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The Colorful Secret Life of Greta Garbo

An estate auction reveals the private icon's love of the color pink, healthy gadgets like a juicer and, yes, many pairs of her signature trousers.

Think of Greta Garbo and "I want to be left alone" -- the line she uttered as an aging ballerina in 1932's Grand Hotel -- springs to mind. But an extraordinary auction Dec. 14 and 15 in Beverly Hills at Juliens Auction House (juliensauctions.com) of 853 possessions amassed by the legendary Swedish beauty reveals that the mysterious, solitary MGM icon had a more whimsical side. Specifically, a pink side, given that the perky shade permeated her extensive wardrobe and lavish Upper East Side apartment in New York.

Derek Reisfield, sale organizer and Garbo's great-nephew (she never married and had no children), recalls a "fantastically witty person" who, even in pink, embodied a tailored, classic look. Suits, dresses, coats and 67 pairs of trousers -- which she helped innovate as an acceptable form of women's dress -- populate the auction's offerings, underlining her devotion to clean lines and stark silhouettes, pieces that wouldn't look out of place on a Jil Sander runway (see sidebar).

Garbo's sleek style evolved as a reaction to being gowned in finery by MGM's chief costumer Gilbert Adrian in such period classics as Queen Christina and Anna Karenina. Her friend Valentina Schlee, the stern Russian couturier, wisely counseled her close friend to "dress for the century, not the moment."

Garbo famously retired from Hollywood in 1942 at age 36. This collection also provides a rare view into her personal life in New York, where paparazzo Ron Galella pursued her. After Garbo died in 1990 at age 84, Reisfield -- who fondly remembers doing cartwheels with Garbo when she was in her 60s -- preserved his great aunt's estate, seeking to place it in a museum. When that goal was not realized, the family decided to auction its contents, which also include home furnishings, original photos from her MGM days, a pair of vintage skis and her 1984 passport.

Garbo's lifelong commitment to her fitness and nutrition is illuminated by the sale's intriguing midcentury paraphernalia, from her floral all-in-one yoga costume to the food scale and juicer she used in her kitchen. "Garbo was ahead of her time," says Reisfield. "She was always sending me wheat germ when I was a kid."

FOR SKIN LIKE GARBO

In her heyday, Garbo entrusted her face to celebrity dermatologist (and friend) Erno Laszlo. His company, now 85, recently was relaunched in New York, with a skin care clinic overseen by Park Avenue plastic surgeon Scott Wells. Its Velvet Night Cream ($175) contains hyaluronic acid as a plumper and shea butter for serious moisturizing.

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GRETA GARBO'S STYLE, REBORN ON THE RUNWAY: Tailored classics like the nipped-waist suits and pencil skirts that the reclusive actress favored offscreen were prominent in the ready-to-wear and couture shows of the past two seasons.

  • A sleek Ralph Lauren Fall 2012 suit, much like many in Garbo's estate.
  • Garbo loved to belt coats, like the Dior Couture Fall 2012 look.
  • Dior's Spring 2013 RTW show was filled with fitted Garbo-like suits.
  • Miu Miu's Fall 2012 pajama suit is similar to many in her collection.
  • Garbo donned tunics and pants like the Gucci Spring 2013 ensemble.
  • The Jil Sander Fall 2012 swing coat is just like ones Garbo owned.

 

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