Pringle’s Grace Kelly project uncovers the icon’s secrets

ICE princess. Hollywood star. Tragic heroine. The public face of Grace Kelly is all of the above and more. But what about wife? Mother? Friend?

She was a woman with a personal life, but in the days before the paps camped outside the Grimaldi residence in Monaco, it was one rarely seen by anyone other than her innermost circle.

No wonder then that Pringle of Scotland found a few surprises during a project – with Central Saint Martins design college – to uncover the person behind the persona. The knitwear label has been worn by starlets of the day since the 1940s, and it is responsible for giving the original sweater girls – the likes of Jean Simmons, Margaret Lockwood, Deborah Kerr, Brigitte Bardot and Margot Fonteyn – their cheeky moniker. But it was Kelly, in her classic twin sets and pearls, who somehow embodied the timeless elegance Pringle wanted to capture.

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“Grace Kelly is an undisputed style icon, and the public interest in her and her style is enduring,” explains Douglas Fang, chairman of the brand. “For us, though, it was about how she wore knitwear with such an easy elegance. We knew she wore Pringle and wanted to explore this relationship between her and her off-duty wardrobe more. There have been numerous exhibitions about her Hollywood career and costumes, but we were more interested in how her impeccable sense of style translated into the more relaxed, less documented moments of her life.”

Working with the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco and its patron, Princess Caroline of Hanover – Kelly’s daughter – students on the BA fashion history and theory course were given unprecedented access to private photographs, videos and clothing that had never been seen by the public before.

“We were so honoured that Princess Caroline really embraced the project and shared such intimate and personal memories of her mother with us,” says Fang. “During this research stage the students also looked at the Pringle of Scotland archives from the time to get an understanding of the knitwear trends, as well as the personal wardrobe archives of Princess Grace, to garner a real understanding of the elements that formed her off-duty style. This was the angle that was of interest to us: the intimate, family times.

“I think Princess Caroline captured it perfectly when she told us that knitwear was what her mother wore for the ‘happy times’. When you see photographs of Princess Grace wearing knitwear she looks beautifully elegant, as in her formal life, but more relaxed and comfortable, which is what knitwear is all about.”

The results formed an exhibition at the museum last year, ‘Princess Grace: More Than an Image’, a title that was inspired by an interview she gave to Time magazine in 1955 – the year she starred alongside Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief and won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in The Country Girl. In that interview the actress said simply, “I don’t want to dress up a picture with just my face.”

“The woman behind the image was every element of that exhibition,” says Fang. “The Hollywood star, the princess. But also the mother, wife and individual.”

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The third and final stage of the project was overseen by Professor Louise Wilson – the formidable director of the MA fashion course at CSM who grew up in the Scottish Borders and whose former pupils include stellar names like Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane and Jonathan Saunders. She tasked her current students with creating a modern collection of pieces inspired by an off-duty princess, a finished product made in Scotland.

The result is a collection of classics with a fashion edge: twin sets in royal blue with grey piping; turtle necks with contrasting intarsia detail; a bow at the neck here; entwined Gs there; a touch of bell sleeve; and a ravishing pop of fur. Fang is, he says, “very proud” of the results. “They all speak of different facets of Princess Grace’s style, which is what makes it so interesting as a collection.”

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And it taps into the rising profile of knitwear as a high fashion fabric. “Knitwear has been incredibly important in recent seasons,” says Wilson, “I think because it allows designers great freedom in colour, texture and pattern, is a welcome change to digital print and feels honest and tactile.”

The collection will be on sale from September. The timing could hardly be better as the Harvey Weinstein production Grace of Monaco, in which Nicole Kidman plays the princess when she was in her early 30s, opens in cinemas in December or early 2014. The film has already been criticised by Grace’s family, who say it is inaccurate and needlessly glamorises their mother, though Kidman, for her part, has promised to be “respectful of her, her story and her essence so hopefully that will all come through”.

No such controversy surrounds the Pringle project though, and the relationship with CSM is now in its third year – they first worked together in 2010 to develop the knitwear brand’s own archives. The collaboration, says Wilson, is “very special”, giving students the opportunity to deal with factories, professional fittings and press launches. “They have seen the sweaters sold to outlets worldwide and will no doubt see them in stores next season. This is invaluable experience and a privilege.

“A collaboration with a company such as Pringle is imperative to the course,” she adds. “It actively needs sponsorship to maintain its excellent teaching and facilities. It also needs professional partners such as Pringle who give the opportunity to students to work on live projects with a professional outcome.”

“There is a personal story behind each piece, which is what makes the collection so special,” adds Fang. “There was such a wealth of material in the archives, from Princess Grace’s hand-knitted sunglass cases which she embroidered with her own GG – Grace Grimaldi – insignia, to photos and videos of her with her family and first-hand accounts from her close circle, including her daughter Princess Caroline. We were astounded by the amount of intimate and precious material discovered.”

The most surprising element, however, was to discover what a multi-faceted character she was. “Everyone has a personal life, but for most high-profile individuals, especially in the days before the paparazzi, we have little insight into the non-formal occasions. These touching and personal moments were so special to discover.”

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And the results – pieces of fashion history – will be special to own.

Twitter: @Ruth_Lesley

• Pringle Archive Collection: Princess Grace More Than an Image, prices from around £495, on sale from September at Jane Davidson, Edinburgh (