In the universe of Alfred Hitchcock heroines, it would be difficult to top Grace Kelly. In fact, the actress is literally ranked number one on IMDB’’s list of “Top 10 Hitchcock Blondes” for her role in Rear Window, which was released on this day in 1954.
In the film, Kelly stars as Lisa Carol Fremont, the stylish socialite and love interest of L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, played by James Stewart. With her impossibly stunning wardrobe thanks to costume designer Edith Head, Kelly steals every scene. Each of her six outfits featured in the film contributed depth and detail to her layered development of Lisa.
According to Jay Jorgensen’s book, Edith Head – The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer, Hitchcock’s notes to Head were that Grace “was to look like a piece of Dresden china, nearly untouchable.” Though that might have been the initial direction, Kelly played the role boldly, and the clothing followed suit. After all, Head once remarked: “A designer is only as good as the star who wears her clothes.”
When Lisa is first introduced in the film around the 16-minute mark, Jefferies is waking up and the audience sees her from Jefferies’ perspective: She’s intentionally dressed and accessorized as a woman of wealth as the camera pulls back to reveal her ensemble.
“Is this the Lisa Fremont who never wears the same dress twice?” asks Jefferies during this first scene together. “Only because it’s expected of her. It’s right off the Paris plane,” replies Lisa, wearing a black fitted, deep V-neck top with cap sleeves and a full skirt accented with black lines from the waist, cinched with a patent leather belt. A white chiffon shawl and a pearl choker necklace finish the whole look. Her lips are classic crimson and her hair is perfectly coiffed. These finer elements of Lisa were intentional and with Hitchcock at the helm, it should come as no surprise.
Considered a masterpiece, Rear Window has gripped audiences for its pacing, rhythm, and arresting narrative: photojournalist Jefferies is wheelchair-bound after a car accident so he unwittingly becomes a voyeur to his New York City neighbours in Greenwich Village. One night, he witnesses something amiss between a married couple, and he suspects the husband murdered his wife. When he recounts everything to Lisa, his friends, and his colleagues, they question him and dismiss his claims, though eventually, they all start to believe him.
Lisa’s second ensemble speaks to her willingness to trust Jefferies’ instincts–she wears a pleated little black dress with a fitted bodice and gauzy sleeves on top of a skirt. Her triple-strand pearl necklace reminds the audience of her affluence, though her clothes convey she’s all about business in trying to solve this mystery.
When she returns to Jefferies’ apartment in her next scene, she likewise shows earnestness in her pistachio-green suit with a white, silk halter neck underneath. The overall design appears to be loosely based on the silhouettes of Cristóbal Balenciaga and includes accents like a pearl necklace (again), a half-veiled pillbox hat, and a chunky charm bracelet. She brings along a Mark Cross overnight suitcase, packed with a negligee which she describes as “a preview of coming attractions.” When she appears in this nightgown later—since she’s spending the night with Jeffries—she’s the epitome of elegance and too glamorous to be true.
Later, as the plot thickens, Lisa emerges in a floral feminine dress with a full skirt, matching heels, and a single-strand pearl necklace on top. Her outfit makes a statement as the tension mounts–she dares to climb into the suspect’s apartment regardless of how she’s dressed. Her ladylike identity comes out in the clothing while she performs a brave yet dangerous act that could easily get her caught.
At the film’s conclusion, viewers discover Lisa can be down-to-earth—just like her beau—as she lounges next to him in penny loafers, indigo jeans, and a fiery red button-down shirt. She isn’t wearing any accessories, though she holds a copy of the book Beyond the High Himalayas…and quickly switches it out for a fashion magazine when Jeffries falls asleep.
Through her portrayal of Lisa, Kelly knew the importance of style and how to work the wardrobe—not the other way around. Perhaps Kelly could have been the only actress who understood the complexity of the part vis-à-vis character development and clothing. After all, she once said,’I don’t want to dress up a picture with just my face.’ In this film, she lived up to her words and nailed the role.