Larry McQueen Notes: Restoration of Greta Garbo’s Gown

“Garbo had left Hollywood and had returned to Sweden when she was coaxed back to play the role of the sometimes cross-dressing queen of Sweden.


Adrian created magnificent and masculine raiments for his favorite star. Garbo had wanted to include more about the bisexuality of Queen Christina, but because of the codes of the time, much of that story line was cut from the film.  But, when watching the film, Garbo and Adrian do manage to get some of her original intent into the film. The superb court gown, which is more like a suit of armor, displays this quality and there is little doubt that “something” is going on with her hand maiden.”

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“This gown, however beautiful, was a production nightmare.  Garbo complained that the gown gave her a headache because of its weight (approx. 60 lbs.) and heat.  The light that was reflected from the embroidery caused problems with the lighting and the sound of the gown dragging across the floor made it impossible for anyone to speak while Garbo walked.  The studio, no doubt complained because of the cost.  But it was for Garbo. “

garbo_pendant0 “The gown is an elaborate two-piece period gown of beige velvet consisting of a fitted bodice with Eugene neckline and full-sleeves trimmed with crocheted cuffs and a matching skirt with a slight train.  The garment is lavishly embroidered with a geometric tile motif of paste diamonds, emeralds, gold bullion and various other stones at collar, down the bodice front, sleeves, down front of skirt and around skirt hem and weighs in excess of 60 pounds. Before purchase, the gown was restored for an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute and the original silk pane velvet was replaced by a cotton velvet.”


“The fashions created for Queen Christian created a sensation at the time and were toured as part of the promotion for the film.  Garbo did a large number of “fashion publicity stills” in the majority of the costumes in the film, except for the court gown, which again, may have been for her dislike of the gown.”

“The re-creation of the necklace for the costume was somewhat difficult.  Very little detail is shown in photos or film footage.  In watching the film for information on the necklace, it is interesting that one of the handmaidens that is helping the character get dressed puts on the necklace backwards.  In the next shot, it has been corrected. 

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The look for the necklace was to blend into the beadwork on the collar and not stand out or demand too much attention.  Since the film was in black and white and shows none of the color of the original gown or beadwork, it had to be decided what color the necklace should be.  That was decided by trying to pick a plating that would best blend with the beaded ornamentation of the dress. It was obviously based on some historical piece in the time period, but it was also a studio constructed piece of jewelry which did not always follow the construction style of period pieces.  The necklace was constructed with both in mind.”

As a designer, it was very important to have the pendant match the look and feel of what we saw in the film. Knowing what the gown looks like now and studying the film clips we decided to match the hematite gems in the gown. We then added garnets as center of the small flowers knowing that the original had dark centers. We could not find any records for the gems used in the original.

Another great project with Larry McQueen.


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