Bridal designs on display at PhilaU show the evolution of the wedding dress. “The Swan” is a fascinating exhibit now through June 24 at the Gutman Library, including a reproduction of an iconic gown from East Falls’ most celebrated daughter. 

EastFallsLocal 1140 x 720 Grace Kelly May Edition TEXT Featuring Grace Kellys Wedding Dress

Tis the season for weddings. Brides-to-be looking for maximum fairy tale in their gowns should check out the exhibit “The Swan: Grace Kelly and a Century of Bridal Fashion” at the Paul J. Gutman Library on the PhilaU campus.

Yes of course Princess Grace is represented — it is East Falls after all — a replica of her wedding gown is the centerpiece of the exhibit.  And there are other gowns also, representing many historical eras, chosen from the U’s 35,000-piece collection of bridal fashion (we feature our favorites & left some surprises).

Painting of a lavish wedding attended by richly dressed people in a magnificent roomThe exhibit covers two floors and about a hundred years, going from an 1854 gown from the Du Pont family that was popular with upper class brides shortly after Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, to a gown from the 1960’s.

Kelly’s gown defines 1950’s elegance. The dress on display is a $25,000 reproduction by Heather Coiner-Fernandez, an expert draper & patternmaker from New York (with a lot of experience in costuming, go figure) — a gift to the East Falls Historical Society from a devoted Grace Kelly fan in Maryland, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of her royal wedding this April.

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The original (owned by the Philadelphia Art Museum) was created by MGM costume designer Helen Rose, who used rose point lace on the sleeves, bodice, & train insert. The dress isn’t one piece but actually a skirt and three petticoats over a bodice attached to its own ruffled skirt, all fused together with a pleated taffeta cummerbund.

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Helen Rose was an early proponent of “back drama” for church wedding gowns especially, to give the congregation some visual interest as the bride spends most of the ceremony facing the altar. She designed the skirt to pleat gracefully around the body, with a subtle train insert peeking out from underneath. Instead of a tiara — traditional for royal brides — Grace Kelly’s veil attached to a beaded juliet cap.

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Of course, we all know the story of our local princess, and her fairy-tale wedding to the dashing Prince Rainier of Monaco. She was just 26 when she gave up her Oscar-winning actor status and became Her Serene Highness, becoming perhaps the most famous Fallser ever — but certainly not the only Philadelphian with an historically significant wedding gown.

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Gutman library’s displays also feature DuPonts, Wistars, Morrises, and other well-known “society” names from various decades: a 1920’s dropped-waist “flapper” style, a 1930’s body-skimming design, and  a 1940’s dress with long, full moire skirts. A regal 60’s empire-waist profile with lace applique.

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And a nifty removable jacket-like train. With shoulder bows!

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Other dresses feature bustles and cage crinoline. 100-year-old luxury lace. Historical shoes, some from the 19th century. They even had vintage “unmentionables” in a case by the front desk — the displays seem to randomly change/move, though, so you might have to look around for some of these items when you go.

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Speaking of:  when the exhibit first opened, there were three modern gowns by PhilaU design students that greeted you as you entered the door. Sadly, these are no longer on display. You’d have never guessed, though, they were made almost entirely from plastic bags, with hot glue guns and thread. (Hopefully they’ll be back for an encore before closing.)

The collection is on the second and basement floors of the library. In general, non-students can access the library between 9 and 5 on weekdays. (For access after 5, please contact the library.)

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“The Swan: Grace Kelly and a Century of Bridal Fashion” runs through June 24 at Philadelphia University’s Paul J. Gutman Library,  3201 School House Lane    (215) 951-2848

CHECK IT OUT:  100 Years of Bridal Fashion in 3 minutes! 

PS Gratuitous Flashback  Sorry, we’re 70s kids here. Can’t say passion and fashion in the same sentence without this happening: