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Garbo as Style Icon

A recently opened exhibition sponsored by Salvatore Ferragamo at Milan’s Triennale celebrates Greta Garbo as fashion and style icon.

In many ways Salvatore Ferragamo’s story is a bit like a movie plot with a protagonist who manages to turn the dream of a life – becoming a famous shoe designer – true. It was only natural then for Massimiliano Giornetti, Ferragamo’s creative director, to get the inspiration for the Autumn/Winter 2010-11 collection from the house’s most famous clients, the actresses who so much loved Ferragamo’s shoes, and in particular from Greta Garbo. Giornetti’s luxurious trench coats, capes and suits characterised by clean lines and matched with fedora hats called indeed to mind the style of Garbo, the timeless icon.

Ferragamo’s connection with the Swedish actress continues in an exhibition that has just opened at Milan’s Triennale. Sponsored by the Italian fashion label, “Greta Garbo. Il mistero dello stile” (Greta Garbo. The Mystery of Style) traces the connections between Salvatore Ferragamo and the Swedish actress while showcasing also film costumes, rare garments and accessories from the actress’s own wardrobe.

Born in 1898 near Naples, Ferragamo moved to America when he was just 16. Working first in Santa Barbara and then in Hollywood, he soon became popular among many motion picture actresses. In 1927, just before going back to Italy and setting up his business in Florence, Ferragamo created a pair of made-to-measure shoes for Greta Garbo. Many years passed before the shoe designer and “The Divine” met again: in 1949, the actress visited Ferragamo’s shop in Florence. Since she didn’t have any proper shoes, but only a pair of cord sandals, she turned to the designer for help. In five sittings Ferragamo designed for her a series of low-heeled shoes, among them also a red calfskin sandal with ankle straps that the actress simply loved. In that occasion Garbo bought around 70 pairs of shoes.

“Greta Garbo. The Mystery of Style” analyses the actress’ continuing association with fashion and her transformation into a prominent on-screen style icon. Throughout the ‘20s Garbo identified with the style of the Art Deco trend: fans may remember the shot from Monta Bell’s The Torrent that marked the birth of Garbo the Art Deco Diva, in which she appeared with a metallic lame full-length evening coat trimmed with fur.

Many designs exhibited are directly borrowed from Garbo’s own wardrobe, among them also Givenchy’s classic grey suits and Emilio Pucci’s sporty shantung pants matched with a colourful cotton blouse; Louis Vuitton’s timeless cases and Ferragamo shoes, such as ‘Greta’ characterised by a stitchless upper, soft toe and simple clasp, and ‘Darana’, a velvet ballerina shoe. Four models of shoes that Ferragamo originally designed for Garbo – closed-toe wedge ‘Attica’, round-toe meshed rope sandal ‘Cistia’, evening slipper ‘Darana’ and lace-up ballerina shoe ‘Ravello’ – and that will be offered as part of the Ferragamo’s Creations Collection, are also premiered at the Triennale. Photography fans will instead find interesting the study in Garbo’s physiognomy included in the exhibition, carried out through portraits of the diva taken by Clarence Sinclair Bull and Cecil Beaton.

Garbo’s style and independence undoubtedly contributed to create a new alphabet of style, both on and off screen. “I walk alone because I want to walk alone,” Garbo’s Arden Stuart stated in The Single Standard, yet throughout her life she definitely walked in style, also thanks to Ferragamo’s shoes.  
“Greta Garbo. The Mystery of Style”, is at Milan’s Triennale until 4th April 2010. From May to September 2010, the exhibition will move to the Florence-based Ferragamo Museum.