The Other Royal Wedding Dress

I was on the road Friday morning, and so I missed seeing the live showing of the Royal Wedding.  But thank to Sirius Radio, I did listen to it on CNN.  When they finally got to see Kate’s dress, there was a flurry of description – so much so that I had a design mish-mish all visualized.  But then one of the commenters said, “The dress is very reminiscent of that of  Princess Grace.”  Immediately, it all fell into place.  From those nine words I could clearly “see” what hundreds of words had failed to illustrate.

So much has been written about Princess Kate’s dress that I can’t add a thing to that conversation.  But I do want to say a word or two about Princess Grace’s gown.

It was designed by Helen Rose, designer at MGM, as a wedding present from the studio.   In her wonderful self-published biography, Just Make Them Beautiful,  Rose tells about the dress and how it came about.   They started with discussing the costumes Rose had made for Kelly for The Swan, and Kelly added her fabric preferences.  Sketches were made, and Kelly chose the designs the entire staff had preferred.

The Rose Point lace for the bodice and the train was found in France and cost $2500.  Seed pearls were re-embroidered all over.  The skirt was made from silk  gros de longer, which is no longer made, and silk taffeta.

Before it was announced that Helen Rose and the MGM costume department would be making the gown, designers and custom departments around the US and Europe pestered Grace Kelly, trying to convince her they should be making her dress.  Neiman-Marcus managed to convince her that they should make the bridesmaids dresses, which had already been designed by Rose.

It was very important to Grace Kelly that the dress design remain a secret until the ceremony.  According to Rose, she was besieged by press requests for sketches, and every maker of wedding dresses in the country was trying to gain information through bribes!  The secret remained, though, partly because the dress was sewn in a private part of the wardrobe department, and it was locked up after work every evening.  The sketches were kept private, never leaving the work room.

Rose and her team also made the suit Grace Kelly wore for the civil ceremony, and a chiffon negligee.  All three pieces had to be transported to Monaco, which was a problem.  Finally, the studio prop men built a special container of aluminum, about seven feet by four feet.  They stuffed the gown with foam pads, and tissue.  It was packed so carefully that it did not even need pressing when it arrived at the palace in Monaco.

Today, the gown and the accessories are at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, having been donated by Princess Grace.

I bought Rose’s biography several years ago after finding a Helen Rose gown.  I was hoping the book would help date it, as there are numerous sketches and photos of her work in the book.  My gown wasn’t pictured, but I later found proof that the dress was worn in 1962.  Anyway, I found my copy on ebay, and was pleasantly surprised to find this on the inside cover:

Top Illustration from Just Make Them Beautiful, copyright 1976, Helen  Rose


Filed under Designers

6 responses to “The Other Royal Wedding Dress

  1. Thank you for sharing this bit of history. I admit, it was a guilty pleasure to get a sneak peek at Kate’s gown, and it was beautiful, very classic. Now that I see the sketch of Princess Grace’s, I can see the comparisons (and that sketch is beautiful!).


  2. I knew the studio made the gown for Princess Grace, but the rest of the history is fascinating! her dress is one of my all time favorites, and can see the inspiration of Kate’s from it. Thank you for writing all this Lizzy, love it! and lucky you to get an autographed copy of Rose’s book, a real bonus!


  3. Thanks for the tip about the Helen Rose book. I will put that on my ‘I want’ list.


  4. Sylvia

    You might be tickled to know that there is a signed copy of Helen Rose’s book on e-Bay with a buy it now price of almost $500.00.


  5. Sylvia

    The seller also has it listed on Amazon for a “bargain” price of $225.22


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