace Kelly’s face was the jewel in a lace setting. A high-neck, long sleeves, lace cap, and long veil; The only skin showing was her magnificent face and her hands. That is a great design, courtesy of a master: Helen Rose,” says Nadoolman Landis. (Rose also created Kelly’s elegantly chic pale pink taffeta and Alençon lace tea-length dressalso accented with a Juliet cap, for the civil ceremony a day earlier.)