Friday 8 March 2013


There's a fabulous exhibition at the Belmacz Gallery in London, celebrating the life of the Swedish Hollywood legend, Greta Garbo. Miss G: The Private World of Greta Garbo showcases designs from the film star's wardrobe, alongside artworks and decorative pieces from her personal collection. It is a great insight into the world of the silver screen actress and runs until 19th March. 

Nominated four times for an Academy Award for Best Actress, Garbo made her mark in Hollywood at MGM studios in silent movies, such as Torrent (1926), and became known for her dramatic facial expressions and her ability to convey emotion with just the lowering of an eyelid. With her cool Nordic beauty and husky voice, Garbo switched effortlessly to talking movies and is remembered for her dramatic roles in Anna Christie (1930) and Grand Hotel (1932).

The legendary Swedish actress in Mata Hari (1931), photographed by 
her favourite MGM photographer, Clarence Sinclair Bull
Photo credit

Garbo in The Painted Veil (1934) by Clarence Sinclair Bull
Photo credit

Garbo was one of MGM's highest paid actresses, starring in 23 films, including Queen Christina (1933), regarded as her most celebrated role. The romantic comedy Ninotchka (1939) was Garbo's first comedy and helped transpose her image from the serious, melancholy Swede, to an actress with all-round appeal.

Sadly this was her last successful film. With her later movies failing to make their mark, Garbo became increasingly reclusive and finally quit acting at 35. The actress had always shunned publicity and continued to do so throughout her life, becoming synonymous with one of her lines in Grand Hotel (1932) -  'I want to be alone'.

Although most of Garbo's opulent film costumes were designed by MGM's chief costume designer Gilbert Adrian, the actress was known for her highly individual dress sense, favouring masculine tailoring, camel- and trench coats plus flat lace-up shoes. She also wore elegant yet stark couture dresses by her friend and neighbour, the Russian couturier Valentina Schlee

Garbo in Woman of Affairs (1928), photographed by Louise Ruth Harriet,
the first female photographer to capture the allure of Hollywood

Photo caption

The actress in relaxed mode in Ninotchka (1939), wearing mannish trousers and simple flat shoes.
Photographed by Clarence Sinclair Bull
Photo caption

Her influence as a style icon lives on, and the exhibition orgasnisers, Belmacz designer Julia Muggenburg and fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave, commissioned leading footwear designer, Manolo Blahnik, and milliner, Stephen Jones, to choose designs that epitomise Garbo today. 

To coincide with the exhibition, I asked  Bronwyn Cosgrave for her thoughts on Garbo, the style icon:

How would you sum-up Greta Garbo in fashion terms?
As an MGM leading lady, Greta Garbo was hugely influential on and offscreen. The costume epics she made continue to be remade such as Anna Karenina, most recently, which just won the costume design Academy Award. Gilbert Adrian garbing her in men’s tailored clothes for a Woman Of Affairs and Queen Christina was ahead of its time. The former film put the trench coat on the map. Designers continue to reference that look. Offscreen Garbo was among the handful of women, including Katherine Hepburn and Coco Chanel, who popularised wearing trousers. I felt that the time was right for the exhibition partly because of the preponderance of trousers on the Spring/Summer 2013 runways from Celine to Gucci. Today Stephen Jones considers as an ongoing inspiration the opulent headgear which Gilbert Adrian made for Garbo to wear in films like Mata Hari. The one Stephen made for Miss G. references the look of the hat Garbo flaunted in Ninotchka.

Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas get close in Ninotchka (1939)
Photo credit

Stephen Jones' modernist ski cap designed for Miss G and modelled on the quirky
hat Garbo wore in Ninotchka

Why do you think the actress is such a fashion inspiration today?
Her mystique. As Miss G illuminates - with the Manolo Blahnik shoe - Garbo was not a recluse. She went walking everyday around uptown Manhattan. But she shielded herself from the paparazzi wearing hats and dark glasses. She also never gave interviews following her retirement. This created a general fascination with Garbo, which has continued decades after her passing in 1991.

An image from a newspaper clipping showing Garbo in trademark sunglasses and one of
the black straw hats she favoured for shielding from the public eye

The suede brogues that Manolo Blahnik selected from Autumn/Winter 2013
collection for Miss G, as tribute to Garbo's androgynous style

Which is your favourite piece in the exhibition?
The painting of daffodils by HervĂ© Villechaize. He was the actor who played Nick Nack in The Man With the Golden Gun. He was Garbo’s friend and she hung his painting next to her masterworks, or so the story goes. Garbo amassed a world class art collection, some say, with counsel from the physician and chemist Albert C. Barnes, who built the world renowned Barnes Collection of Impressionist and Modernist paintings

Is there an actress today who you think embodies Greta Garbo's style?
No. I think she was a one-off, like Marlene Dietrich.

The enduring beauty of Greta Garbo in As You Desire Me (1932) 
by Clarence Sinclair Bull
Photo credit

A wonderful and typically illusive shot of Greta Garbo on holiday in 1932,
photographed by Martin Munkacsi
Photo credit

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please don't spam. Spam comments are not approved.