The Private Life of Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo led a surprising double life during her time as an icon of mid-century glamour; unlike her Old Hollywood peers, Garbo’s private life was not rife with hedonism, deceit, and decadence. “Miss G.,” a deeply personal retrospective exhibition that opens today at Belmacz Gallery in London, brings to light just how unexpectedly simple the star’s private life was.

“She always was sensible,” explains curator Julia Muggenburg, who organized the show alongside fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave. “Hollywood didn’t turn her around. It didn’t mess up this simplicity.” That’s not to say that Garbo was austere or ascetic—as much is evident in the collection of personal effects on display from her Upper East Side apartment. “She was looking for warmth all the time,” Muggenburg clarifies. “I was always thinking that there was this cold reserved-ness, but when you look behind the scenes, you see this love of certain colors. There’s this swimming-pool aqua blue, and this strong Valentina pink.” Among other surprises are a playful floral-print one-in-all and matching headband that Garbo would sport for her daily yoga routine, and a simple pink-and-white striped apron for the kitchen.

What struck Muggenburg most was the modernity in Garbo’s disposition for play and comfort. “I could imagine a London girl wearing this on the road and nobody would flinch,” she offers. “Now she might wear it with pixie boots and a little beret or something.” That thought inspired another set of contributions to the exhibition: contemporary designs by Manolo Blahnik and Stephen Jones—a pair of two-tone suede brogues and a jersey ski cap, respectively—all meant to underscore the unorthodox but enduring charm of Garbo’s aesthetic.

Perhaps the most intriguing portion of the exhibition is a selection from her private art collection. “It’s a little bit wonderful and silly,” says Muggenburg of an acrylic composition by the Garbo’s Musée des Beaux Arts-trained friend and fellow actor, Hervé Villechaize. It pictures a crop of flowers rendered in yellow and white, each with a small mirror at their center. “When you look at the panting, you see yourself,” Muggenburg offers. The same could be said for most pieces on view in the exhibition, which altogether make an intimate and relatable character out of a historic Hollywood icon.

“Miss G., The Private World of Greta Garbo” opens tonight at Belmacz Gallery, London, and will remain on view through March 19.