By STEVEN HOWELL Press-Republican
---- — MONTREAL — From native Aboriginal attire to fancy hats — and finery fit for a princess — the McCord Museum takes a fashion step forward.
First up is “From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly — Beyond the Icon,” a tribute to the actress-turned-real-life princess told through 100 artifacts, photographs and film clips.
Most prominent are some two dozen evening gowns and dresses that Kelly wore through her storied Hollywood career and then in her reign as the princess of Monaco.
The designers who the created the gowns are a who’s who of the costume-design and fashion industry, with Edith Head, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy among them.
Kelly, who was born in 1929, made 11 films in the 1950s, including three suspense dramas — “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief” — for the master of the genre, director Alfred Hitchcock. Vintage movie posters of the era hang colorfully on display.
In spring 1955, Kelly jet-setted off to France to attend the Cannes Film Festival, which was where she first met Prince Rainier III of Monaco. The two kept in correspondence after Kelly returned home to the United States.
When Rainier ventured to New York in December of the same year, he proposed — and she accepted. The two were wed to much international fanfare with a match dubbed “The Wedding of the Century.”
Be it Kelly’s acting career or royal life, most fun are the video clip and dress match-ups that are displayed.
For example, one video shows Kelly accepting her 1955 Oscar for her role in “The Country Girl,” and just nearby is the dress she wore to the ceremony. And yes, that is indeed her Academy Award Oscar statuette she won on that fateful night.
Another clip shows Kelly at her wedding ceremony — make that ceremonies. Kelly was married to Prince Rainier in one civil and one religious ceremony on April 18 and 19, 1956, respectively.
On the day of her civil ceremony, Kelly and Rainier were joined by an international contingent of 1,600 extras — not of guests, but reporters covering the event. The dress, created by MGM costume designer Helen Rose, is on display, as well as is the video documentation of the chaotic paparazzi-infested ceremony.
The exhibit timeline follows Kelly’s life into royalty and perhaps her most treasured role: as a mother of three children. In 1982, Kelly tragically died in a car accident after suffering a stroke.
“Grace Kelly — Beyond the Icon” continues through Oct. 6.
Next is “Hats Off,” an exhibit produced by the Canadian Museum of Civilization that pays homage to yesteryear’s favorite wardrobe accessory.
The collection includes mostly antique versions of millenary must-haves of the day, with a collection that concentrates on some turn-of-the-20th-century eye-catchers.
Roaring Twenties cloche hats, smart-sized bibi or pillow hats, sun hats, bonnets, bowlers and top hats are all present and accounted for.
And no exhibition about hats — specifically in Quebec — wouldn’t be complete without the iconic winter warmer — the touque. There’s a few of those, too.
“Hat’s Off” continues through Aug. 18.
While the visit’s big draw is indeed the tribute to Kelly, perhaps the more surprising sleeper exhibition is “Wearing Our Identity: The First People Collection,” a new permanent exhibit that aims “to explore the complex heritage of the First Peoples of Canada and learn more about how their dress has helped define their rich cultures and identity,” says the press release.
The exhibit offers four themes: “Wearing Who I Am,” Wearing our Culture,” Wearing our History” and “Wearing our Beliefs.”
The contemporary exhibit space, dressed in bright white and sleek lighting, balances outstanding select pieces, some of which are made by contemporary Aboriginal artists.
Of note are a mother’s amauti, a fur garment complete with pouch to carry an infant; and intricate buttoned blanket and beaded waistcoat; a stately feather headdress; and a stunning modern dress created by artist Maria Hupfield — take a closer look, that’s not white leather; the dress is entirely made of paper.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO The McCord Museum is at 690 Sherbrooke St. W. The museum is open daily. Adult Admission costs $19 for adults, $15 for seniors, $13 for students, $38 for families, and free for children 12 and under (discounts available for admittance without the Kelly exhibit). Wednesday evening discounts offer free admission from 5 to 9 p.m.; or $7.50 with admission to the Grace Kelly exhibit. Call (514) 398-7100 or visit www.mccord-museum.qc.ca.