IS CATE the new Grace? Ahead of the Bendigo Art Gallery’s exhibition Grace Kelly: Style Icon opening next month, fashion experts wonder if the movie star and princess of Monaco, regarded for decades as one-of-a-kind, might not have a modern equivalent after all.
Blanchett’s regal appearance in a glistening gold Alexander McQueen gown at this week’s AACTA awards triggered the comparison. ”Cate is a quite mesmerising beauty, very much in control of her own appearance,” explains Peter McNeil, author and professor of design history at University of Technology Sydney who lectures on fashion icons. ”Grace Kelly also forcefully managed her self image and became very much associated in [postwar] America with ideas of luxury and royalty.”
At face value, Blanchett and Kelly also have their blue-eyed, moonlight blonde beauty in common, but the similarities run deeper. Both women are renowned for their integrity, intelligence, a rare mix of dignity and warmth, and their unusually modest, ”good taste” versions of high fashion. ”Blanchett is one of the few modern celebrities you couldn’t accuse of vulgarity or looking like a sex worker,” McNeil says. ”And Grace Kelly also defined a different mode of femininity for her time.”
McNeil says concepts of glamour, elegance and chic are ”tied to their own times” but, even accounting for the 40-year gap between Blanchett and Kelly, they epitomise a modest, sophisticated style with wide appeal in both eras. ”Cate lives in a society that’s forgotten what modesty is,” McNeil says. ”And modesty can be very sexy.”
In Grace Kelly’s Hollywood heydays, bombshells such as Marilyn Monroe were also symbols of modern femininity as powerful as any scantily clad video starlet in Blanchett’s era today. ”She was raised a proper lady in a well-to-do family,” says Kristina Haugland, author of Grace Kelly Style. ”There were plenty who were flaunting their sexuality, their assets, and Grace could have, too. But she let her personality shine through in clothes that were always appropriate and tasteful; shirtwaist dresses, well-tailored suits and understated evening wear that didn’t overpower her, that always let her personality shine through.”
Bendigo Art Gallery’s exhibition will include many of those outfits from the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and early 1980s before her death in a car crash, at the age of 51, in 1982. A sea-green satin gown designed by Kelly’s friend, costumier Edith Head, to accept the best actress Oscar for The Country Girl in 1955 is among the most breathtaking. And there are simpler examples of her chic: dresses and suits that Kelly accessorised with gloves and pumps, brooches, scarves, hats and stoles. The rose lace Dior-esque suit by Helen Rose that she wore for her civil marriage ceremony to Prince Rainier III in 1956 will be shown as well as a replica of the gob-smacking gown she wore to her cathedral wedding in Monaco.
According to Bendigo Art Gallery director Karen Quinlan, we should be cautious about conferring icon status on Blanchett, or any living person. ”Cate is living and contemporary and only part way through her career, while we have Grace Kelly’s whole life to look back on,” she says. ”But people do admire and respect her. Possibly, in 50 years’ time, we could be looking back at Cate Blanchett, or Nicole Kidman, or Judi Dench, or someone similar, the way we are looking at Grace.”