Carola Long: 'If she was a young actress today, Grace Kelly wouldn’t dress as conservatively as she did in the Fifties'

With the V&A's exhibition Grace Kelly: Style Icon imminent, the Independent fashion desk has inevitably been inundated with "Get the Look" e-mails from brands suggesting how to recreate her wardrobe. Hardly surprising, as the actress-turned-princess hailed for her "conspicuous good taste" by the Dallas Morning News in 1955 has long been up there with Audrey Hepburn as an Enduring Style Icon.

What's more unexpected, however, is how literal the suggestions are. Pink shell tops, flowery prom skirts, boxy handbags... all at once. Does anyone really want to dress like they've just stepped out of a vintage McCall's pattern book?

More advisable than attempting a Grace Kelly/Mad Men/Fifties-retro mash-up is channelling Kelly's spirit, or selected details of her aesthetic. After all, if she was a young actress today, I'd like to think she wouldn't dress as conservatively as she did in the Fifties; that way lies the Kate Middleton young fogey look.

Just six months or so ago, with fashion still in the grip of "Balmainia" and the fierce, skinny silhouette, the Grace Kelly look might have seemed quite irrelevant. Now, however, elements of her wardrobe are back on the agenda – with a twist. Marc Jacobs' overtly feminine circle skirts and tailored jackets with defined waists recalled the suits Kelly wore for her engagement and honeymoon, only with a lot more cleavage and surprising proportions. At Prada, too, the demure silhouette of princess coats and full-skirted dresses suggested Kelly's restrained womanliness, although she would never have chosen such jolie laide fabrics or frilled knee socks.

The essence of Grace Kelly's look was "stylish simplicity" – which is exactly the way many labels are going. Pared down, wearable clothes that reflect an observation the dress designer (and Kelly's one-time romantic interest) Oleg Cassini made about her. "By wearing clothes that don't get too much notice, she gets noticed more herself." Forget boxy bags and white gloves, that's the real essence of Grace Kelly style.

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