Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Greta Garbo - the Beauty and the Enigma...

"When Garbo walked out of the studio, glamour went with her..."

(Gilbert Adrian, Chief Costume Designer of MGM Studios)

With the face that made many men fall in love with her and women wish to be her...Greta Garbo was the epitome of beauty, style and glamour.  One of the iconic stars of the Hollywood age, she captured hearts and yet never let anyone capture her own.  Garbo is forever associated with a line from Grand Hotel, one which the American Film Institute in 2005 voted the 30th most memorable movie quote of all time,[93] "I want to be alone, I just want to be alone", a theme echoed in several other roles. For example, in Love (1927) a title card reads, "I like to be alone"; in The Single Standard (1929) her character says, "I am walking alone because I want to be alone"; in the same film, she sails to the South Seas with her lover on a boat called the All Alone; in Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise) (1931) she says to a suitor, "This time I rise... and fall... alone"; in Inspiration (1931) she tells a fickle lover, "I just want to be alone for a little while"; in Mata Hari (1931) she says to her new amour, "I never look ahead. By next spring I shall probably be... quite alone"; and in Ninotchka (1939) the motif is lampooned when emissaries from Russia ask her, "Do you want to be alone, comrade"? "No", she says. By the early 1930s, the phrase had become indelibly linked to Garbo's public and private personae.

An auction was held on 14-15 December 2012 at Julien Auctions (Los Angeles) of  some personal items from the Greta Garbo estate.  It has raised a rumoured total of $1.6 million.  With my love for vintage, I would love to have made some bids at this auction.  Imagine owning a bit of history.  Vintage is great because you know there was a story behind each piece, someone loved, cried or laughed wearing the piece and with your purchase, you continue that story.  Unfortunately, my bank balance said "No..."  (Imagine Little Britain's "The Computer says Nooooo..." voice)  So with my imaginary plentiful bank balance, here is my wishlist from the auction:

Louis Vuitton Steam Trunk

I love, love, love vintage trunks, they make me imagine epic voyages on steam trains and steam boats.  I start to want to become an Agatha Christie's character!  Louis Vuitton's luggage is the epitome of class and elegance.  Can you imagine the luggage envy that this would raise as you casually mention "Yes, it belonged to Greta Garbo..."

A Definite Case of Luggage Envy:  Trunk by Louis Vuitton
(Image from Julien's Auctions)

Pearl and Cross Necklace

Gorgeous piece that you could imagine stacking with some other equally gorgeous vintage pieces.  I love the fact that it has Greta Garbo  inscribed on the clasp.  Hollywood stars definitely were very into their own personal brand!  Produced for Greta Garbo Inc., this is one star who would not have endorsed a tacky, cheap perfume which ends up in the bargain bins!  

18ct gold and pearl necklace and matching earrings
(Photo from Julien's Auctions)

Various Pieces by Valentina

In the auction, there are several pieces of clothing and hats by Valentina.  Valentina Nicholaevna Sanina Schlee (1 May 1899 – 14 September 1989), known professionally simply as Valentina, became a prominent member of cafĂ© society during the Roaring Twenties, where Valentina "stood out for her clothes and her style. When other women were wearing short skirts, she appeared in floor-length styles; when others wore low-neck dresses, she wore covered-up styles."
Valentina opened a small couture dress house, Valentina's Gowns on Madison Avenue in 1928. Her first stage commission was costumes for Judith Anderson in 1933's Come of Age. The costumes were better received than the play, and established her reputation as a designer for the stage.   Valentina dressed such actresses of the era as Lynn Fontanne, Katharine Cornell, Greta Garbo,Gloria Swanson, Gertrude Lawrence, and Katharine Hepburn. Her Broadway successes included the costumes for the stage version of The Philadelphia Story. She also dressed prominent New York society women including members of the Whitney and Vanderbilt families.  In 1950 Valentina also introduced a perfume, "My Own".
Valentina's made-to-measure, flowing styles combined the intricate bias cut of Madeleine Vionnet and the grace of gowns by Alix Gres. "Simplicity survives the changes of fashion," she said in the late 1940s. "Women of chic are wearing now dresses they bought from me in 1936. Fit the century, forget the year."

Valentina was a skilled self-promoter. She modeled her own designs and rarely let her dramatic, elegant air of self-possession falter. Valentina was always impeccably turned out, earning her a mention on the International Best Dressed List.
Not only are the pieces in exquisite condition and exude timeless elegance which could be worn any year, there is extra spice added to the provenance of these pieces as Valentina eventually had a feud with Garbo due to Garbo's long friendship with Valentina's husband, the financier George Shlee.  In fact, an elaborate schedule was set up so that Valentina would not encounter Garbo in the building where they both resided.

Trio of Straw Hats by Valentina
(Photo from Julien's Auctions)

Newspaper clipping of Garbo wearing a straw hat similar to the one which was in the auction
(Photo from Julien's Auctions)


Every woman should have a great light coloured coat and this one is particularly beautiful.  Designed by the couturier Valentina for Garbo, the simple classic lines emphasizes the quality of the garment.  Not one for the trend setter, this coat is one which a woman could wear year in and year out.  To mix things up a bit, a dark coloured leather belt could be used to further highlight a cinched in waist.  Considering that this was made circa 1957, this has definitely withstood the test of time!

"Beige" Coat by Valentina
(Photo from Julien's Auctions)

The beauty of buying at auction is that you are buying a bit of history.  However, buying vintage is always a bit of a gamble.  Fabric can become frayed and discoloured over time, sizes can differ throughout the different decades and there is a certain smell that comes with vintage clothing.  Buyers beware...

Julien's Auctions Catalog for the Greta Garbo Sale
(Photo from Julien's Auctions)

For the full auction catalog please click here.


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