Hillwood Presents Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens is one of my favorite places to direct history lovers when they visit DC and want to explore something off the National Mall. This spot tucked away in the Van Ness neighborhood was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, an influencer tastemaker and fashion icon throughout much of the 1900s. 

Post was a notable figure throughout her life which I learned more about last year at the Roaring Twenties: The Life and Style of Marjorie Merriweather PostThis year, Hillwood is home to Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior – an exhibit presented for the first time in North America. The exhibit highlights the longstanding collaboration between Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Marc Bohan, artistic director at Christian Dior, through clothing, accessories, photos, and more, on special loan from the Palace of Monaco.

Kelly and Post were both notable tastemakers who carefully cultivated their images through smart and elegant fashion. Hillwood tells the story of 20th-century fashion through Post’s own collection of jewelry, accessories, and clothes so it is fitting to host Kelly’s collection. I had the pleasure of speaking with Megan Martinelli, Associate Curator of Apparel, Jewelry, and Accessories at Hillwood, who provided some additional details about the collection. 

Interview with Curator Megan Martinelli

What was it like being the first North American host of this exhibition and connecting the lives of two ionic tastemakers? Where there any stories you particularly wanted to highlight for the US or, more specifically, a DC audience?

Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior will be the first of entirely Christian Dior ensembles from Princess Grace’s wardrobe in North America on loan from the Prince’s Palace of Monaco. It originated at the Musée Christian Dior in Granville [France] and was curated by Florence Müller, former Avenir Foundation curator of textile art and fashion at the Denver Art Museum. 

Completing this project has been an honor. I have met many celebrities through their clothes over the course of my career and Princess Grace was one of my favorites. She was accessible and elegant, with the very relatable practice of wearing an ensemble multiple times. Signs of wear and fragility are apparent, but the palace wardrobe took great care of these pieces over time. The garments appear simple, but a hallmark of haute couture is the interior structure and hidden closures, all handstitched and customized to her measurements.

Our founder, Marjorie Post, also loved a custom experience, and while she was not a regular haute couture client, she still appreciated the special attention she received from the small designers she worked with. Despite a forty-three-year age difference, Princess Grace and Marjorie Post shared other similar characteristics. They were both active philanthropists and used their visibility for good, while showing respect for the causes and those they met by dressing elegantly. 

Of course, both women loved fine jewelry, but Princess Grace, Monsieur Dior, and Marjorie Post were all inspired by gardens and flowers. The concluding section, aptly titled, “Flowers” celebrates their shared passion with beautiful silk mousseline gowns printed with floral motifs. I am hopeful that local visitors to the gallery come away with an appreciation for couture, the approachable, generous spirt of Princess Grace, and are inspired to remind themselves that their functional, everyday wardrobe has the potential to convey emotions and an appreciation for those around them.

A quote from Kelly is highlighted on the site: "I'm basically a feminist. I think that women can do anything they decided to do." She was clearly a supporter of empowering women but she phrases it in a slightly hesitant way. Through this exhibit, how do you think she used fashion as a form of empowerment? Do you think her sense of style (eyecatching but never excessive) was a reflection of the feminism of her time?

Based on my understanding of Princess Grace, she was very careful of her statements and words. I think that during the 1960s and 1970s, people were unfortunately conscientious of aligning themselves with that wave of feminism. She needed to remain an objective member of the royal family, a pressure we are beginning to move away from at last. When a public figure is documented and represented so regularly in visual media, it is challenging to separate their appearance from their identity, and I have always felt that we shouldn’t have to. It is an extension of who they are. 

Grace Kelly clearly put a lot of thought into her appearance because sometimes, that was all that would remain in people’s memories from an experience and she understood that her legacy would live on in photos. I think she was a feminist in the sense of her personal modesty and approach to dressing to convey respect to those around her.

Do you think Kelly and Post used fashion in similar ways - as a form of empowerment and influence?

Absolutely. They both loved to support important causes, and a great way to do that was getting completely decked out and using that influence and media coverage to gain visibility for their initiatives, whether it was the Red Cross (which they shared in common) or local youth arts programs. Even their jewelry represents their power and importance while celebrating their personalities. I know for certain that Marjorie Post was proud to be able to purchase her own pieces as she successfully managed her father’s company throughout the early-mid twentieth century. There is something to be said for pursuing your passions and honoring your own identity, especially as a woman in the last century.  

Plan Your Visit

Special exhibits are only a small part of a visit to Hillwood. Leave at least 2-3 hours to explore all of the gardens and visit the main mansion. Walking and audio tours are available or you can explore the building on your own. The mansion illustrates what it took to run such a larger property and gives a sneak peek of what it was like to work for Post. History tells us she was not only a recognized tastemaker but also beloved and respected by the staff who worked with her. 

Enjoy a full afternoon at the estate with a picnic from home or snacks from the cafe. Find drinks, salads, sandwiches, and sweets from 11 am to 4 pm with covered and uncovered outdoor seating. 

Hillwood is open year-round and a beautiful place to enjoy any season. Look out for special events like live music, festivals, and holiday happenings. 

Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior will be on display through January 8, 2023. Hillwood is open Tuesday from Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. Tickets are a suggested donation of $18/adults, $15/seniors, $10/college students, and $5/children 6-18. 

At a Glance

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