I have always been a good detective – I actually have it on authority from a forensic psychologist. It’s important to learn early in life to discriminate between the wheat and the chaff. This is especially so when developing a hat collection – provenance is everything. But when it comes to solving mysteries and seeking out the villain – clearly if the hat fits wear it!
The plot is set in Melbourne in the 1920’s. My character, Charlotte Harcourt, is a glamorous emancipated young woman of a fearless disposition. She owes her considerable wealth, education and enlightenment to her late father, a man of substance who had returned from the First World War with a greatly heightened sense of social responsibility.
Her grand house in East Melbourne identifies her as a woman of independent means. Her cream and brown Delage Roadster sits parked on the circular driveway as if ready for a fast getaway. Charlotte is a young woman on the move. Renovations are under way at her East Melbourne mansion under the direction of the renowned Melbourne architect Henry Norris, designer of the iconic Sherbrook Forest Burnham Beeches country estate of the Nicholas family.
Miss Harcourt has taken up temporary residence at a suite at The Windsor Hotel whilst these works are in progress. It is here at The Windsor that this story unfolds.
There was a loud knocking at the door. It was after midnight, who could it be?
It was a cold, dark, inhospitable night. Rain lashed the windows of her hotel room. Charlotte reached for her dressing gown and slippers. Gingerly she opened the hotel door. It was a man in uniform whom she vaguely recognized. It was the Hotel Windsor’s night porter. “Miss Harcourt he whispered there is someone very important that needs your help urgently. Could you please follow me”. The porter led her along the wide corridor to a door just down from her own hotel suite.
He knocked gently on the door of Room 139 and she was told to come in by a voice with an accent that was peculiarly English. Ushered into the room Charlotte was immediately assailed by the smell of cigarette smoke. The man smoking sat hunched in an armchair his back to the door. He didn’t turn round as she entered the room. “That will be all Porter” he said in his distinctly Yorkshire accent.
Charlotte moved to the centre of the room to be nearer the warmth of the fire burning in the grate. The man slumped in the chair was a smallish, slim, middle aged man with a pale face and a dark beard. The face seemed strangely familiar. She waited for him to speak.
At first he just stared at her. “I thought they were bringing me a private detective” he said. “I am a private detective, Miss Charlotte Harcourt at your service, and whom may you be”. In a softly spoken voice he said “I am the writer D. H Lawrence”. He waited a few moments before he spoke again. “Something very serious has happened Miss Harcourt, my wife has been abducted from this very hotel room by Italian anarchists and if I want to see my wife again I cannot go to the police”.
© 2012 The Waters Group ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Grace Kelly: Style Icon Exhibition 11 March 2012 – 17 June 2012 at Bendigo Art Gallery has all the hall marks of a Blockbuster– its certainly going to be a crowd pleaser and perhaps a salutary lesson for young women on personal style.
As Kristina Haugland, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and author of a marvelous book on Grace Kelly, said at the press conference “Grace Kelly credited her early modeling experience with making her aware of how she looked to others. She was always tasteful, appropriate, ladylike, and while the starlets and sweater girls went out of their way to show off their assets, she maintained this reserve.”
This certainly did not diminish her sex appeal. Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock described her as a “snow-covered volcano” Her very name, Princess Grace, is as much a description of a feminine quality as a real name.
Grace Patricia Kelly 1929- 1982 was the quintessential Philadelphian patrician. This iconic American star and Princess of Monaco, remains the ne plus ultra of the beautiful woman, exuding an effortless femininity, grace, charm, and confidence. Her fairytale-fantasy royal wedding foreshadowed that of Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales thirty years later.
Karen Quinlan, Director of the Bendigo Art Gallery worked with Melbourne’s Honorary Consul of Monaco, Andrew Cannon for several years to bring the exhibition to Bendigo in association with various stake holders including the State Government, the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Quinlan hopes those who see the exhibition will get a real sense of the woman whose style and elegance is still a source of inspiration. She says the show provides much more than just the chance to look at designer clothes including Dior, Balenciaga and Chanel. ‘‘Grace’s philosophy was that for a woman to have true style she has to know herself.” Self esteem was everything.
Quinlan admitted at the press conference on Friday that they had only just finished putting the finishing touches to the exhibition as unlike previous exhibition’s Bendigo Art Gallery’s curatorial staff dressed the gowns themselves; She explained how the clothes travelled. “The packing is a major undertaking; each garment travels in its own purpose-built crate, heavily padded so that the gowns maintain their shape, and the mannequins have their own crates.”
John Kelly a Philadelphia banker, nephew of Grace Kelly was also present at the media launch. John Kelly is the son of Grace’s brother John B. Kelly, a rower who won a bronze medal in the single scull at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. In my brief interview with John Kelly he said “ Unlike her sports mad family Grace didn’t seem particularly interested in sport. He saw his aunt mostly at the family home in casual clothes, sweaters, matador pants and shirt. He described his aunt as “ someone that cared and connected with people.”
My passion for anthropology has given me a strong interest in exploring the nuances of a person’s life through their possessions- their clothes and accessories. Strangely its in Grace’s accessories, hats, jewellery, sunglasses, shoes and gloves that we learn so much more about the real Grace Kelly. She didn’t mind the scruffs on her Hermes bag that became so synonymous with her that its now known as the Kelly Bag. From her shoes we learn that she had rather long and slender feet. She was quite conservative with her hats, although I did love the perfectly plain purple fine straw hat that was on display. She was not afraid to be seen wearing a favourite outfit. a second time.
The clothes only truly come to life when you see Grace Kelly still alive on film, in the sensational newsreels of the time or gliding seductively around the apartment in Rear Window or tipsily dancing with Frank Sinatra in High Society, or enjoying Cary Grant’s terror as she drives him at a reckless, ludicrous speed along a mountain road above Cannes in To Catch a Thief . Kelly’s style was exemplified in the maxim “it’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it.”
In Hollywood, studios usually kept costumes for reuse but MGM gave Kelly many of the outfits she wore in High Society as a wedding gift. My favorite gown from this current exhibition is the cool ice green gown designed by Edith Head that Kelly wore to the academy awards when she received an Oscar for Country Girl in 1955. It was a true goddess gown that the mythical Greek Goddesses Aphrodite, must surely have had in her own wardrobe.
“Blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.”
Danish writer Isak Dinesen , Babette’s Feast and Other Anecdotes of Destiny
“Believe me! The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously!” Nietzsche.
I can’t say that I knew Marianne very well but her warmth and vitality was totally infectious. There seemed aspects of Marianne’s approach to life that I immediately recognized. Perhaps my own travels in Tibet and India gave me an appreciation of her search for meaning.
Marianne loved water. I know she was fond of whales but I always saw her as a dolphin, frolicking, full of fun with her enigmatic Mona Lisa smile. Like a dolphin she seemed to be in two worlds at once without being at home in either. When I recently visited Marianne in her Williamstown home I had come to give her a small collection of hats – we certainly shared a passion for hats. I was impressed with her paintings. Like Marianne herself her paintings were a riot of colour and movement.
The memorial ceremony for Marianne at St Michael’s Uniting Church in Collins Street last Friday was wonderfully inclusive of so many different cultures and beliefs. From the haunting vibrations of the didgeridoo to deeply resonating Buddhist chants, the beautiful recorded Hindu prayer to Hanuman sung by Ram Dass, the mournful Maori farewell song of the sea, layered with Christian hymns – this was truly an interfaith service. Close friend of Marianne’s, Luba Bilu, told of many of the courageous, outrageous and just plain playful facets of Marianne’s quite extraordinary life. Artist John Wolseley referred to Marianne as a ‘vagabond’. Her nephew Ari Droga described her as ‘the divine and earthy aunt or tante as they say in Danish, an ‘irresistible force – a magical person who wore exotic fashion ensembles and who loved to dance. There was no doubt that the profusion of Sunflowers in the church was a fitting and joyous metaphor for a life well lived.
From the written selected events of her life in the memorial program we learnt about Marianne’s serious illnesses, of loss and death. Of her founding of Realities Gallery in 1971 in Ross Street, South Yarra, where artists like Ted May remembers wandering around in red socks – and then the move to bigger premises in Jackson Street Toorak in 1975-1980. Of her life as a prolific painter, of Marianne and Ian organizing a ‘world wide simultaneous meditations for peace’ under the Dali Lama’s auspices in 1991, 1994 and 2003, of her extensive travels echoing the peripatetic lifestyle started in her early life that took her from her native Denmark, to Sweden, America, New Zealand and Australia.
Later at the celebratory wake at Melbourne’s Windsor Hotel I learnt more about Marianne’s generous way of living and of her vast array of friends from all walks of life. Many of them surmised that life would not be the same without Marianne.
A close friend of 50 years said “ life around Marianne was never boring”. She was obviously a woman who took hold of her own destiny and like an Isak Dinesen character from Babette’s Feast and Other Anecdotes of Destiny, Marianne learnt to shape it her way.