back to press page

Reel to Real

It’s little surprise that Hollywood knows how to stage a wedding, on screen and off. Iconic images from the past have had considerable influence on more recent nuptials.

The bride was a vision of femininity in handmade, white lace. Her silk-net veil was a gossamer cloud, her diamonds were discreet, her bouquet of lily-of-the-valley exquisitely modest.

And, despite his prematurely receding hairline, the handsome groom looked dashing in his magnificent uniform.

The newlyweds waved at the cheering populace from the palace and the words "fairytale wedding" were on everyone's lips. The televised ceremony was watched by a worldwide audience of more than 30 million and the happy couple drove past the crowds not in an Aston Martin but in a cream-and-black Rolls- Royce convertible.

But, despite many curious similarities we are not describing the nuptials that took place in London on the last Friday in April. For this wedding happened more than half a century ago - on 18 April, 1956 - and it was, in every sense, a fairytale come true. On that spring day Prince Rainier III of Monaco made a "commoner" his bride, although the radiantly elegant movie star Grace Kelly was already Hollywood royalty. Now, though, she was Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco.

Hyperbole was unbounded. The event was pronounced "The Wedding of the Century", although Kelly reportedly referred to it as "The Carnival of the Century".

The man who is regaling me with all this information is Tony Nourmand, a 46-year-old London art gallery owner, author, publisher, editor, collector of movie memorabilia and dedicated film buff. (Since the age of four, he has spent every spare moment at the cinema.) Like most of us, the tall Iranian will never forget where he was at 11am on Friday, 29 April.

"I was at home," he says, seated on a cream sofa in his airy Notting Hill art gallery, which specialises in original movie posters. "But I was not watching the royal wedding," he adds, blokishly. However, at 11.01am, he was reading an excited text from his friend and colleague Sarah Hodgson.

It said: "She's wearing Grace Kelly's dress." Nourmand immediately switched on his TV to find that Kate Middleton had just made him a very happy man.

For his Reel Art Press's latest coffee-table book is a lavishly illustrated, 288-page celebration of Weddings and Movie Stars, with gorgeous images, many previously unseen, of Hollywood weddings: the real thing and the reel thing, including previously unpublished movie stills from the wedding scene in The Graduate, when Dustin Hoffman ran away with the bride, Katharine Ross The stars range from Elizabeth Taylor's serial marriages ("Always the bride, never the bridesmaid," she declared) to those of Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe and Sarah Jessica Parker, as well as a galaxy of other silver-screen stars in a tsunami of tulle.

While "THAT dress" was still a glint in the eye of Alexander McQueen designer Sarah Burton, Nourmand decided that he would devote the opening 16 pages of Weddings and Movie Stars to Grace Kelly's marriage.

"Kismet, huh? It was meant to be," he says as we turn the pages of the vast, sugar-pink-jacketed tome, which weighs three kilograms. ("You can't take this book to bed with you," he exclaims.) We pore over Kelly's graceful dress, which so clearly inspired Kate Middleton's choice, as Tehran-born Nourmand - who would not describe himself as one of life's fashionistas - notes with glee.

Indeed, it's just been revealed by Sarah Burton that the design was a 50-50 collaboration between her and the bride, and that the dress "has a lot of (Kate's] personality in it," strengthening the theory that Middleton "plundered," according to one fashion editor, the very photographs we are looking at to present to Burton.

"It's a gift for us. We knew everybody was going to go wedding-crazy this year so we had a very tight deadline, after coming up with the idea late last year. But we'd no notion that we would also tap into the high-fashion zeitgeist," admits Nourmand, whose team includes Edinburgh-born-and-raised Alison Elangasinghe, daughter of recently retired Edinburgh City Council chief executive Tom Aitchison and his wife, Kate.

Thirty-one-year-old Elangasinghe says she could not believe her eyes when she saw the new Duchess's frock. "It really is Grace Kelly's dress. It's particularly evident from a close-up of Kelly kneeling in prayer during the nuptial mass.

It simply proves how film stars have always influenced the way we dress."

Educated at Trinity Academy, in Edinburgh, and at Durham University, where she read History, Elangasinghe joined Reel Art after graduating nine years ago and now collaborates with Nourmand on his various publications, which have sold more than a million copies worldwide.

She wrote and researched many of the detailed captions for Weddings and Movie Stars alongside Sarah Hodgson and Carey Wallace, former specialists at Christie's auction house and experts on Hollywood memorabilia - Hodgson oversaw the sale of Audrey Hepburn's iconic black dress from Breakfast at Tiffany's. And it was Hodgson who wrote the captions for the Grace Kelly section, which is Elangasinghe's favourite - the one she'd choose to leave the book open at on her coffee table.

Now a fount of all knowledge on film-star weddings on-screen and off, Elangasinghe reveals: "Grace Kelly's dress was not designed by a couturier but by Helen Rose at MGM, who had designed her costumes for the film High Society, which came out three months after the wedding and in which she 'marries' Bing Crosby. Amazingly, Prince Rainier designed his own wedding outfit, basing it on the uniform of Napoleon's Marshals."

Which explains his unfortunate resemblance to a Ruritanian roué: powder-blue trousers with sparkly stripes, a glut of gold brocade and a chestful of decorations. Not to mention the embroidery, the tassels, the sword...

"The seed pearl-embellished wedding dress took 36 seamstresses six weeks to make," continues Elangasinghe. "The bell-shaped skirt was made of ivory peau de soie satin and the bodice was 125-year-old Valenciennces point de rose lace, which was painstakingly re-embroidered to hide the seams."

What strikes Elangasinghe - who married at Edinburgh's Roxburghe Hotel, in 2007, wearing a bias-cut, halter-neck cream dress inspired by the Hollywood movies that are the focus of her working life - is how fresh and modern Kelly's dress looks today. "Which is why Kate Middleton's dress looked so marvellous; it's classic in its simplicity."

Of all the grand unions featured in Weddings and Movie Stars - a blissful marriage of glamour and gossip - the Kelly-Rainier wedding is surely the grandest, although the opulent wedding of jazz singers Nat King Cole and Maria Ellington in New York, in 1948, cost $18,000, a small fortune then.

The ceremony in Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church was attended by more than 3,000 guests and the bride was in off-the-shoulder blue satin. The photograph of the congregation outdoes anything Cecil B DeMille might have conjured up on a Hollywood back lot.

"It must have p***ed off a lot of white people," says Nourmand, pointing to another scandalous, indeed dangerous liaison, that of the one-eyed, black Jewish, multi-talented entertainer Sammy David Jr to blonde Swedish star May Britt.

There are 18 images of the ceremony, in November, 1960, all but two have never been seen before.

Nourmand, who has sifted through tens of thousands of movie stills and wedding photographs - his nickname is "Trufflenose" - found this collection through the estate of photographer Bernie Abramson, who had been invited into the couple's house to take intimate pictures. "It was a shocking marriage at a time when inter-racial marriages were still illegal in 31 US States. Sammy received hate mail and death threats. Frank Sinatra even asked him to postpone the wedding until after the Presidential election on 8 November, so that it wouldn't affect Kennedy who was a renowned friend of the Rat Pack, at the polls." (The bride, by the way, wore silk brocade.)

The Rat Pack is the subject of a limited-edition book published last year by Nourmand, so he also had unique access to previously unpublished photographs of Sinatra (50) marrying Mia Farrow (21). The gamine bride was reputed to measure 20 inches around bust, waist and hips in her white "mod" dress, while Vidal Sassoon had just cropped her hair for the film Rosemary's Baby.

Another waif-like beauty is Audrey Hepburn (the subject of another of Nourmand's books, about her years with Paramount studios). "I think one of my favourite images in the book is of Audrey's marriage to Mel Ferrer in Switzerland in 1954. It's dreamy," he sighs. She wore a gown of white organdie by Pierre Balmain. The pictures are juxtaposed with her in a Givenchy wedding dress for the film Funny Face (1957).

The following year she and Ferrer divorced. In 1959, she married Italian psychiatrist Dr Andrea Dott. She wore a pink dress and head-scarf, also by Givenchy.

But Nourmand's biggest discovery is the solution to the mystery surrounding a picture of the 23-year-old Hepburn from 1952, when she commissioned Italian designers, the Fontana Sisters, to create an ivory satin wedding dress for her marriage to the young James (later Lord) Hansen. She broke off the engagement after being photographed in the dress - clearly bad luck. She asked the designers to give the dress to the most poor, beautiful Italian girl they could find.

They gave it to one Amabile Altobella for her marriage to farm worker Adelino Solda. Decades later Amabile revealed: "I have had a very happy marriage, so the dress brought me luck."

There are few recent marriages in Weddings and Movie Stars. "Mainly because the photographs are so bad," Nourmand reveals. "I could find nothing of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, say, or Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, that had an ounce of the glamour of Doris Day getting married in a register office, wearing no make-up and with no guests.

The only modern one I really like is of Sarah Jessica Parker in sumptuous Vivienne Westwood from the first Sex and the City movie, which we've placed opposite a happy picture of her and Matthew Broderick on their wedding day."

"She wore a black Morgana Le Fay dress, a colour choice she later said she regrets, although it's perfect the way the bouffant skirts of both dresses are mirror images," interjects Elangasinghe.

Weddings and Movie Stars is the first of a planned series of coffee-table books from Reel Art, she continues. "Movie Stars and Denim, Movie Stars and Cars, Movie Stars and Hats, Movie Stars and Fashion..."

"The possibilities are limitless," according to Nourmand, who admits to being in thrall to old-Hollywood.

"That's why I chose to put a black-and-white photograph of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart at their wedding in 1945 on the cover. To me, they have all the classic mystique of true movie stars. Sure, I'm a romantic, but they're oozing joy, and theirs was one of the few Hollywood marriages that didn't end in divorce. They were together until he died in 1957. Bacall wore a smart gold-coloured, tailored suit, but she looks so modern. She could be from the pages of a fashion magazine today."

The funniest photograph in the book? "Oh, Catherine Deneuve's wardrobe malfunction when she wed screen husband Jean-Pierre Honoré in the 1962 film Le vice et la Vertu. Her dignity was compromised when the wind lifted her skirt to reveal white lace knickers," replies Nourmand.

On the wall in his gallery is an original American poster for the 1950 Elizabeth Taylor movie, Father of the Bride, showing Taylor looking luminously beautiful in a Helen Rose dress, while "dad", Spencer Tracy, is revealing his empty pockets. It reads: The bride gets all the thrills! The father gets all the bills!"

Maybe, Nourmand and I agree, Carole Middleton should buy it for husband Michael - even if he didn't quite get all the bills.

The Scotsman

23 May, 2011

Jackie McGlone