"The Grace Kelly Dress" by Brenda Janowitz
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Ever the influencer, Princess Grace has inspired many authors to write about her life. For author Brenda Janowitz, it only took one segment on "The Today Show" to be inspired by her favorite actress turned princess to write an entire book called The Grace Kelly Dress.
Read an exclusive interview and excerpt from the book to dive into this charming and smart story!
Q: What inspired you to base your latest novel on Princess Grace?
A: I’ve always loved Grace Kelly, from the time I was a kid, watching old movies with my mother on Sunday afternoons.
When it came time to write The Grace Kelly Dress, a novel about an heirloom wedding dress passed down through three generations of women, there was only one gown that I envisioned for my inspiration: Grace Kelly on her wedding day.
Q: What's your favorite Princess Grace story?
A: In 1951, Grace Kelly, then an up-and-coming actress, was at the Stork Club when she saw that a woman was being refused service because of the color of her skin. Grace Kelly recognized international superstar Josephine Baker, and promptly stood up from her table, took Baker by the arm, and walked out of the club, never to return again.
Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned about her during your research?
A: I loved learning every detail I could about Princess Grace’s wedding dress, but by far the most interesting thing I learned was this: her gown consisted of four separate parts, each of which needed to be put on separately. What a wonderful secret for a bride to have on her wedding day!
Q: If you were having supper with Princess Grace at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, what one question would you ask her?
A: Princess Grace gave up her film career once she married the Prince. I’d ask her if she ever had any regrets.
Q: At that meal what would you eat/drink?
A: Oh, I’d be far too nervous to eat or drink in Princess Grace’s presence! I suppose I would just order whatever she ordered, and then try to mind my manners!
Q: Why do you think Princess Grace’s story is relevant to readers today?
A: There’s something so timeless about Princess Grace’s story—the fairy tale aspect to it, especially. But as you dive deeper into researching the person she was, you find a woman who was ahead of her time in many ways.
Q: Do you plan to stay engaged with the Grace Kelly community?
A: Of course! It’s been incredible to get to know readers who love Grace Kelly the same way I do. I’m honored to be a part of it!
More from Brenda Janowitz:
"I love Grace Kelly. I love everything about her, everything she represents. Grace Kelly, to me, is the ultimate Hollywood fairy tale: the beautiful and talented girl who became a movie star, and then, she married a prince. I love all of Grace Kelly’s films, but what I’m most obsessed with is the gown she wore for her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Ever since I first laid eyes on this iconic wedding gown, I’ve been in love. To me, Grace Kelly’s wedding gown is the ultimate dress. Gorgeous, elegant, and refined—what more could any bride want? In fact, when it came time to shop for my own wedding, I found myself especially drawn to the gowns that featured details that served as a homage to that famous piece of history. The gown I wore down the aisle had a delicate ribbon around the waist, a nod to Grace Kelly’s elegant cummerbund, and had silk bows that ran down the back, just like Grace Kelly’s dress. In 2018, my agent sent me an article from "The Today Show" about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eleven generations. The moment I heard the story, I knew that I had the idea for my next novel.
Once I decided to write about a wedding gown, there was only one thing I envisioned: Grace Kelly on her wedding day. So, when it came time to describe what the heirloom dress looked like, I found myself describing the beauty designed by Helen Rose—the lace sleeves, the cummerbund, the full skirt. I quickly realized that the characters in the book should be as enamored of this design as me, and The Grace Kelly Dress was born!
The Grace Kelly Dress is the story of three generations of women, and the wedding dress that binds them together. It’s a story about love, friendship, and family, and it’s entirely different from anything I’ve ever written before. I hope that readers will join me on this journey, and come to love these women as I do."
Continue to read an exclusive excerpt from The Grace Kelly Dress
The Grace Kelly Dress
Rose loved this moment. She relished it. Each and every time, she held her breath when a new bride entered the atelier.
Madame Michel stood in the front of her shop, head up, back straight, hand elegantly resting on her cane. The faint scent of her ylang ylang perfume drifted up towards the loft where Rose perched.
Madame Michel was a woman who knew her worth. Since coming back to Paris after an illustrious career in America, creating costumes for Paramount Pictures under the tutelage of Edith Head, she was in high demand. Hundreds of young girls yearned for her to design their wedding dresses, hoping to be dusted with the magic so many others had experienced. It was said that to wear a custom designed Madame Michel wedding dress was to guarantee a happy marriage.
Madame Michel was a woman who knew how to choose her clients well. Today, the daughter of a prominent businessman. A man who was well-connected in the newly re-formed government. After the coup d’etat that had re-instated Charles DeGaulle to power, Monsieur Phillipe Laurent was a good man to have as a friend. Madame liked nothing more than a powerful man. An influential man. When the guests at his daughter’s wedding—the best and brightest of Paris society—saw the dress Madame would create, her business would double overnight. Of course, if she were to fail, her business would dry up completely. Dress orders would be canceled, her waiting list would disappear. But she would not fail.
Madame took a deep breath as Monsieur Laurent opened the door to the atelier. His footsteps reverberated on the hard wood floors, and Madame opened her arms out wide to welcome him. He was tall, so incredibly tall, and had a neatly trimmed mustache. His black hair was slicked back with pomade, and he wore a small smile on his lips. Monsieur Laurent delicately took Madame’s hand, kissed it, and then introduced her to his wife.
But that wasn’t who Rose was waiting to see. Her favorite part was this: seeing the future bride for the first time. Laying eyes on the girl for whom she’d hand sew delicate designs, eight hours a day. In that moment, Rose would create a narrative, a story, to fit each girl. And that story would keep her mind busy through the endless hours of labor. Working on Madame’s designs until her hands ached, away from the customers, up in the tiny upstairs loft.
She shouldn’t complain. Rose was lucky to have this job—to train under the tutelage of Madame, to learn from a master, to get a weekly paycheck. An orphan, Rose needed the money to pay for her room at the boarding house where she lived.
The bell chimed again, signaling the arrival of the bride. Rose tiptoed to the edge of the loft—she knew that she was supposed to be at her sewing station, working on the embroidery of a duchess satin gown, but she couldn’t help herself. She looked out the tiny window and watched, waited. Mademoiselle Diana Laurent walked in, and immediately smiled. She turned her head to and fro, taking it all in. Madame’s beautifully curated atelier; the dresses on the forms, taking shape; the reams of fabrics, lined up like soldiers; and the impeccable sketches that were tacked to the walls, delicate works of art.
This bride would be a perfect muse for Madame. Like a Degas ballerina, she had a tiny waist and a long, graceful neck. Her dark hair was styled in a poodle cut, with tight curls and short bangs. The girl had a tiny button nose, and full lips, parted slightly, as if she had something to say.
She wore a Pierre Cardin coat, one Rose had seen in the windows of the shops she could not afford. Rose fingered her own dress, a dress she’d made herself from a wool that was on sale at the fabric shop. The first time Madame saw Rose wearing it, she stopped to admire the design, the clean lines of the neckline, the way the embroidery on the waistline enhanced her shape. Rose smiled, bathing in the praise. Then Madame felt the fabric, and a slight frown formed on her lips. Still, Madame often complimented Rose on the clothes she designed for herself, which did not make her very popular with the other seamstresses. Most days, Rose ate lunch by herself on the backdoor stoop.
“Oh, I’m so delighted to meet you!” the girl cried out.
“Decorum, Diana,” her mother said firmly, and Diana lowered her head.
“Yes, of course,” she said. “I’m honored that you’ve agreed to work on my wedding gown.”
“Aren’t you going to be my most beautiful bride yet?” Madame said.
Diana’s face flushed, and she smiled carefully. “Why, thank you,” she quietly said.
Madame said this very thing to each and every bride who walked through her doors.
“Come, dear child.” Madame ushered Diana to a table, already set with afternoon tea. “You must tell me all about yourself so that I may design the dress of your dreams.”
Diana tried to give Madame a sense of who she was, what she wanted. But she didn’t need to. Everyone already knew what she wanted. She wanted what every girl wanted that year: The dress that American actress Grace Kelly wore to her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco. The Grace Kelly dress.
And Diana Laurent was no different. As she gushed about the rose point lace, the peau de soie, and of course, the prince himself, Madame smiled broadly, and her butler furiously took notes.
Rose knew that Madame was conflicted about all of the Grace Kelly dresses she was asked to create. Not because they weren’t beautiful, of course they were all beautiful. Each and every one of them. It was because of her loyalty. She’d worked for ten years under Edith Head, and respected her fully. When Grace Kelly became engaged to Prince Rainier, Edith Head had assumed that she would be asked to design the wedding dress. After all, they were friends. But Grace Kelly was contracted to do two more movies with MGM studio, and they weren’t about to allow an opportunity for great publicity to pass them by. MGM’s head costume designer, Helen Rose, would have the honor of designing the thing that would go down in history: the gown. Edith Head was asked to design the going-away suit for the honeymoon, but of course, no one remembered the suit.
Rose knew what she would design, if given the chance. She’d make the neckline higher, the sleeves shorter, and the skirt, edged with embroidered flowers. She would create a dress that honored the inspiration, but truly belonged to the bride herself. But no one ever asked Rose. And she knew better than to suggest a design element to Madame.
The meeting ended, and Madame walked her new clients to the door. The Laurent family exited, and with that, Madame spun around, looked around her atelier, and dropped to the ground.