Friday, 29 April 2011

The Return of the Young Fogey

The term Young Fogey was humorously applied, in British context, to some younger-generation, rather buttoned-down writers and journalists, such as Simon Heffer, Charles Moore and, for a while, A. N. Wilson. The term is attributed to Alan Watkins writing in 1984 in The Spectator.
Young Fogey is still used to describe conservative young men (aged approximately between 15 and 40) who dress in a vintage style (usually that of the 1920's-1950's, also known as the 'Brideshead' look, after the influence of 'Brideshead Revisited', by Evelyn Waugh), and who tend towards erudite, conservative cultural pursuits.
Old, somewhat shabby clothing is preferred, such as heavy tweeds and antique dinner jackets. As well, the favoured mode of transport is the bicycle or Morris Minor. Popular pursuits are classical music, fine wines, pipe smoking, and ecclesiasticana, generally of the High Anglican or Roman Catholic persuasion.
The movement reached its peak in the mid eighties with adherents such as A.N. Wilson and Gavin Stamp. The movement declined in the nineties, but still has a following amongst students at Oxbridge, Durham, Edinburgh, St Andrews and other older universities, as well as in some professions (in particular the antiques and arts dealing world, and the minority classical architecture practices). At Oxbridge, teenage undergraduates can be seen wearing tweed and affecting mannerisms that are reminiscent of a long-gone era; a particular strongholds of Young Fogeys include the Oxford University Conservative Association and Trinity College, Cambridge, but they are also seen elsewhere.
The Young Fogey is sometimes confused with the Sloane Ranger, but this is incorrect; whilst there is some crossover between the two in clothing styles, the Young Fogey tends toward reserved, intellectual and cultured pursuits, and avoids heartiness.
The Young Fogey style of dress also has some surface similarity with the Preppy style, but it is essentially an anglo-centric style, restricted to the United Kingdom and the more anglicised areas of the British Commonwealth such as Australia and New Zealand.
The Chap magazine has revived many aspects of the Young Fogey, albeit in a somewhat boisterous and tongue-in-cheek manner.

It is difficult to define the Young Fogey. The most obvious trait in him however, is that he likes to pretend that the modern age does not exist and that he is living in another era. Any era will do. The Young Fogey knows that such fondness for past times has nothing to do with weakness and little to do with mere nostalgia or escapism. The Young Fogey is tired of consumerism and of the giant shopping mall world; the Young Fogey rebels against the constant search for 'the latest thing'. The Young Fogey believes in Pleasantness, Civility, Music, Art, Literature, gentlemen doffing their hats to ladies... and gentlemen having hats to doff in the first place. The Young Fogey knows the importance of grammar and punctuation; generally dislikes modern architecture, enjoys walking and travelling by train, and laments the difficulty of purchasing good bread, cheese, kippers and sausages (see Alan Watkins' defintion of the Young Fogey for more details).
The Young Fogey knows that a vinyl record is better than a CD, that a book is better than a laptop, and believes that the telephone worth sleeping outside stores for is a 1935 model in deep black - not a small, silver mobile. The Young Fogey has been known to wail: what has happened to the BBC?
The Young Fogey may feel homesick as he watches a period drama or a historical programme be it "Brideshead Revisited", "Pride and Prejudice" or a documentary on Ancient Egypt.
The Young Fogey may read works by William Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Boswell, the Brontes, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Thackeray, Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy,Charles Dickens,George Gissing, George Eliot, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Lewis Carroll, Samuel Butler, Robert Louis Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, Joseph Conrad, John Galsworthy, Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, E.M Forster, Graham Greene, Marcel Proust, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh (indeed, most Young Fogeys are disciples of Mr Waugh), Anthony Powell, Saki, JRR Tolkien, Kingsley Amis, C.P Snow, James Lees Milne, P.G Wodehouse, Simon Raven, Barbara Pym, Nancy Mitford, George MacDonald Fraser, A.N Wilson, Niall Ferguson, Roger Scruton, Mark Steyn, James Delingpole, Tom Hodgkinson, Eva Rice, Hugh Massingberd, Jonathan Coe...the names stretch into eternity.
The Young Fogey often enjoys the films of Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and Alfred Hitchcock. He never switches off a movie because it's in black and white. The Young Fogey spends long hours deciding who is the better: Mr Fred Astaire or Mr Gene Kelly?
As for music, this varies a lot, of course. So here we discuss pretty much anything from the 1980's back to primitive 'lets dance in grass skirts' BC. Also discussed are are radio programs like Hancock, the Goons, Round the Horne. Poetry is much favoured (well, by some of us,) from Chaucer to Wordsworth to Dylan Thomas to Wendy Cope.
Here at the Young Fogeys Club you can exchange ideas and views with like Fogeyed souls; discuss the revolution that will come as we Young Fogeys prepare to stand up and be counted; as we bewilder the masses with our tweeds and silver hipflasks; with our traffic-stopping hats and perfectly pressed trousers or skirts (sometimes, but not always, depending on the sex of the Young Fogey in question) with our haircuts and homes, with our ability to recite the works of our favourite poets for five solid hours. We are a happy band of brothers (and sisters) confident in the belief that, if we do not rule the world, it is the world's misfortune. And we prize our Freedom and Fogeydom above all else.

A combination of the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton and a Coalition run by public schoolboys has had an interesting side-effect – the return of the Young Fogeys, those young men who wear four-piece tweed suits, read the old Prayer Book and travel around by sit-up-and-beg bicycle, equipped with wicker basket and bicycle clips.

A new society has been set up at Oxford University, called The Young Fogeys of Oxford. They’ve even got their own Facebook page:
It’s run by someone called Kelsey Williams at Balliol, who says, “A brief survey of Balliol men and their acquaintances throughout the university suggests that young fogeydom is alive and well and present everywhere, from Duke Humfrey’s to the college dining societies.”

“It’s hardly the most young fogeyish of things to join a Facebook group, but it’s hoped that this one will let isolated young fogeys know they’re not alone and, perhaps, encourage the continued vibrant cultural of young fogeydom in our glorious university.”

It’s an intriguing sociological phenomenon. In 2003, I wrote an article for the Spectator, saying that the Young Fogey had died.

“They’re playing rap music in the jewellery department at Christie’s South Kensington,” I wrote, “In T.M. Lewin, the Jermyn Street shirtmakers, you can dip into a fridge by the cufflinks counter and have a frozen mini-Mars while you are leafing through the chocolate corduroy jackets. Goodbye, braces with old-fashioned fasteners and trouser waistbands strapped perilously close to the nipple line. Farewell, frockcoats cut for long-dead Victorians. No more the endless pairs of black brogues. Hello, suit of modern cut. Hello, moccasins. Hello, loafers.”

It turns out – to quote Evelyn Waugh, a Fogey deity – that I was preaching a panegyric over an empty coffin.

These things go in cycles. The Young Fogey died out in the 2000s – through a combination of a New Labour government, and a tide of international money that obliterated all talk of monocles, wind-up gramophones and discussions over how many buttons you should have on your jacket cuff. The recession, the anarchists on the streets of London, the collapse of the brave new modern world… all of it sends wistful hearts harking back to a supposed golden age of sound, thornproof tweed jackets, stout brogues and a teddy bear stuffed into the armpit.(By Harry Mount, The Telegraph)

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Since the beginning, the ancestral sartorial "Temple", Huntsman, at Savile Row has been suporting "The Tweed Run"... Watch for the "Tweed Run Cycling Suit"!
Yours ... Jeeves.

Henry Huntsman established this firm at №11, in 1849, and received a royal warrant in 1865 from the Prince of Wales. Since the 1950s, they have been known for a silhouette based on a riding coat and featuring firm shoulders and a nipped, sculpted waist

Huntsman & Sons special edition Tweed Run Cycling Suit. As the most famous address on Savile Row, Huntsman has been trading since 1846, each year commissioning a limited edition ‘house tweed'. For the Tweed Run cycling suit, the cut is based on a traditional Huntsman shooting suit with the house's famous broad shouldered single button, single breasted silhouette with nipped waist. Made by their expert tailors, in your choice of archive house tweed and featuring a pure silk lining of the Tweed Run bicycle pattern. Available in made-to-measure and bespoke options.

two honourable members of the house (Huntsman) actually riding in the Run wearing Huntsman house tweed

Monday, 25 April 2011

Hardy Amies "Odyssey"

Hardy Amies Returns to Its Savile Row Roots
by Jared Paul Stern —
Hardy Amies, the firm named for the British couturier who opened a shop on Savile Row in 1946 and went on to design gowns for the Queen of England, is returning to its men's tailoring roots. The move comes after the company nearly went bankrupt in 2008 following an ill-timed expansion into ready-to-wear women's clothing and accessories, while the original bespoke business was neglected. On Monday the company announced that in a bid to avoid further financial problems it was returning to its founder's original purpose, and wwill now concentrate on being "the quintessential English tailor" providing fine tweeds and bespoke suits to well-heeled gentlemen. A bespoke suit, the company said, would start from about $5,400. The company's new owners are the investment arm of the £8 billion global trading company run by brothers Victor and William Fung. Sir Hardy Amies himself died in 2003 at the robust age of 93.

Hard times on Savile Row as dressmaker to the Queen warns it may go under• Hardy Amies may go into administration
• Top couturier designed for film directors and royals

Helen Pidd The Guardian, Saturday 27 September 2008

For decades, Sir Hardy Amies was Britain's top couturier. As the Queen's official dressmaker for almost 50 years, tailoring her coats and suits, women flocked to his Savile Row shop so they would be treated like royalty too.

Lady Heseltine, Lady Parkinson, and Tiggy Legge-Bourke were customers, as well as, less predictably, the film director Stanley Kubrick - Amies designed the costumes for 2001: A Space Odyssey. He designed uniforms for the Oxford University boat club, and made lounge suits for the 1966 World Cup-winning England football team.

When he died in 2003 aged 93, his business continued without him. But recently the firm that bears his name has struggled, despite expansion in Britain and to Japan, and yesterday warned that it might have to go into administration after failing to secure funding from a major shareholder.

In a statement to the stock exchange, the company asked for shares to be suspended while it sorted out its finances.

Its backer, the Icelandic investment firm Arev Brands Limited (ABL), had refused to put up more money, leaving Hardy Amies with a cashflow problem. ABL owns a 49.3% stakeand had provided substantial finance to the group, including £1.5m in loans since April.

"The directors of Hardy Amies were confident the necessary funds would be forthcoming until late [on Thursday], when its major shareholder informed the company it was unable to provide the requisite finance," a spokesman said.The directors said they were considering options, which may mean administration.

Yesterday, the prospect of life without Hardy Amies did not come as a surprise to the fashion world.

Designer Jeff Banks, who knew Amies, said the brand's clothes had become "distinctly mumsy" of late, and that the firm had failed to understand its customers.

"In its heyday, in the 1950s, I think that the Hardy Amies look was a British version of Audrey Hepburn or Jackie Onassis - really elegant and classy," said Jeff Banks, who had known the designer.

"Lately, Hardy Amies fell between two stools. If you look at who they are aiming at, really it is women in their 70s. But the thing is, mature women these days do not feel their age. They feel at least 15 years younger. They don't want to dress like the Queen Mum, they want to dress like Sex in the City," said Banks.

"Hardy Amies clothes had become distinctly mumsy, and that, I think, has been its downfall."

Richard Dennen, features associate at Tatler, said: "I'm not at all surprised the company is in trouble because I can't imagine anyone who would buy their clothes. They opened a shop on the Fulham Road in London last year doing Ready To Wear, and every time I have walked past it has been completely empty. The clothes are hideous and not very well cut. I don't know who their market is supposed to be.

"I think they have completely lost their way. Couture was their thing, catering for rich old dowagers, but they have tried to make the clothes more modern and edgy and 21st century, which is not what their customers want.

"Burberry is an example of a heritage firm that has succeeded where Hardy Amies has failed. Their clothes are really classic but really cool at the same time - they're really rocking it."

Hardy Amies has had losses for several years, and warned in June that poor sales would see them acceleratethis year and into 2009. It reported underlying losses of £1.1m in 2007, although this was better than the £1.8m loss the year before, thanks to a 35% surge in sales.

The group has six outlets across the UK, one at Bristol's new Cabot Circus shopping centre. It is also stocked in dozens of stores nationwide, including Harvey Nichols.

After working in British intelligence organising the resistance in Europe during the war, Amies founded his firm in 1946, first as a men's tailor at 14 Savile Row, still the group's flagship premises.

His 1946 collection prefigured Christian Dior's celebrated "New Look" - long, wide skirts underpropped by petticoats, and tiny waists constricted by corsets. His designs were "exactly what were to become the components of the New Look; but they lacked Dior's impact because shortages [due to wartime rationing] made it impossible for Amies to give his designs the extravagance which characterised those of the French house", said the fashion journalist Colin McDowell in an obituary.

• Amies first designed for the Queen in 1952; the Royal Warrant lapsed in 1996 when he retired.

Hardy Amies Ltd is a fashion house at №14 Savile Row, founded by English dressmaker Sir Edwin Hardy Amies (17 July 1909 - 5 March 2003) in 1946. Having been managing designer for Lachasse in 1934, and designed clothes for the British Board of Trade under the government Utility Scheme, Amies bought the bombed out shell of №14 in 1946.
The Hardy Amies brand developed to become known for its classic and beautifully tailored clothes for both men and women. Amies was successful in business by being able to commercially extract value from his designs, while not replicating his brand to the point of exploitation. Amies was one of the first European designers to venture into the ready-to-wear market when he teamed up with Hepworths in 1959 to design a range of menswear. In 1961, Amies made fashion history by staging the first men's ready-to-wear catwalk shows, at the Ritz Hotel in London. The Hardy Amies name is still licensed globally, particularly popular in Japan. Amies also undertook design for in-house work wear, which developed from designing special clothes for groups such as the Oxford University Boat Club and London Stock Exchange. Amies also designed costumes for films, including 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Amies is best known to the British public for his work for HM Queen Elizabeth II. The association began in 1950, when Amies made several outfits for the then Princess Elizabeth's royal tour to Canada. Although the couture side of the Hardy Amies business was traditionally less financially successful, the award of a Royal Warrant as official dressmaker in 1955 gave his house a degree of respectability and resultant publicity. One of his best known creations is the gown he designed in 1977 for Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee portrait which, he said, was "immortalised on a thousand biscuit tins."[21] Knighted in 1989, Amies held the warrant until 1990, when he gave it up so that younger designers could create for the Queen.
In May 1973, Amies sold the business to Debenhams, who had themselves purchased Hepworths which distributed the Hardy Amies line. Amies purchased the business back in 1981. In May 2001, Amies sold his business to the Luxury Brands Group. He retired at the end of the year, when Moroccan-born designer Jacques Azagury became head of couture. In November 2008, after going bankrupt, the Hardy Amies brand was acquired by Fung Capital, the private investment arm of Victor and William Fung, who together control the Li & Fung group. The current collection is overseen by design director Jon Moore, who first worked for Hardy Amies in 1979.

Fashion Group International at Hardy Amies, London

Hardy Amies on BBC1 "Inside Out" 01.03.2010

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Remembering The Grace Kelly exhibition at V. A. London

As you will read, this exhibition left ... mixed feelings ... Yours ... Jeeves

The Grace Kelly exhibition London event is set to take the city by storn over summer 2010 as the star of stage and screen is immortalised with a show of her wardrobe at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Grace Kelly exhibition
London is no stranger to fabulous collections of clothing being showcased as both Madonna and Kylie have showcased their wardrobe and film costumes in recent years. Now it's the turn of the classic screen legend Grace Kelly, in an exhibition simply entitled Grace Kelly - Style Icon.

Exhibition highlights
Certain to be a big hit with any fashionistas or fans of the films, the wardrobe on show in the Grace Kelly exhibition London event include over 50 of the actresses outfits, along with hats, jewellery and the orginal Hermes Kelly bag that has been coveted by so many for several decades. Also on show are some of her favourite designers dresses, with gowns by Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent numbering among some 35 other items.

Actress, princess, star
Renowned for her effortless elegance and starring in some of the most popular films of the 50s, Grace Kelly became Princess Grace of Monaco in 1965 when she marrired Prince Rainier. Alongside several garments from her films, her lace wedding gown which she wore in the civil ceremony features in the Grace Kelly exhibition at Victoria and Albert Museum.

High Society
Famed for her role in the musical High Society in which she starred alongside Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, Grace Kelly was one of the most famous screen actors of her day. With a style admired and copied by many, the Grace Kelly exhibition gives you an insight into her glamorous Hollywood lifestyle with dresses from several films, posters, film clips and her Oscar statuette all on display. The dress she wore to collect her Oscar for the film Country Girl also features in the exhibition, which is certain to excite fans of her movies as well as fashion fanatics.

The Grace Kelly exhibition, Grace Kelly - Style Icon takes place from 10am - 5.45pm, Saturday 17th April - Sunday 26th September 2010.

Grace Kelly Style: Fashion for Hollywood's PrincessBy Kristina Haugland with Samantha Erin Safer edited by Jenny Lister
Hollywood star, royal bride, beloved princess – Grace Kelly lived all three roles with a style all of her own. Renowned for her cool beauty and faultless good taste, the young actress stood apart from the other film sirens of the fifties, with 1000s of women, both in the US and Europe, emulating her classic yet accessible style. Her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 catapulted Grace Kelly to further fame and cemented her influence on the world of fashion. From the Parisian catwalks to the pages of Vogue, the ‘Grace Kelly Look’ became the look of the moment.

This book, the first to look exclusively at Grace’s unique style, accompanies an enchanting exhibition at the V&A opening in April 2010. Sumptuously illustrated, the book introduces Grace’s glamorous wardrobe as she transformed herself from actress to bride to princess.

The Grace Kelly diary

Grace Kelly: Style IconV&A, London
This show pays homage to the iconic style of the actress who swapped Hollywood for royal duties in Monaco, but it cannot possibly capture her sex appeal

Peter Conrad The Observer, Sunday 18 April 2010
At first glance, it looks like the Paris morgue in the 1790s after a hard day's guillotining: 50 poised princesses, who manage to stand upright and show off their aristocratic finery, despite just having lost their heads. The cadavers all have the same tall, slim body because they're all abstract replicas of a single person, the model who became a movie star and then swanned off to spend the rest of her life as a Serene Highness, arranging flowers in the Monaco palace and sending prissy reprimands to hotels and restaurants that allowed women to wear slacks.

The V&A's exhibition gives you scraps of Grace Kelly and fragments of Princess Grace. Along with the immobile parade of frocks – coolly understated in her Hollywood days, later more floridly matronly, then resplendently vulgar in the jewelled outfits she chose for charity balls – there are other relics detached from the body that wore them. One ghoulish case is full of horn-rimmed specs with no eyes to look through them, and dark glasses that can't protect the anonymity of someone who is invisible. Pairs of limp white gloves hang in the air, without the tell-tale smudges of grime they collected when the princess inspected sanitary conditions in the hospitals she visited. Saddest of all is her Hermès bag, so synonymous with her that the designers nicknamed it "the Kelly bag". It's obviously empty: how unlike the slim but ripely crammed Morris Louis case she carries in Hitchcock's Rear Window, from which she produces, to tantalise the stricken James Stewart, the flimsiest of nighties and a pair of slippers with peepholes for her curious big toes.

The exhibition's argument is that the transition from Hollywood to Monaco was easy and automatic: the Wasp patrician – who played a homegrown aristocrat in High Society, even though she lacked the horsey arrogance of Katharine Hepburn, her predecessor in the same role in The Philadelphia Story – acquired a throne and a diamond tiara to go with it. In fact Grace had traded down. The Oscar she won for The Country Girl, in which she achieved the theatrical miracle of making herself look drab and downtrodden, is a reminder that films require talent, not just the capacity to wave a permanently gloved right hand and to maintain a blandly gracious smile. Of course, royalty is an extension of the performing arts, but the show put on by Monaco resembled a tawdry Ruritanian operetta: Rainier got married in a costume based on the uniform worn by Napoleon's marshals, and despite his own lack of military credentials, loaded his chest with so many medals, orders and aiguilettes that he resembled a portly, mustachioed Christmas tree.

The transition between roles and continents, captured in a newsreel that flickers on the gallery wall, had its tricky moments. Grace arrived by ocean liner, and had to totter down a gangplank from a tender to meet Rainier, who was bobbing about expectantly on his yacht. Commuting between boats was complicated because she insisted on carrying her poodle, whose leash trailed dangerously around her feet; when Rainier grabbed it, he seemed to have tethered his fiancee. A figure in a fur coat, hardly appropriate wear for spring in the Mediterranean, dances anxious attendance: this must be Grace's mother, who had the woozy notion that Rainier was the Prince of Morocco and was presumably scanning the horizon for camels.

A portrait on the cover of the magazine Point du Vue shows Grace having sudden misgivings about the match. Inside a gilded border, she sits beside the smug Rainier, and as the shutter clicks she glances sideways with barely suppressed panic. The image – as the caption in the display case doesn't quite reveal – was a fake, but a revealing one. The portrait was actually taken for The Swan, in which Grace regretfully renounces her sexy tutor (Louis Jourdan) to marry an unalluring crown prince (Alec Guinness). The magazine simply put Rainier's head on the body of Guinness, without changing Grace's bereft expression. It's not the only diplomatic oversight in the exhibition's documentation: a dress designed for her by Oleg Cassini has a note beneath it saying that "They dated", which is a fairly demure way of describing their relationship. Even Grace's heavy-breathing biographer Donald Spoto manages to tell more of the truth when he confides that "their companionable affection advanced beyond its hitherto platonic phase".

Somehow the hats and the shoes, the gloves and the bags, the business-like suits and the spangled ballgowns don't add up into the woman, who was – at least until the protocol of the claustrophobic little principality stifled her – so dangerously larky and so frankly erotic. The hollow stiffness of the clothes looks foolish when you see Grace Kelly still alive on film, gliding seductively around the apartment in Rear Window or tipsily dancing with Frank Sinatra in High Society, or enjoying Cary Grant's terror as she drives him at reckless, exhilarated speed along a mountain road above Cannes in To Catch a Thief. She was indeed an icon, surrounded by adoring iconographers like Richard Avedon, who photographed her as a Greek statue in pink chiffon. But she owes her immortality to an iconoclast, a misogynistic director who did his best to damage her marble demeanour. It was Hitchcock who made her materialise in James Stewart's dozing brain like a wet dream in Rear Window, and had her offer herself to Cary Grant on a sofa in To Catch a Thief while a fireworks display outside the window fizzed in an iridescent orgasm; it was he who turned an attempt to strangle her in Dial M for Murder into a tortuous and brutally satisfying sex act. The V&A has the skins she shed, but the best way to see Grace Kelly is to close your eyes and remember how she showed James Stewart her negligee and, making a promise that she still keeps in our fantasies, murmured "Preview of coming attractions".

Grace Kelly: Style Icon at the Victoria & Albert Museum
Its subject was one of the most beautiful women in the world but Grace Kelly: Style Icon is a damp squib.

By Richard Dorment 20 Apr 2010
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a place of pilgrimage. People come from all over the world to see its stunning collection of Old Master paintings and sculpture, medieval armour and galleries of 20th-century and contemporary art. So what would you guess is the most popular work of art on display there? Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross, perhaps? Cézanne’s Large Bathers? Even Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors?

The answer – at least when I was a young curator there in the early 1970s – is that all these masterpieces were mere sideshows compared with the main attraction: Grace Kelly’s wedding dress.

Designed by Edith Head for Kelly’s marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956, the dress was permanently on view – and easy to find because the gallery in which it was displayed was always so crowded.

Nowadays it only comes out for special occasions – most recently for a hugely popular show commemorating the 50th anniversary of the wedding.

You can see film clips of the wedding procession (but not the dress itself) in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s damp squib of an exhibition, Grace Kelly: Style Icon. Though she owned dresses by Dior, Givenchy, Chanel and Balenciaga, in this exhibition her threadbare clothes, well-worn hats, naff jewels, scruffy shoes, and scuffed handbags look as if they came from a high-class Oxfam shop. When I went to the packed public preview last week I found myself wondering what on earth the visitors were making of it.

On this side of the Atlantic, Grace Kelly is remembered as the beautiful American actress who married a minor European prince, bore him three of the most badly behaved children in Europe, and then died of a stroke in 1983.

What possible interest this display of her clothes has for a European audience beats me. But in America – and particularly in Kelly’s home town of Philadelphia – it’s a different story. There, anything she touched approaches the status of a relic.

Forget all the clichés about the fairytale wedding. The real interest of her story is what it tells you about class, prejudice and social aspiration in American society in the middle of the last century – when Philadelphia was notorious for the rigidity of its social hierarchy.

The Kellys were wealthy and broadly middle class, but they were also Irish and Catholic at a time when Eleanor Roosevelt could declare in a public broadcast that John F Kennedy’s religion disqualified him from running for president. What is more, Kelly had a second prejudice (or third, if you count her Irish background) to overcome – the idea, pervasive in the US, that all actresses were basically courtesans. Believe me, for all her beauty and talent, Kelly’s background and profession made it easier for her to marry into the ancient Grimaldi dynasty than into one of the old Wasp families on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

But from the moment Kelly announced her engagement (at the Philadelphia Country Club – a subtle signal that the Kellys had already arrived), she placed herself above criticism. Whatever romantic interests she may have had before then, newsreel footage in this exhibition shows that in the months before the wedding Grace was never photographed without her mother, in mink coat and pearls, walking a few steps behind her. And here is the important thing: by behaving with impeccable dignity, Grace Kelly helped pave the way for the election of an Irish Catholic president four years later. By presenting her wedding dress to the local museum, Her Serene Highness left a neat reminder to the Protestant establishment of her family’s ascendancy.

All this is relevant for understanding the V&A show because the most striking thing about Kelly’s wardrobe is how conservative it is. As one of the most beautiful women in the world, whatever she wore looked sensational, and for me by far the most entertaining part of the exhibition are the film clips showing her public appearances.

But from the point of view of design, the clothes are not in themselves especially memorable. Whether you are looking at costumes by Edith Head for her film roles or the glamorous evening gowns Christian Dior and Hubert Givenchy made for her to wear at charity galas in Monaco, Grace had her own style – which was correct, proper but never adventurous.

Even Kelly’s jewels reflect her slightly suburban taste for brooches in the form of bugs and poodles. As you can see in a 1956 diamond-and-sapphire brooch set in platinum, her favourite jewellers, Van Cleef & Arpels, were superb craftsmen, but unlike Cartier, they were not noted for their inventive design.

Clothes lent Princess Grace the dignity she needed to fulfil the role she had chosen for herself. With her regal bearing she looked completely natural wearing them. Unlike the actresses at the Oscar ceremonies, when Princess Grace wore a ball gown it didn’t look as though she’d borrowed it for a few hours.

In fact, the grubby condition of a lot of the clothes, hats and bags in this show suggests that Kelly wore them until she’d worn them out.

Unfortunately, this admirable character trait makes for a truly dispiriting exhibition. As I gazed in dismay at the moulting, crumpled hats on display, I remembered the Schiaparelli exhibition at the Musée des arts décoratifs in Paris a few years ago, where each elegant object looked pristine, largely (I assume) because it had been worn once or twice, and then carefully put away.

Likewise, the opulent dress coats, uniforms, livery and regalia shown at the V&A’s recent display of male costumes from the Russian Imperial Court had all been lovingly mended, folded, wrapped in tissue, and kept from the light.

The installation is pedestrian, with far too much crammed into two small galleries. The light levels are so low that even the most vividly coloured evening gowns look monochromatic. The catalogue didn’t tell me a single thing I didn’t already know or couldn’t have guessed.

Until Sept 26. Sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels

Grace Kelly: a royal recycler of fashion
A new exhibition of Grace Kelly's clothes will show how the actress and princess regularly recycled her favourite outfits.

By Roya Nikkhah, Arts Correspondent 11 Apr 2010
It was hours before the most important encounter of her life, a meeting with her prince charming that would lead to Grace Kelly's transformation into Princess Grace of Monaco.

But as Hollywood's leading lady prepared to meet Prince Rainier for the first time during the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, disaster struck.

A power cut at her hotel made ironing her chosen dress and styling her hair impossible, forcing Kelly to improvise.

Scraping back her hair in a head piece, she put on a shiny floral-printed gown, the only dress in her wardrobe that did not need ironing.

Although it was later described as "Dior-inspired", it was actually an "easy to sew" dress from the McCall Patterns magazine that she had previously modelled for the magazine.

The dress is just one of several examples of Kelly's surprising fashion thrift that are to go on display at Grace Kelly: Style Icon, a new exhibition of the actress' wardrobe at the V&A which explores her glamorous image.

While few of Hollywood's leading ladies have ever been seen in the same outfit twice, Kelly ripped up the fashion rule book, regularly recycling her favourite outfits throughout her film career and in her role as Princess Grace.

The show includes a pink lace and silk taffeta dress that she first wore to the 1954 Cannes Film Festival.

The dress, designed by Oleg Cassini, became one of Kelly's favourites, and she continued to wear it on many occasions, including for a game of charades aboard the SS Constitution in 1956, en route from New York to Monaco shortly before her marriage to Prince Rainier.

Also on display is a green silk draped dress with a bustle train designed by Edith Head, the chief costume designer at Paramount studios, which Kelly first wore to the premiere of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window in 1954.

Breaking with red carpet protocol, she donned the dress again in 1955 to accept her Oscar for Country Girl and to pose for the cover of Life magazine.

The exhibition also features an emerald green Givenchy wool dress with a matching bolero jacket, an outfit that Kelly wore in 1961 when she and Prince Rainier visited the White House for lunch with President and Mrs Kennedy, and again the same year during a visit to Dublin.

Also on display is a pink silk net polka dot dress designed by Mark Bohan for Christian Dior. Kelly first wore the dress at Cannes in 1970 and chose it again in 1972 for a photo shoot with Lord Snowdon for Vogue.

Jenny Lister, the curator of fashion at the V&A, said: "Princess Grace was very sentimental about clothes and treasured things that had fond memories.

"Certain outfits were like special friends to her, so she kept them close for many years and wore them time and again, a bold decision for a woman who was the subject of so much scrutiny.

"As an actress and then as a fairy tale princess, hers was a simple, streamlined elegance.

"She epitomised 'style' as opposed to 'fashion', and her appeal has remained timeless, with women today still emulating her understated chic."

Among the exhibits from her acting career are costumes created by the MGM designer Helen Rose, including the grey and pink silk chiffon dress embroidered with roses which she wore in the famous dancing scene with Frank Sinatra in High Society, and a Grecian-style bathing robe from the same film.

A silk organza pleated dress from Rear Window will also go on display, alongside a white embroidered cotton dress that she wore in The Swan, when as a future princess already engaged to Prince Rainier, she played the role of a princess.

The designs will be shown alongside footage of Kelly's performances and original film posters and magazines from the period.

Other highlights of the show will include the belted shirtwaist dress by Branell of New York, which Kelly wore for the official announcement of her engagement to Prince Rainier, the clothes designed for her trousseau and the antique lace bodice and skirt designed by Rose which she wore for her civil marriage ceremony in 1956.

Haute couture creations by Chanel and Balenciaga, a "Mondrian" dress designed by Yves St Laurent, jewellery by Van Cleef & Arpels, and the original Hermès "Kelly" bag, which was named after the actress, will also be on display.

Much of the collection is on loan from the Palais Princier in Monaco, with additional loans from the Balenciaga museum in Spain and private owners in America.

Speaking about his mother, H S H Prince Albert told The Sunday Telegraph: "My mother Princess Grace had a personality which was both very sensitive and full of acute artistic sense.

Her incredible charisma transpired in everything she did and gave her that unique, very distinctive style.

"I feel sure that it is those qualities that made her style so special. To me, every item is a reflection of her elegance and it is no surprise such an elegance has become legendary."