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Star quality shines from style icon's memorabilia

Lucinda O'Sullivan grabbed the chance to view items once owned by Greta Garbo on display at Newbridge Silverware

WHAT'S the connection between a man from Athlone and the legendary movie star, Greta Garbo, you might well ask.

Martin Nolan, who was born in Kiltoom outside Athlone, is executive director of Julien's Auctions in California, and has collaborated with the estate of Greta Garbo and Newbridge Silver to bring an exhibition of property from the estate to the Newbridge Silverware Museum of Style Icons. It is an amazing opportunity to see over 100 pieces, ranging from china to clothes, which belonged to the much-loved star.

This exhibition runs until Friday, November 16, after which the collection will return to the US on the Queen Mary 2. It will then be auctioned at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills over four sessions on Friday, December 14, and Saturday, December 15, live and online, so you too can bid if you wish to have a piece of world-class memorabilia.

"I want to be alone," were the immortal words attributed to the legendary Swedish star when she shocked the world by retiring from movies in 1941 at the early age of 36, to live a private life shunning all publicity.

Born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden, Garbo started work at an early age in a department store -- where she was soon modelling. Having studied at theatre school in Stockholm, she was eventually spotted by Louis B Mayer of MGM, and moved to America.

Her career started out in silent movies, but she will be best remembered for playing legendary heroines such as Queen Christina, Camille, Anna Karenina, and Ninotchka, always bedecked in magnificent gowns and looking quite extraordinarily unobtainable and beautiful.

Garbo never married, but she did have a number of affairs, notably with John Gilbert, a major star of the time, and later with George Schlee, a Russian millionaire -- a rather enigmatic relationship, as Schlee's wife, Valentina, was not only a friend of Garbo's but a noted fashion designer who created some of the wonderful garments you can see in Newbridge.

The trio lived in the same apartment block in New York, and it is said he moved between the two of them until his death in 1964.

Certainly, Schlee seems to have advised her well when it came to her financial affairs because she died reputedly leaving an estate of $32m to her niece and sole heiress Gray Reisfield.

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Her great nephew, Derek Reisfield, opened the exhibition in Newbridge, and will be a featured speaker providing an insight into Garbo's life, her film career and her position as a cultural icon. He will then sail with the collection on the Queen Mary 2.

This is an exhibition of interest not only to movie buffs but to serious fashionistas. The facility at Newbridge is amazing and also carries a large range of clothes worn by icons and movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Vivien Leigh and Michael Jackson. The toile of Princess Diana's wedding dress is among the items.

But Garbo's wardrobe is quite different. You look at so many of her clothes and think, 'That could be worn right now.' She had the cool, elegant style of a supermodel: everything is classy, everything is timeless and understated, from the superb range of elegant black cocktail dresses, to the classic turtlenecks, trousers and trench coats.

She was one of the first women to wear the designs of Emilio Pucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Givenchy and many others. She had an unerring eye. It was perhaps a little sad and nostalgic to see some items such as a small collection of mechanical toys to which she must have had an attachment.

Martin Nolan arrived in America, an unknown from Ireland, in 1989, having won a Donnelly visa.

"I am one of the last people who should be in Hollywood," he laughs.

He started working originally for Hilton Hotels and then trained as a stockbroker. In 2004 he met Darren Julien, who was in New York working on the Johnny Cash auction with Sotheby's, and the two got together business-wise, growing the business of Julien's Auctions.

"Darren is the marketing man and I'm the finance man," Nolan says.

The pair have greatly increased the number of auctions each year, handling collections from all of the major stars including Bette Midler, Cher, Larry Hagman and the upcoming auction of property from the collection of Ronnie and Jo Wood.

And so to Newbridge Silverware, which in itself is an admirable story of enterprise, and of moving with the times.

Newbridge Silver has been a stalwart employer of the eponymous Kildare town since its establishment in 1934. There probably wasn't a home in Ireland that didn't have a canteen of King's Pattern Newbridge cutlery in the sideboard to be used on those State occasions.

The company survived good times and bad, but really took off in the Nineties when the reins of the family business were taken over by William Doyle, who brought a whole new modern concept in design and ideas.

In 1995 the company made probably the most defining decision since its inception by introducing jewellery to its range. This appealed to a whole new generation and really took off.

Since then Newbridge has introduced the Princess Grace Jewellery Collection endorsed by the Princess Grace Foundation. It's a stunningly beautiful classic range with lots of pearls and crystals,and has been proving very popular with brides.

Everyone wants to look like a princess on their big day -- and they can. Indeed, Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco have visited the Newbridge operation.

Newbridge has since introduced a range of jewellery in conjunction with that great Irish Hollywood actress Maureen O'Hara, recreating the fire and drama of many of her favourite pieces of jewellery. I particularly loved these pieces. They really are quite spectacular -- from a stunning sapphire statement pendant to really beautiful vintage clear stone earrings.

Newbridge has worked with many famous names and beauties, including supermodel Yasmin Le Bon, Sophie Dahl and Linda Gray. But what really impressed me (and I'd never realised it before visiting the Newbridge Showrooms) is the amazing range and breadth of jewellery and household items the company creates, and in my opinion all very well priced.

Also very interesting are the vintage pieces that Newbridge has bought back from the open market and restored which are on display in the sleek black lacquer Art Deco showroom.

The whole experience at Newbridge makes for a great day out: a stunning museum of style icons which you won't see anywhere else. It has an amazing range of silverware, modern, vintage and historic -- and once you have taken all of that in, you can retire to the Silver Restaurant, which is run by Natalie Collins and where the food is excellent.

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