Inside Grace Kelly’s Secret Life as an Artist
There is a tendency to pin a celebrity at the height of their fame. For the general public, Grace Kelly remains eternally veiled in her Helen Rose wedding dress on April 19, 1956, on her way to becoming a princess when she exchanges her vows with Prince Rainier III of Monaco. As with all fairy tales, most are content to leave the story there, with the 26-year-old Oscar-winning beauty stepping away from Hollywood to live happily ever after as an actual princess. Only the tragic circumstances surrounding her death – she suffered a stroke while driving aged 52 and died of her injuries – prevent the rosier version of Princess Grace‘s life from standing.
But 26 is a pretty big gap, and while Princess Grace’s day-to-day isn’t as well-known as her film career, style, marriage or untimely death, she’s done more than just preside over functions. royalty and smiles at visiting dignitaries. Among other activities, Kelly narrated several documentaries, toured America with an evening poetry reading to benefit the World Wide Fund for Nature, and served on the board of directors of the 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. She never starred in another feature film again – although she was offered roles in everything from Marnie at Turning— but she also never gave up on pursuing new creative outlets. And as her comfort in Monaco grew, so did her long dormant passion for flowers.
As Colette once wrote of Monaco, it is “a country whose borders are made of flowers”, and Princess Grace had loved flowers since she was a child in Philadelphia. In my flower book, published in 1980, she recounts a particularly memorable date at the Ritz in London, where she arrived for lunch to find her place at the table filled with every sort of flower imaginable. “As I don’t know what your favorite flower is,” her date said, “please start throwing over your shoulder the ones you don’t like.”
As Monaco prepared for the centenary celebrations of Monte Carlo in 1966, Princess Grace created the Monaco Flower Show, which quickly became an annual international event which, in turn, led to the founding of the Garden Club of Monaco. It was there that she first became interested in creating images of pressed flowers, a hobby that would take her from the countryside of Monaco to a solo exhibition at an art gallery in Paris in Springs Industries in South Carolina.
Biographers have tended to view this new pastime as a melancholy pastime: the movie star Alfred Hitchcock once described as a “snow-capped volcano” reduced to picking wildflowers on walks in his new country , then pressing them carefully in tissue paper between book pages to be used later in detailed collages. Princess Grace herself seems nostalgic for the pastime in my flower book, writing, “Just sliding the flowers into place brings the same kind of tranquility as sewing, crocheting or knitting. No wonder Victorian ladies spent hours making scrapbooks of pressed flowers and photos. As with gardening, time flies.
But “it was a great way for her to express herself,” says Ann-Marie Albrechtson, of the Princess Grace Foundation. “She needed an artistic outlet, and so that was a passion she was really good at. It was never the most exciting thing, but Taylor Swift at the 2021 Grammys wore a designer-inspired dress modern pressed flower design. It’s still there, and it’s still something that people do.
Certainly, the works of Princess Grace are much more than simple relics of a celibacy from another era, sufficiently accomplished to deserve an exhibition in June 1977 at the Drouant gallery in Paris. The exhibition—with 46 individual works priced between $500 and $1,300—sold out, and in promotional material René Huyghe wrote that the art shows “a sure sensibility of its sources, a new imagination, simply within its means, trying to reconcile us with the world and ourselves. This exhibition led directly to the launch, two years later, of a line of Princess Grace linens.
Springmaid’s “sheet stylist” Neil Mandell saw a People magazine article about the Parisian Princess Grace show, and quickly pitched the idea to his bosses (a bold move, considering he’d bombarded hard with his previous talk: sheets based on Barry Manilow’s lyrics) . This idea eventually transformed three of her designs into the Fiona (mimosa, heather, daisies, lantana, didiscus, ranunculus, and yellow butterfly) lines, Tamora (autumn brown leaves and Queen Anne’s lace) and Selia (jasmine branch, wisteria, prunus leaves and butterflies). The company was so keen on selling Princess Grace designs – even if it refrained from using her likeness to market them – that, for the first time, it also branched out into tablecloths , placemats and napkins.
At a press conference to announce the launch of the line, a reporter asked the princess about her financial compensation. What exactly would happen to the money she was earning from this new merchandise?
Princess Grace looked at him directly and replied: “As Margot Fonteyn has always said, ‘Don’t discuss money with strangers. “” (The profits she eventually received went to various charities.)
The GPK line was cut short when the princess died, and her end-of-life passion faded from memory, leaving only the movies and the fairytale wedding in the popular imagination. Today, her son Prince Albert and the Princess Grace Foundation, founded by Prince Rainier III after his death, seek to remind the public of everything the princess stood for. And her pressed flowers are an integral part of the new luxury brand Grace de Monaco.
“Maybe people don’t know the details of how amazing she was as an artist, a humanitarian, a philanthropist. And the Royal Family wanted to take matters into their own hands to tell the story more,” he said. said Brisa Carleton, CEO of the Princess Grace Foundation-USA.
To that end, the new “luxury for good brand” – all proceeds going to the Foundation and its charitable initiatives – recently launched Promenade Sur Le Rocher Parfum, created by master perfumer Olivier Cresp. The fragrance is inspired by the notes of Princess Grace’s favorite flowers while the packaging pays a subtle tribute to her art of pressed flowers. And an upcoming line of scarves will allude to the art she spent so many hours passionately pursuing during her time in Monaco.
“The love of flowers has opened many doors for me,” Princess Grace wrote in my flower book. And now that love of flowers will continue to open doors for others.
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