How Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock Made a Mark Cross Bag Iconic
When the luxury leather goods brand opens a New York flagship in November, the location will feature Grace bag customization and a color theme inspired by Kelly's look in 'Rear Window.'
Grace Kelly's style, beauty and poise inspired not one, but two famous handbags. Of course, there is the famed Hermès Kelly bag, but American luxury brand Mark Cross also named a bag after the American actress turned princess who defined 1950s Hollywood style. The Grace bag — now popular with Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga and Rihanna — became famous after its appearance in the 1954 movie Rear Window directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Kelly and James Stewart.
Coincidentally timed to the film's 65th anniversary, Mark Cross is opening a flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York this November, marking the brand's first boutique opening since then-owner Sara Lee shuttered all seven stores in the '90s and the business until it was resurrected in 2011 by Neal J. Fox.
The flagship will feature a Grace bag customization area and personalization services, such as small leather goods that can be added to a belt and stamped engraving. The opening also marks the debut of a new version of the popular bag, called the Box Belt bag, which takes its cues from the famous overnight case and can be worn four different ways — as a belt bag; high crossbody, chain cross body or a simple clutch.
CEO and president Ulrik Garde Due says that the savvy luxury consumer is looking for "authenticity with a rich history but with a relevance to today's lifestyle." He also plans to evolve America's oldest luxury brand into a lifestyle brand. "In the old Mark Cross stores, you could find all sorts of gift and objects for the home, which was a part of the Murphys' lifestyle," referring to former Mark Cross president Gerald Murphy (whose father owned the company) and his wife Sara, whose fabled lifestyle in Cap d'Antibes at their home, Villa America, became fodder for friends and writers Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The couple was Fitzgerald's inspiration for the characters Dick and Nicole Diver in his book Tender Is the Night.
While fancy desk accessories were de rigueur in those days — Hitchcock was known to have Mark Cross desk accessories and travel gear — today's consumer is looking for the digital version; think luxury laptop covers and iPhone cases. Garde also told The Hollywood Reporter that the store will feature soft accessories and launch Mark Cross jewelry for the first time.
The decor of the 2,500-square-foot store will prominently feature the colors celadon green and red, linking Kelly's outfit and makeup choices in the film to the now-famous Grace Box Bag. "In my career, I've learned how important it is to have a color linked to the brand — Hermès has orange; Cartier, red. We are going to take ownership of this beautiful celadon green and red, which will be very visible for the brand," said Due.
Red, the color of Kelly's signature lipstick in the film, is also the hue of the interiors of all Mark Cross bags with one exception. The like-for-like re-creation of the original overnight case (whereabouts unknown) that Hitchcock commissioned for the film came directly from one owned by Gerald Murphy. The bag made a cameo during a racy moment as Kelly's character pulls out her negligee. "In 1954 it was pretty daring to pull out your lingerie, but with her class and style, she pulls it off," Due said. The interior of that bag was brown in the film, as is today's re-creation.
In a nod to the brand's connection to the arts, the new store will host an Artist in Residence program in support of New York Foundation for the Arts with "10 wonderful females." The yet-to-be disclosed five mentors and five young upcoming artists will rotate collaborations to customize (and create, in some cases) limited editions of the iconic Grace bags.
"There was a strong artistic intimacy between Gerald and Sara and the artists of the Lost Generation," said Due, adding "With Hitchcock, there was a particular connection in terms of talking about the world and things through pictures. Gerald, a prominent artist [in the 1920s], was also very visual in expressing his work."
Hitchcock serendipitously chose the perfect actress to debut this now-iconic bag. "Being an American luxury brand rich in history, Mark Cross is also a very cosmopolitan brand. While the Murphys made themselves the king and queen of Monaco, Grace Kelly's life was parallel to that, too, as she established her post-movie career as the real princess of Monaco. She really represents the American dream," Due said.