Set in stone
Diana Scarisbrick applauds a masterful account of the close association between fashion and jewellery
Diana Scarisbrick, Saturday, 1st January 2011
Fashion for Jewels: 100 Years of Styles and Icons
Here is a landmark study of mainstream jewellery over the last one hundred years. Whereas most accounts of the past century begin with the creations of Cartier and Fabergé in the Edwardian period, and usually end at World War II, or at latest the 1950s, this book takes the story right up to the present day. It cannot have been an easy task, for during the past 50 years jewellers have not conformed to a single consistent style, but branched off on many diverse paths that reflect the vast changes in social and economic life, as well as the influences of contemporary art. Coordinating this confusing range of developments requires experience, access to professional information and the ability to organise it coherently. Well placed as jewellery editor of Vogue, the author has taken full advantage of the magazine’s archives, and drawn on her retailing and craftsmen contacts in the centres of Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Milan, Rome, London, Munich and Berlin. She therefore writes with the authority of an insider familiar with the overall scene who – unlike many journalists – understands why women’s age-old desire for jewellery continues as strong as ever.
One reason for its enduring popularity is jewellery’s fusion with fashion – the main theme of the book. In past centuries, fashion was the preserve of the makers of costume jewellery because the materials used to create fine jewellery made it too expensive to be tied to passing trends in dress. This has all changed in recent years. Visitors to the Paris Biennale of September 2010 were struck by the number of slender blonde women, uniformly chic in black, crowding around the stands not only of Cartier, Piaget, Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels, but also of the jewellers associated with couture, notably Dior, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. They were not ‘just looking’, but seriously buying. The biggest draw was Victoire de Castellane’s colourful large-scale rings and floral necklaces smothered in tourmalines, demantoid garnets and rubies, jewelled counterparts of John Galliano’s exuberant designs for Dior. The book makes the point that this connection between jewellery and couture began with Louis Cartier’s decision to exhibit not with his colleagues, but with Worth, Lanvin and Callot in the Pavillon de l’Elégance at the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs. In the next decade Chanel and Schiaparelli commissioned jewellery from Paul Iribe, Fulco di Verdura and Pierre Sterlé. As if in homage to the ever innovative founder, Chanel’s stand at the Biennale recreated the Bijoux de Plume collection designed for her by Iribe in 1932.
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