Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grace Kelly and the elegance of pearls

I was watching Rear Window last night (yes, for the five hundredth time), and I was knocked out once again by the elegance and perfection of Miss Grace Kelly in that movie. I won't even say that I'm a huge Grace Kelly fan, but in Rear Window she epitomizes Hitchcock's icy, idealized blonde. When she comes into Jimmy Stewart's apartment in that fabulously impractical black and white evening gown, with dinner from 21, and says, "From top to bottom. . . Lisa. . . Carol. . . Fremont," you can't help but think, "Oh, yes, I want to look just like that, and be urbane and sophisticated and blonde and gloriously dressed." She already has princess written all over her.

Yes, the plot of the movie is wonderful. Jimmy Stewart is fantastic. Thelma Ritter is even better. There is suspense and love and humor and voyeurism galore. It's one of Hitchcock's best movies, and I could write fifty paragraphs on why. But, when you watch it next time or for the first time (lucky you, if it's for the first time), focus on Grace Kelly, the way she moves, the way she speaks, the way she lounges across a sofa. Somehow, she manages to be icy blonde and emotionally warm simultaneously.

Once you get past the beautiful Edith Head costumes, notice her accessories. They're mostly spare and elegant: a gold link bracelet with one large dangling charm, an elegant hat with a bit of veil, and pearls. In nearly every scene, Grace wears pearls. While part of this was probably due to the de rigeur of wearing a string of pearls in the fifties, even when vacuuming, another explanation for the pervasiveness of pearls could be that few things in fashion are as appropriate and elegant as pearls. Of course Lisa Fremont always wears them; put on a simple triple strand with any dress, and you are accessorized for the day. You can go to work, a luncheon, dinner at 21, dancing after, and unravel a murder with your invalid boyfriend before dawn. Pearls truly are universally elegant.

I buy pearls all the time when I go bead shopping, different colors and shapes, freshwater, button, potato, the more inexpensive glass pearls. Yet, I never seem to have any, because I use them all up immediately. Whenever I want to add a bit of elegant, sweet gleam to a piece, I add pearls. Whenever I want a piece to look richer, I add pearls. Whenever I want to break up too much shine from too many crystals, I add pearls. They accentuate any color of metal, any color of glass, any pendant. The painted jasper pendant at the top of this post--while I doubt Miss Grace Kelly would have ever worn it--offers a great example of how the understated sheen of pearls can change the feel of any piece of jewelry. They add lavishness and class to the necklace.

I remember, in high school, I had three favorite pieces of jewelry. My mother's strand of graduated pearls that she wore in her senior high school picture, a strand of pink pearls that I got for my fifteenth birthday, and an opera length strand of gray pearls that I bought at the Limited and wore, knotted, with everything. I still have all three pieces. Later came the skulls and vintage rhinestones and moons and stars, but I wore them with pearls. And now, whether I'm getting dressed to go out, or laying out a new piece of jewelry on my bead board, I reach for the pearls.

Few of us will ever reach the level of Miss Grace Kelly, aka Lisa Carol Fremont, in Rear Window, but, if we put on some pearls before heading out, whether the lushness of cultured pearls, the sweetness of freshwater pearls, or the less expensive but still lovely glass pearls, we can add a bit of elegance to every day. And couldn't every day use a bit more elegance?

Just beware of the unspeakable activities of the fellow in the apartment behind you!

imdb link to Rear Window:

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