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The above quoted words were the ones used by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby, to define a flapper. Originally “flapper” meant a fledgling in the nest attempting to fly and was a throwaway label for an awkward young girl just getting her social graces on. Baz Luhrmann’s theatrical version of the novel premiered May 1, 2013 and suddenly everyone is thinking Art Deco jewels. Tiffany’s cinematic contribution to the movie was heavy handed, highly commercial, and loaded down Carey Mulligan’s Daisy in jewels that made her appear more satiric than screen siren. Perhaps that was the point. Aren’t the protagonists in Fitzgerald’s novel as much caricatures as they are glittering alloys of personality and social status? It has been said that West Egg was inspired by Kings Point (Great Neck), New York. I was born and raised in Great Neck, and it was a community point of pride that Fitzgerald lived briefly in our suburban hamlet. In Gatsby, the author describes the area’s familiar topography, “It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest communities in North America. It was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York — and where there are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. They are not perfect ovals — like egg in the Columbus story, they are both crushed flat at the contact end — but their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual wonder to the gulls that fly overhead. To the windless a more interesting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size.”
The jewels of the Art Deco period reflected status as much as it embraced world culture and fashion. Designs in jewelry incorporated Egyptian, African, Indian, Native American, and Asian influences. Elements of artistic movements like Cubism and Modernism can also be found in brooches, bracelets, rings, and necklaces. The idea of functional, modern clothing was introduced. No more torturous hourglass corsets — the women’s rights movements saw to that. Then there was the display of leg: the first exposure of a lower limb in centuries. Much of what a flapper wore was in response to the times in which she lived. After World War I and the loss of so many men, women weren’t waiting around for a suitor to come calling as they had in decades past. Young women sought freedom from the conventions that were no longer relevant to their lives, and well, took a few more liberties too. The feminine curves and innocence of the Gibson Girl gave way to the lithe Garconne, a boyish, linear silhouette with a flattened bustline. These waistless dresses paired naturally with long chains, known as a sautoir, and pendant earrings. And when she moved, everything went “swish.”
These ladies made me smile, particularly the one in the middle. Her pants took her a half an hour to get on and you should have seen them…! Leather and shoe laces tied from waist to ankle. When I admired them by the coffee/tea service, she actually stopped to tell me about them. What a DIVINE woman! She had it all going on. At the end of the opening remarks, she posed, along with her friends, for the photogs and I couldn’t resist taking a snap of the three of them myself. I’m sure someone will tell me who she was eventually, and I will die of embarrassment for not knowing but more thrilled for having the wherewithal to stop and pay her the compliment she so deserved. When I grow up, I want to be just like her. Watching these ladies makes you think that style and life are meant to be enjoyed much longer than we commonly believe. Who gives a rat’s posterior if someone else doesn’t agree. They can shift their gaze anywhere else.
The exhibit was fun, funny, ironic, donnish, and veneral (not necessarily in the STD way, see the dictionary). The clothes are sexy — exposed flesh is everywhere and in the case of one dress, I’m not sure you can really define it as clothing. The entire front of the dress is missing and a diaphanous yet completely transparent textile drapes the back of the body. One woman asked, earnestly, if they ran out of time to dress the mannequin. Other pieces where held together with the global symbol of punk: a safety pin. According to one one wall text, the safety pin was used as a way to keep your “bum” inside your pants when they got a hole in them. I wrote the book on pins and brooches and the idea of using one in the 20th century, instead of needle and thread or a tailor, never presented itself. So simple a solution. PUNK, the exhibition, is erudition at its finest. And actually, I do mean this, because this is a brave show to mount and in a way that makes very clear sense of what would otherwise appear as hellions with a rubbish fetish. They even recreated the men’s restroom at CBGB, complete with grime, grim lighting, and dirty commodes in need of nothing short of sandblasting. I won’t publish the image provided by the Met, you can use your own imagination.
As for jewelry, there wasn’t any, except to say that I was taken with the way metal spikes, safety pins, and bolts were used in a conventionally ornamental way on clothing. Traditional jewelry elements like pearls and rhinestones were used to create an inventive vest/jacket, and broken plates were strung together to make a vest yet hung like a necklace on the body. Piercings were not a part of the exhibit, per se, although obviously they were and have become pretty mainstream (unusual applications notwithstanding). Not much jewelry in the gift shop either, interestingly, and what was there was primarily of the aforementioned safety pin variety. Temporary hair dye in bold colors was also on offer (seventy-two year old designer Zandra Rhodes was there with a fuchsia bob — gotta love it), so was the catalog which was nicely put together.
According to the New York Times’ Eric Wilson, the opening of the Met’s Costume Institute’s new show, PUNK: CHAOS TO COUTURE, has Monday night’s gala attendees wondering what to wear. I’m only going to the press preview for the exhibit so my vintage Norma Kamali silk black and white shirt dress should pass muster. My son and his girlfriend will be attending the party Monday night. Hipsters don’t sweat this stuff. They simply wear their brand of insouciance, oh, and some pretty cool duds too, although at the time of writing the jury is still out on exactly what. It won’t be punk inspired, of that I’m sure. As Eric Wilson noted, it’s an exhibit opening, not a costume party.
Anyway, just thought I’d offer up my take on how punk resonates now in jewelry. Wikipedia said punk was a response to the Beat Generation, anarchism, disco, heavy metal, progressive and “arena” rock. It also said that the Sex Pistols were viewed as Dickensian and Garage rock was the first form of punk rock. Vivienne Westwood took part, but hasn’t she always been the rebel belle? Ah, history as seen in the rear view, seems to need neat little categories with which to pigeonhole Pop Culture. Punk was an amalgam of influences that still resonate, except that we now examine and refine it (or commercialize it) via xray-sensitive acuity instead of responding to raw instinct.
What captures our imagination when it comes to the style of women who have written, brilliantly, and at the same time show little evidence of affectation as their fame rises to the surface of our collective consciousness? Jewelry style is telling in so many ways. I’ve stated here before that wearing a necklace or a pair of earrings is utterly optional — it is a choice that rests squarely on our whims, our taste, our momentary satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, with the world. What wearing jewelry says about us — or doesn’t say, at least openly — is up to us. I came across an image of Lena Dunham at the Time 100 Party and then I Googled images of her in other public venues and I couldn’t help but admire her self-possessed ease.
She wears small(-ish) diamond earrings with her cute crop. I like the low key luxe look she sports at these events. Fine but not too flashy. A necklace acts like punctuation to the end of her ironically un-A-list persona. Writer Georges Sand possessed a similar style –even with her jewelry — a definitive and strong look that wasn’t anywhere near as masculine as was her pen name. In 1862, Sand’s play, Le Pavé (The Paving Stone) was performed and it was Sand who forced open doors that were previously and perennially shut to women. She sported men’s clothing in public, justifying her style by saying that men’s clothing was less expensive and longer lasting than women’s (arguably true today), and smoked in public too (another scandalous taboo). Yet her jewelry was feminine: pendant earrings, a bold, jewel headpiece, a sensuous necklace that slipped down the center of her chest.
LD, who could count herself as scion of Sand’s literary descent, wears what she likes, unless it’s for a fashion shoot and even then you can’t help but notice the young woman before the clothes or the accessories. Why? Because the earrings, necklace, or bracelet becomes her rather than the other way around. This is how jewelry was worn by women who have become icons such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onaissis, Babe Paley, Coco Chanel, et al. Paving stones lead the way, some are new and bright, others patinated by the steps of others that followed. All that advice you read in magazines and online? Toss it. No jewel will look better on you than what you bring to it.
Can there be an apothegm about gold, an expression or saying that defines it in the proverbial nutshell? No. And I’ve come to the conclusion there never will be a complete statement made about the metal that transformed men into Sun Kings, women into icons, and pebbles into vast wealth. That says alot about what the weight (pun intended) of gold has had on our economy. Midas was merely fiction; reality has been much more dramatic. Last Friday, I was invited to attend the Gold conference that some of you may have previously read about in an earlier post. The subjects discussed by those whose knowledge of yellow metal was varied, if not always on point: Buccellati sent the lovely Lucrezia Buccellati to talk about it’s newest silver line of jewelry and how it has related to the handcrafted gold traditions for which this venerable family firm is so well known. Jack Ogden, jewelry industry analyst and noted historian, spoke about gold’s cultural power. Others discussed the newest technologies in CAD CAM design — even for those who do not use computer-aided design it was kind of amazing to see what’s developing in jewelry manufacture. At the end of the day, InStyle’s Marian Fasel interviewed jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia, known simply as Waris. It’s fascinating to observe the full spectrum of the jewelry design world: from a four-hour computer-aided ring to forty-hour handcrafted, multi-enameled brooch (Waris said that he believes in “slow jewelry” and shuns electronics).
A panel discussion consisting of designers Rebecca Koven, Irene Neuwirth, Kara Ross, and high jewelry house representatives Nicolas Luchsinger (Van Cleef & Arpels), and Larry Pettinelli (Patek Philippe) talked about the possible challenges of employing gold due to fluctuating and skyrocketing market prices. For what it’s worth Neuwirth said it didn’t affect her business, Koven said this was ultimately a positive influence on her design aesthetic, Luchsinger acknowledged the challenge and then shrugged as if to say there isn’t much to do about it — VCA takes these things into account, and Pettinelli said the gold content of their watches mattered mostly to his “entry-level” clientele. Later, scholar and author, Benjamin Zucker discussed how to identify the age of a jewel by the way the gold is worked or alloyed. I found the the juxtaposition of these lectures a little ironic, at one point Ross said that she started designing handbags and costume jewelry because the price of gold became too costly for her business (she also mentioned she will be launching a new, fine jewelry collection next month), and an hour later Lisa Koenigsberg commented that Benjamin Zucker suggested that she start collecting contemporary pieces. Gold has this kind of power over us — it defines a business plan, or not, it engenders collectors, or not, but more interestingly, it expands our creativity whether we use it in ways intended, or not.
What I find the most fascinating about vintage jewelry is the way some pieces represent the aesthetic of the artisan or house who created them and yet remain an emblem of the era in which they were made. When this delicate equation is carefully configured, the result can be timeless, in addition to beautiful. Cartier did this with their perennially appealing Art Deco and PANTHÈRE designs, Van Cleef & Arpels ‘50s rose-diamond Ballerina brooches, or more recently, their effortless luxe Perlée collection, or Bulgari in the 1980s: bold strokes of gold scrimmaged with Seahawks-sized shoulder pads. As anyone who watches Project Runway knows, working within a given challenge (or trend) while also maintaining one’s own creative point of view isn’t easy. Finding just the right commercial balance that is in equal measure memorable, covetable, and years later, collectible? That takes a certain amount of genius.
On April 24, 2013, Phillips will be auctioning an unusual suite of circa 1945 Seaman Schepps citrine jewelry. The use of semi-precious citrine at that time was common since large precious gemstones were scarce. Other stones such as amethyst and aquamarine were also employed liberally as they were available in generous carat weights. The suite above includes a snake form bracelet that is brilliant. The others pieces in the suite are fabulous too, still the bracelet, and perhaps the snake form brooches too, Seaman Schepps-erize this classic collection of 1940s jewels. Schepps was known for his irreverent use of gemstones — he didn’t really care about carats as much as the overall composition. He was one of the first showman jewelry designers — others of his ilk were Tony Duquette, Verdura, and his former employer, Paul Flato.
Sotheby’s Geneva will auction off the jewels of this famous actress-artist-activist on May 14, 2013. Much of what Ms. Lollobrigida owned was classic in style, in much the same way as Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry, several items of which were also purchased from Bulgari. The 1950s-60s items for sale include natural pearl and diamond earrings, a 19.03-carat diamond solitaire, a diamond necklace that can also be worn as a bracelet (and a tiara, as she is photographed above), and suite of impressive emerald jewels. You may have heard about the renowned jewelry house in the news of late, this month, the Italian authorities seized Bulgari assets in a tax probe. Bulgari was bought in 2011 by luxury group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA.
**Important: These are the last days to buy tickets to attend Initiatives In Art & Culture’s Gold Conference. If you love jewelry, this symposium is one that shouldn’t be missed! I’ll be there, so be sure to say hi…!
Fabulous video about how gold influenced designer L’Wren Scott’s newest collection — including gold tattoos on the models which were brilliant. Scott also wears lovely antique jewelry in the piece. Her POV is both elevated and accessible, if only her clothes were too. Still, they would be worth foregoing a bauble or three. Loved what she said about her designs, that they are well crafted and the kind of thing a woman could wear again, and again. Modern yet practical and without pretense. Superb clothes, accessories, and ideas. View it here.