Diamonds may be forever, but costume jewellery belongs to an entirely different category and has a radically different role as well, Pamela Golbin, Chief Curator of Fashion and Textiles at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, rightly claims in the foreword to this book.
Decade after decade costume jewellery has indeed allowed designers to push their creativity and freedom further. Collector Barbara Berger managed to capture through her outstanding collection the beauty and the passion behind costume jewellery.
The daughter of a diamond dealer, Berger developed an interest in costume jewellery when she was just thirteen years old and continued collecting for fifty years, assembling an exciting, eclectic, elegant and ethnic collection of 4,000 pieces by more than eighty designers that could also be considered as a sort of visual history of the art and craft behind costume jewellery.
Berger always chose her favourite pieces on the feelings that the designer and the craftsmanship behind them gave her and this recently published volume gives the chance to see a fraction of her collection that, a while back, was also part of the "Bedazzled" exhibition.
The book is arranged following a sort of alphabet of costume jewellery designers, artisans and houses, opening with Alan Anderson and closing with a selection of pieces by a series of Unknown Designers.
In the introduction Harrice Simons Miller also traces a brief history of this art, that also looks at the paruriers, the highly skilled craftsmen who made adornments for couture houses in Paris, including costume jewelry, embroidery, and buttons.
The term "costume jewellery" originally referred to non-precious jewellery designed to accompany a costume or outfit.
In the 1700s pieces were made with imitation gemstones because they were to be used as travel jewellery or because the owner wanted copies of her fine jewelry. By the 1880s costume jewellery production had become more sophisticated, and pieces retained the look of fine jewellery, also thanks to the crystal gemstones manufactured in Daniel Swarovski's Austria-based factory.
In the '20s Chanel started mixing precious jewels with faux pieces and also designed necklaces with faux pearls strung with clear crystals, often worn in multiples and draped to the hips.
Costume jewellery slowly yet relentlessly came of age in the following decades: the Art Deco trend prompted designers to introduce new materials in their pieces; the '30s and Hollywood films added glamour and elegance. In the meantime, Elsa Schiaparelli started creating enameled brooches and ornaments with circus and musical motifs that perfectly complemented her surreal designs.
During the Second World War costume jewellery became more popular in America and was often made by European artisans who fled during the war. At the end of the conflict, Schiaparelli turned to Coppola & Toppo to have her pieces made, while Dior's designs were often accompanied by rhinestone necklaces.
The real boom arrived in the '50s when innovative materials such as bamboo, shells, ivory and plastic were mixed with traditional ones.
Many European designers exhibited their wares at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels and the following decade brought a new revolution entirely focused on the fake look with Coppola & Toppo creating for Valentino glass beads bracelets.
In the '70s huge earrings and large cocktail rings became the symbols of the disco craze, while punk popularised rubber and spiked designs. The '80s were marked by excess: Ugo Correani created modernist and bold geometric pieces or iconic jewellery for many famous designers like Lagerfeld at Chanel.
While minimalism spread in fashion throughout the '90s, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana (Correani designed for both of them) and Moschino remained the last bastions of extravagance, excess and daring drama.
In our days costume jewellery is back into prominence with high street retailers recreating through collaborations with famous houses pieces by iconic designers and the costume jewellery mania has been brought to another level through dedicated books and exhibitions in art museums all over the world.
Iris Apfel describes in the second foreword Barbara Berger as a courageous visionary, a woman "overflowing with fantasy (..) in possession of great personal style, a keen eye and a very deep appreciation for beauty and for those who create it" and this volume perfectly reflects Berger's personality.
All the pieces featured are dazzling and covetable, or extravagant and whimsical, inspired by various themes including floral and figural motifs, and made with a wide range materials, such as metal, brass, pewter, nickel, Lucite, resin, plastic, textiles, and lacquer, crystals, glass and acrylic stones.
The volume is also a good introduction to all the main costume jewellery manufacturers, it would actually be great to have it in a more affordable pocket version for all those readers who are just starting out as collectors or for people simply interested in vintage fashion.
All the major houses such as Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Lanvin, Paco Rabanne, Pierre Cardin, Pucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Versace are included, but there is a wide variety of pieces included, from Marcel Boucher's three-dimensional brooches to the iconic Schiaparelli's ostrichs from her "Circus" collection; from rebellious Billy Boy*'s to Iradj Moini's pieces influenced by exotic cultures.
The book is a good way to rediscover Hattie Carnegie, CIS/Countess Zoltowska, Coro, Eisenberg & Sons, milliner Lilly Daché who designed among the other things also the fruit-laden turbans donned by Carmen Miranda, Trifari, Joseff-Hollywood (that at the peak of his career produced 90% of the jewellery used in motion pictures, creating pieces also for Gone with the Wind), Hobé, Ralph De Rosa, Guy de Vadimon, the Pennino Brothers, Miriam Haskell and Mimi Di Niscemi.
In her foreword to the book Iris Apfel states that costume jewellery is about style and not status and she is definitely right. "Faux bijoux are the greatest asset to a wardrobe," she enthuses, and after leafind through this book you will it hard disagreeing with her.
All images © Pablo Esteva
Iradj Moini (circa 1994), United States. Floral brooch. Mother-of-pearl, Swarovski Austrian crystals. Gunmetal plated.
Valentino (circa 1970s–1980s), Italy. Open cuff bracelet. Coloured enamel, rhinestones, gold plated.
Coro (1944), United States. "Willet" tremblant bird brooch. Coloured enamel, rhinestones, gold plated sterling silver. Signed Sterling by Coro. The head is on a spring and shakes when moved.
Trifari, "Royal Swan" brooch, (1941), United States; designer: David Mir. Coloured enamel, simulated baroque pearls, rhinestones, gold and silver plated. Signed Trifari Des. Pat. No. 129535. Possibly referencing the Swan Lake ballet or The Ugly Duckling fairy tale.
Maison Gripoix (circa 2000), France. Feather bib necklace. Feathers, poured glass, simulated pearls, rhinestones, gold plated.
Dolce& Gabbana (circa 2000), Italy. Lipstick necklace. Coloured enamel, rhinestones, mirrors, simulated pearl, gold and silver plated.
Attributed to Balenciaga (circa 1960s), France; designer: Lina Baretti. Cross pendant. Simulated pearls, glass cabochons, velvet, gilt trim.
Mimi Di N (circa 1960s–1970s), United States. Bib necklace. Simulated coral stones, rhinestones, gold plated.
Elsa Schiaparelli (1938), France; designer: Jean Schlumberger. A pair of ostrich pendants. Velvet ribbon, coloured enamel, glass beads, gilt metal. Originally created as part of the "Circus" Collection.
Yves Saint Laurent (circa 2000), France. Star motif necklace. Mirrors, gold plated.
Attributed to Karl Lagerfeld (1987), France; designer: attributed to Ugo Correani. Makeup brush bracelet and earrings. Multicoloured bristles, plastic, gold plated.
Schreiner (circa 1960s), United States. Bib necklace. Simulated turquoise stones, rhinestones, simulated pearls, gold plated.
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