Sunday Jewelry Report Card: All Tied Up in the Jewelry Art of Neon Zinn

 

It’s that time again, but instead of a work day for many, tomorrow we have a holiday of sorts…so enjoy that cup of coffee knowing the next day can involve house slippers!  We have decided to hand out our Sunday jewelry report card to to a designer that is all about color, texture, and most importantly process. So wake up!  I noticed his work a few years ago at fashion week while we where shooting street style. I thought, wow who did these oversized almost body style pieces? Well, you know I like a good piece of body jewelry, so I investigated. His scale ranges from collars to large complex pieces, which I love. The way the artist embraces color is inspiring. Some of the pure beauty of his work is due to the fact that he has his hands on all the moving parts. He dyes the rope and creates a kaleidoscope of hues.  His necklaces are made from cotton yarn and different fibers, which are comfortable to wear.

Elle Magazine. South Africa.

New Orleans based Seth Damm is the creator of the line, and he started much like true artists do…experimenting and coming into his own with this medium. His past experience had been in installation, printmaking, and painting, but this all started with a box of rope and a jewelry show in a friend’s gallery.   Featured in Marie Claire Italy and Elle Decor, one begins to understand that there are more layers to his work than what the label “jewelry” can describe.  

Customization: um yeah its what everyone wants that now and after exploring his site, I found he offers it and treats his shop like a gallery of sorts. Very intriguing, click here for more info. 

Currently, one can see that his new designs are taking him more into the realm of body and adornment, and I for one am excited! Why is he one to follow on instagram? Color, creativity, and inspiration. Need I say more?  But I will- his shop and account are full of breath taking hues that he conjures up daily.

Why we love the Neon Zinn on Instagram

 

Pieces We Want NOW:

*All images belong to Neon Zinn via the website and instagram. 

Gripoix, Paris Interview: The DNA of a Jewelry Icon

 

If ever there was costume jewelry that could be called “haute couture”, the examples made by Gripoix, in Paris over the years for the couturiers, fit this definition. Not made of gold or diamonds, but of glass and gilt metal by hand…the work of the house represented some of the finest artisanship in the industry. Let’s follow them as they push forward into the future.

Gripoix for Schiaparelli. Recent collab image. Photograph courtesy of Gripoix, Paris.

My fascination with Gripoix started with the acquisition of Chanel pieces from the 30s-90s made by Gripoix and older examples made not for just Chanel, but beautiful nonetheless. This led to my interest in researching articles, images, and texts on the subject. Many sought after rare pieces were made for indeed Chanel and other fashion houses like Worth, Pioret, YSL, Balenciaga, Dior…but Gripoix also made pieces early on for private clients. Most of the earliest examples can be recognized from a few characteristics, such their use of handmade glass beads, pearls and sometimes the mark Made in France.

Early clasp style and beading example, marked France.

Although, it is important to note that various vintage pieces marketed as made by Gripoix online, are not actually even pate de verre. The back is telling in that it should have a poured appearance. One should look at themes, coloration, and design as well.

Back of the poured glass belt by Gripoix for Chanel. Believed to have been designed or executed with Goossens.

As an admirer of the jewelry for quite a while, my interest was renewed in their history and current jewelry team. They recently have begun working with designers on limited examples and creating custom orders for clients themselves. The custom orders as I understand it will be made to specification and are one of a kind or limited. My intention is not to address here the definitions of couturiers (legally here), but to recognize the brand’s past relationship to haute couture producers/ or couturiers while looking at their future as a jewelry brand. See our previous post on books and definitions.

Lou Lou de La Falasai vintage earrings. Gripoix glass.

1950s example made for Coco Chanel, based I think on a fine design by Verdura.

Piece made by Gripoix for and signed Gripoix.

TIMELINE:

MAISON GRIPOIX, Paris began to produce poured glass or “Pate de Verre” jewelry in 1869, using a special technique of molten glass and enamel which was poured into the metal. They began with pearls and this sort of “gemstone glass” technique reproducing the jewelry of the elite in costume form and working with the French theater.

Great early example of the pearl effect and fine Byzantine style Gripoix construction.

They became more popular when Augustine began creating pieces for specifically for Sarah Bernhardt at the end of the 19th century to be worn by her on stage. The works were theater style recreations of fine pieces and romantic historic designs.

By the 1920s Suzanne Gripoix continued to cement the brand’s role as an iconic producer of couture costume jewelry, with the creation of jewelry for Paul Pioret, Worth, Chanel, Lanvin, etc. The couturiers wanted jewelry that complimented the various moods and themes of their designs. They were part of the overall look for each season. They invented the most realistic faux pearl for Chanel and brought her costume interpretation of Byzantine fine examples to life. Those deep jewel toned pieces and the beautiful poured flowers have become iconic. However; it was still the glass beads again at this early stage that were very popular. The secret of pouring glass flowers was said to have been passed down from the founder.

Collection BillyBoy* Purchased in the 1970s directly from Mme Gripoix. These are prototypes and samples circa 1950s-60s.

Collection BillyBoy* Purchased in the 1970s directly from Mme Gripoix. These are extremely rare and offer us a glimpse into the history and process of the brand.

Robert Goossens for Chanel.

With Robert Goossens in the 1950s, the poured glass designs became more popular among Chanel patrons and collectors. According to some, Goossens did the designs and sometime metalwork, sometimes using fine examples, for Coco Chanel then they were copied by Chanel in Gripoix glass. His training with Parisian workshops and jewelers made him especially skilled as did being the son of a foundry owner in Paris. It is also possible that the Gripoix glass cabochons were supplied to him based on the design,then glued in later by Goossens. He also produced some similar techniques in his studio, so there is some confusion in terms of production, especially later when he became a sort of individual producer of jewelry for design houses as well.

Goossens for Chanel vintage case, Gripoix details. Signed Chanel. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

Gripoix necklace, collection of BillyBoy*

1938 Schiaparelli Brooch. Made by Gripoix. From the collection of BillyBoy* Instagram image courtesy of BillyBoy*

Collection BillyBoy*. Gripoix.

Gripoix poured glass necklace for Jacques Fath. Seen in the text Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture by Florence Muller. This style is often identified as Chanel, but nonetheless it is 50s Gripoix in construction.

Josette, Suzanne’s daughter followed her as head of Gripoix, at which point they were already working with Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Lacroix, Balmain…among others. By the 1980s the demand was weakening, in favor of less expensive processes overseas.

Late 1980s example of the Byzantine Gripoix style. Chanel.

Her son, Thierry we believe then sold the brand in 2006 to TWS. The next owner Ms. Keslassy, also had the vision of making Gripoix more known as its own brand and more widely sold. This strategy alone has been a hard one. She worked on making designs relevant and a bit more accessible today, as well as simpler in style. Recently, she left the company and it has come to be owned by an investor who is (anonymous). Some collaborations, such as that with Catherine Baba have led to pieces which merge the history with new fashion styles. Her pieces were inspiring because they drew from Sarah Bernhardt and pushed the designs to results similar to that seen in the 70s and 80s.

Hint magazine image of Catherine’s collection click link to see more.

This is where our interview begins. The new creative director, Fanni Fischer produces one collection a  year in Paris and opens the showroom up to wholesalers of the collection. It is sold directly in their shop in Paris, as well.

Gripoix for Schiaparelli.

Recently there seems to be a uptick in demand as collectors and brands begin to seek out these rare vintage creations. Gripoix has also started to work again with more fashion houses and is seeking to keep to its roots as producers of jewelry for designers. As for couturiers, as less of them exist and are legally certified this question becomes a larger more complex one indeed.

Yet, we must appreciate the art of the creations of the past and Gripoix’s works for couturiers to understand why what happens to the brand today is important and how a new market overall affects that strategy. Let’s look at further examples and probe into the new brand’s intentions with our interview below. Examples of recent “collections” done each season include The Botanical Garden Collection.

Red Currant necklace by Gripoix. Last Season.

 

THE INTERVIEW:


Are any original artisans who worked for the family for more than 10 years still working with Gripoix?

There is one artisan, Thomas Lebouille who worked for the third generation of the Gripoix family before, he learnt the technique there.

Is Virginie Curbilie, who trained was trained at Gripoix still working with you? What is her role?

No, it’s been a long time that Virginie is no longer our glassmaker. There is no training for this profession at school. I learnt this fabulous technique from her by observing her gestures, and after she left, I became the master of glass at Gripoix.

Gripoix Paris image.

Where do you get the glass used, is the quality important?

Our glass sticks came mainly from Italy now. I like the Italian glass it’s easy to work with and they have beautiful colours.

How many creative directors have you had? Who?

Marie Keslassy was our artistic director for a long time. She collaborated with other designers like Elisa Nalin for example. The way how they created the jewels was very new for us. They wanted to realize more fashionable, geometrical shapes and that’s how we modernized the technique too. Sometimes this task was not easy with the glass. Today we use more floral shapes, and ornamental patterns to keep the good quality and the naturally curved shape of the glass.

Could you give us a sense of how the pieces were signed through the years?

Gripoix never signed the pieces. It’s been more recently that Gripoix Paris exists as a brand individually and signs the jewels. Gripoix was the supplier of the big fashion houses, the design came from the designers and the amazing technique and realisation from Gripoix. The other reason is that it was not so important at that time to put the logo on every piece, not like today…

Also, do you still have the drawings and sketches? What is left of the old archives?

We have a few of them but not from the old archives. We have mostly sketches and pictures.

Could you give us a sense of the main design elements used on antique Gripoix pieces from the early 19th century, do you have any images of such pieces?

At that time the main characteristic of the custom jewelleries was the imitation of the Byzantine jewels. To have this aspect they mixed the jewels with metal stamps, which came from a supplier called ‘Janvier’, they are in Paris and they still have beautiful pieces from that period. They have a huge collection of metal stamps, more than 1000 references. An amazing place to visit when you are in Paris. Also, they used the glass to imitate the precious stones. To get this finishing they created the jewels with ruby, emerald, sapphires, topaz colours, with an irregular, called baroque surface.

Describe Robert Goossens’ role in the history of the brand as you see it?

I’m so sorry, but this question is very hard for us, as we don’t have any information about this. I think it’s only Goossens and Chanel who could clarify this question or someone from the Gripoix Family.

What makes your technique so special, I’ve seen the color card- I’d say that is one aspect?

Our technique is special because of the glass work. There are only a few artisans around the world who can ‘ flow the glass’ in this way, directly in the metal. It’s a very old ‘savoir faire’ what we are meant to pass from generation to generation.

Fanni what led you to Gripoix?

The magic of the glass. I always wanted to learn this technique. As I’m also a jewellery maker and designer, I tried to do jewels with the glass before at home, but I couldn’t as I didn’t have the right materials for. When I learnt that this is Gripoix’s speciality, I knew that I should work here, that this profession was made for me.

Gripoix Octopus by Schiaparelli. Gripoix, Paris photograph.

Who are some current fashion houses you intend to work with or are working with today?

In the past 3 years, we had several collaborations with Schiaparelli and today too we are working on a very nice project with them. We worked also with YDE, we made very nice scarabs for them. Also we might have a collaboration with another well known fashion designer, but this is a top secret for the moment;)

I know you said you are working on recovering the history and archives, does that include vintage or rare Gripoix examples? Are there any pieces still in the archive? Did the family keep those pieces or that information?

Yes, we are trying to rebuild the archives for this we are using the informations from the auctions and we have a lot of reparations with vintage pieces, that we include each time in our datas. Mostly we are building new archives, we have drawers and we keep good records today of the drawings and sketches, like this I hope we can help the generations after us.

Do you have any past sketches we can see to better understand the process? Who usually does the sketches?

Yes. We have a creative team of professional drawers. Also, we like to work with interns. They are very creative, quick, fresh brains, and like this we always have a new member in the team. It’s always nice to have an active life in the workshop.

Take us from concept to the final product?

First we find a nice shape or a vintage piece what we would like to rework. We build a collection, for this we do a lot of sketches and colour trials. The way of the colour use is very important as this is our DNA. After we use the drawings to do the prototypes and if we are happy with the result of the metal part, we can flow the glass directly in the pieces. The last part is the guild, 24 Carat on the jewels, and of course we put the crystals or pearls after the gold finishing.

Books and articles to get you started:

Patrick Mauries. Maison Goossens Haute Couture Jewelry. Thames & Hudson.

Patrick Mauries. Jewelry By Chanel. Bulfinch.

Florence Muller. Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture. Vendome Press.

Ariel de Ravenel. Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni. Lou Lou de La Falaise. Rizzoli.

Jean Leymarie. Chanel. Skira / Rizzoli.

Alice Pfeiffer. Glass, with Class. Fashion and Style. New York Times.

Couture. The Great Designers. Caroline Reynolds Milbank.

  • This post is an attempt to research more specifically the history and future of the brand. I would love to talk to someone in the family, but could find no contact. I hope they have the drawings and images or samples, my intention here is to highlight the importance of preserving the Gripoix  design archive.

 

Blogger Grace Atwood Gives Us Her Accessories Low Down

blogger grace atwood blue ruffle red chanel bag

Blogger Grace Atwood of The Stripe, based in Brooklyn New York, serves us style on her blog offering up wearable, fun, and slightly sweet, yet fashion-forward options. As a rounded modern woman, she touches on beauty tips, books, and travel. So, how about her accessories taste? Well let’s just say that the BK blogger likes a good bag. She can often be spotted sporting a great Chanel piece or one of her latest handbag discoveries.

blogger grace atwood orange cross body bag

Is there a certain style of jewelry you find yourself gravitating towards?

Right now I’m all about a great statement earring or a bold cuff. When it’s really hot I have a hard time with necklaces, especially chokers. I love how they look but when it’s hot I just can’t do it. Right now I love a bold earring in a solid color (turquoise, cobalt blue, red) or solid gold/brass. It’s the perfect, easy way to add a bit of color to a little white dress. I also love just doing all gold. I have these gold oversized vintage Chanel drops that I bought last year and they’re one of my proudest purchases. Those + an armful of bangles = all you need to dress up any outfit.

Vintage jewelry seems to be a key component of your wardrobe, is that fair to say?
Also, what era or type of jewelry are you drawn to?

Absolutely. I am incredibly fortunate in that my grandmother the most amazing
collection of vintage jewelry. Pieces that she bought in the fifties and sixties but
also things that had been passed down to her from her mother and grandmother. Over the years my mom and aunts have given several pieces to me….

I have a few really special pieces of fine jewelry – an aquamarine bracelet from Tiffany’s that I wear on special occasions, a diamond ring and some really beautiful old Mexican silver pieces… but it’s actually the costume jewelry that I obsess over. I’m always
amazed by how fantastic the quality is. Costume jewelry just isn’t what it once was.
Back then, even a piece from Monet (which is still around and sold at Macy’s) would
last and last for years to come. Actually, my favorite necklace in the world is long
brass box chain necklace that was my grandmother’s. It’s vintage Monet!

In terms of an era, I’ve always loved the twenties (art deco is just the best for a
big night) but lately I have been obsessed with the fifties and early sixties. Old
Hollywood, the women Slim Aarons photographed… The Beverly Hills Hotel + Palm
Springs glamour… it’s everything!

blogger grace atwood oversized woven pom pom bag

What is one of your favorite pieces of personal jewelry, where is it from, and why
is it one of your favorites?

It’s so hard to pick a favorite but I would say it’s an art deco diamond ring from
the twenties. I bought it for myself (technically it was listed as an engagement
ring?) but I wear it almost all the time on my right hand. It’s one of my favorite
pieces not just because it’s so beautiful (like I said earlier, nothing compares to
the art deco pieces of the twenties) but also because I bought it for myself after a
good year… every time I look at it I feel like a bit of a boss for buying myself a
diamond ring.

Do you have a piece of jewelry that is sort of your go to?

A gold bangle from Julie Vos. It’s so simple but looks gorgeous with a tan and adds
a glamorous little touch to all my summer dresses. I have two of them – one with a
clear stone and another in pale blue. I am a freak about clutter but I always leave
one of them out so that I remember to wear it if I am running out the door and don’t
have on any jewelry.

Check out some of Grace’s current accessories picks:

Meet Gogo Ferguson: Rattlesnake Rings and Sun Bleached Bones

Painting of Gogo by West Fraser.

One cannot really speak of Gogo Ferguson and her work without discussing Cumberland’s history, natural beauty, and the cultural remains it holds. Cumberland is 40-square-miles which is not a bad size for paradise. For thousands of years this area and coastal Georgia was inhabited by indigenous people. It was first the Timucua Indians that lived on Cumberland, and they left their mark. There was a Spanish mission in the 1600s, Oglethorpe’s two forts erected in the 1730s, the Greene family, the Stafford plantation, descendants of freed slaves, and the Carnegies.  Now, a person could write a book on Cumberland, and in fact many people have done so.

Gogo’s grandmother painted by the artist, Ipsen, Boston.

Gogo is a direct descendant of Thomas Carnegie and granddaughter Lucy Ferguson, daughter of Margaret. Janet, aka Gogo, has quite a knack for finding fossils like shark teeth and eye-unearthing natural remains of all kind. Not to mention her interest in the Native American history of the island. She caught my attention as someone who understands and appreciates nature. Her interests align with my anthropology and archaeological experience, but I was also drawn to her because of my jewelry obsession. The pieces comes in different finishes or metals and the price points vary, allowing for one to buy multiples in silver or to focus on the 14k pieces—depending on your style. 


Her work is really an extension of earth and all of its treasures, what it leaves behind, what it can teach us, the beauty of life and death. Like glittering glamorous fossils, her jewelry catches the eye without trying to hard.  My favorite pieces include her cast metal boars tusk necklaces and the rattlesnake rings. Delicate, yet tough at the same time, though her work is not restricted to jewelry.  I’d love to have one of her seaweed sculptures hung on my wall. Yes, she dabbles in sculpture and décor.

Gogo’s New England Seaweed Sculpture. From Gogo Nature Transformed.

gogo ferguson conch and seaweed jewelry

I personally discovered the island when I was living in Atlanta about 10 years ago and have been going once a year since.  At heart, I am a country girl who enjoys wildlife, nature, and the peace the island gives me. I relate to what many of the people drawn to Cumberland see—pure nature and history coexisting. You either love it or it’s not your cup of tea.

There are two options in terms of staying on the island. Take the national park service ferry over and camp out or stay at the historic Greyfield Inn, still owned by the Carnegies. A few private land holds exist, but nothing public. What you find there are wild beach trails, clean sand, and so much space for just an “island”. I did not stay at the Inn (which Lucy opened officially in the 1960s) until last year on my birthday when I met the talented Gogo Ferguson.  

Her work is truly art, not just jewelry but an extension of her place in nature and Cumberland. Her line includes home goods, sculpture, and jewelry.  Mikhail Baryshnikov photographed on Cumberland’s beach by Annie Leibovitz in 1990 with Rob Besserer explains his first experience with the island and Gogo:

“Like many, my first experience of Cumberland Island was a field trip of sorts. I wanted to see the wild horses that famously roam its dunes-relics, like so many things on Cumberland of past attempts at domestication. What I didn’t expect was the mystery, the majesty, and the simple raw beauty of the place.

I don’t exactly remember when my encounters with Cumberland led to meeting Gogo, but at least thirty years ago, when she welcomed me into her modest house with a bright smile and the offer of an oyster roast, it was clear that she and Cumberland were two parts of an organic whole (Gogo Nature Transformed, Introduction 11).

The ruins of the Carnegie’s Dungeness. Another earlier home site also burned in this same location.

Gogo’s jewelry designs have garnered lots of press, celebrity wearers, magazine articles, and even her own exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. She grew up enjoying summers on the island and spending time with her ecologically minded grandmother Lucy, before finally returning to live there in the 1979 as a single mother.  Her work slowly evolved when she began making pieces for guests at the inn and looking back to her roots and the island. Her 1989 spread in People magazine helped propel her work forward. She designed the wedding rings for Carolyn Bessette and John in 1996. 

Interview:

What is your educational background and how do you use it in your life today?

I went to high school in Providence and art school in Massachusetts.

gogo ferguson boars tusk necklace

Favorite piece you ever designed or made?

That’s hard to say…each new piece I design becomes my favorite but if I had to choose one for sentimental reasons it would be my logo which is made of rattlesnake rib bones and vertebrae. It was one of the first pieces I ever created and cast it into gold and silver. It symbolizes 30 years of blood, sweat and tears!

Gogo’s rattlesnake logo, from Gogo Nature Transformed.

 

Describe your process from start to finish.

My process is to be out in nature and walk the shore line after the tide comes in or after a storm and search for new inspiration. The design process is constantly running through my head. Every six hours, the tideline deposits new inspirations for me to discover. I’ll take it back to my studio and sometimes look at it for up to a year until I get a creative flash of what to do with it. The colors and patterns in nature are what are really mind boggling to me. They all have a purpose and I feel my place is to transform that into wearable art or something fabulous for the home.

What are your first memories of Cumberland?

Being a young child with my grandmother on the island – we constantly went clamming, horseback riding, and exploring the island. I learned from her about the land and how the magical process of nature worked on it.

Why do you think you feel so connected and inspired by it in terms of your work?

Seven generations of my family have lived on the island – it’s literally in my blood and I consider it the soul of my family. It is my sense of place on this earth and I feel very fortunate to call it home.

What other places have inspired your jewelry line?

Anywhere I travel. I was recently walking down the street in Martha’s Vineyard and saw a beautiful skeleton of a leaf on the ground and now I have it taped to my kitchen window where it will stay until I decide how I want to incorporate it into a design. I don’t have to be in an exotic location to be inspired as long as there is raw nature to see and study.

How would you describe Lucy’s role in your work or understanding of the island?

Lucy was an original naturalist. She taught me everything about the intricacies of the island and to respect it and always learn from it. She had a keen sense of her surroundings — she was deaf at an early age so her sense of nature was far more attuned than most peoples and she passed that wisdom down to us.

What piece do you wear from your jewelry line?

Everything! I am always wearing multiple pieces everywhere I go. I’m currently wearing a new arrowhead opera-length necklace, dolphin disc necklace, rattlesnake rib bone earrings, sea urchin ring, rattle snake multi rib cuff, and a spiny murex conch cuff. I think that’s the great thing about my line…they are all statement pieces, but they all complement each other very well.

gogo ferguson gold silver jewelry

Do you feel your jewelry or home decor is art or sculpture?

Art — that is my goal — to design pieces that are wearable art or functional art for the home that then inspire the owner and those around them who see it.

Your work is now made in the artist community in San Miguel de Allende, please describe your relationship to them and Mexico city?

I started going to SMA in the late 60s through an artist program with the Rhode Island School of Design and fell in love with San Miguel, its architecture and the culture. I have been going back ever since, now own a home there and also work closely with a local artist named Julio Miguel who I take my inspirations to and work with on transforming them into designs. I’ve brought him to Cumberland so he could see the island firsthand and understand my source of inspiration. I have great respect for Julio and his creative talents.

 

Describe your work with Nicole Miller if possible?

Nicole is a dear old friend of mine who often hosts shows for me in NYC. She also designed a beautiful silk custom-made scarf with a map of Cumberland Island on it to commemorate my High Museum exhibit in Atlanta. We still have them in stock and they serve as a great souvenir of Cumberland.

Do horses at all inspire your work or design, experiencing them riding with Lucy and then as they are now on the island daily?

Yes, the horses have been on the island since the1500s. They’ve acclimated beautifully to the island and I love that we all live symbiotically.

What is your work day like? Do you typically “work” and “hunt” during the fall and winter or early spring?

I explore and hike year round, but when I’m on Cumberland I love to walk the tideline to see what has washed up, especially after a big storm comes. I find sharks teeth, shark vertebrae and other natural treasures.

Gogo’s collection of prehistoric shark teeth, most she found and some from her grandfather.

Speaking of home, I have seen inside of your house and the decor is pretty fabulous, as is the history of the home’s construction. Can you speak about it a bit and how you decorate?

Thank you. I always incorporate nature into my home. Deer antlers become towel racks, shark vertebrae become door pulls. Driftwood becomes center pieces for the table. My husband Dave and I designed the house and built most of out of reclaimed items from old carriage houses and barns on the island.

Is it fair to say you have a gift for finding artifacts and fossils as well as the bones you use in your work? Is this something that you have worked at?

I think I have a natural eye for seeing unusual things in nature and I have reinforced it over the years.

What is your most current line and is there a new piece or commission you are currently designing? 

I created a line of pearl designs to mark my 30th year in business this year that have been very popular. I also just finalized an arrowhead pendant that comes in gold-plated, rhodium, and brass. This one is great because both women and men can wear it.

Are you experimenting with any new materials or ventures?

The above-mentioned arrowheads are all made of new materials.

What piece of jewelry can you not live without?

Raccoon penis bones! I make earrings, bracelets and necklaces out them and they are the best conversation starter ever.

Raccoon Penis Bone Earrings. GogoJewelry.com image.

Do you have any books you would recommend for those discovering Cumberland for the first time?

There are great photography coffee table books by my cousin, Mary Bullard. I would love to do one of my own, to showcase the island through my eyes.

What is your trunk show agenda like, how can people interested in your work see it off of the island. I know you spend time in Martha’s Vineyard? 

We are on the road frequently for shows, and I love to do speaking engagements. I have my summer shop on Martha’s Vineyard in Vineyard Haven that is open through September. My shop on Cumberland is open year-round, and we have a permanent store on Saint Simons Island. We have wholesale accounts in Atlanta, Charleston, Fernandina Beach, and Memphis, and of course the website is always open for business!

gogo ferguson rattlesnake rings

Describe how your jewelry has evolved from the very first pieces to now?

I never try to deviate from nature’s designs, however over the years I began combining precious stones to some of my beads.  Part of my evolution was growing my line into homewares, serving spoons of New England sea clams, cockle shells, oyster and mussel servers, candle holders of seed pods, sea urchins and votives of Maine sea kelp.  I’m always transforming in my mind the treasures I found on the tideline or in the forests to some wearable of functional piece. It is how I look at my surroundings. 

Your daughter was involved in your business, has that continued?

My daughter Hannah remains as creative as ever and even though her priority immediately is raising her precious son Ronan Zephyr Carnegie Thomas, she has started her own line in England where she now lives.  One of her designs was auctioned at the Princess Trust for the largest amount in the auction.  I am so proud of her and know that she will soar, she is so very creative.

What do you hope your legacy will be and the future of your brand?

My desire is for my designs to be considered art, that my clients become collectors and understand and appreciate the beauty and perfection of natures designs.  

www.gogojewelry.com

CBS Sunday Morning

High Museum Feature

Book List:

 

Shop my personal picks from Gogo Ferguson:

Gogo 14k Armadillo Shell Cuff. GogoJewelry.com image.

Spiny Murex Conch Cuff. GogoJewelry.com $295.

Boars Tusk Cuff. GogoJewelry.com $50.00

Boars Tusk Pendant. $200. GogoJewelry.com

Seaweed Necklace. $450. GogoJewelry.com

Rattlesnake Double Rib Ring. Gold/Silver. $425. GogoJewelry.com

Alligator Scute Earrings. $150. GogoJewelry.com

  • All photography unless otherwise stated, taken by Sara Brandon the author, rights reserved Sarara Couture. Images of jewelry displayed reflect her original and personal shop/home experience on Cumberland.

 

 

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Frocking Life by BillyBoy*: What’s in a Blue Box

Circa 1976 image of Billy Boy from his archive.

Let me begin by stating that Frocking Life, BillyBoy*’s new book is worth it’s weight, but if you are faint of heart proceed with caution. His explanation of interacting with his first Schiaparelli acquisition, a hat, crosses over into an almost divine experience. He openly talks about his life’s journey which yes…gasp… involves, dare I say S E X…. However, I promise his emotional and physical partners are always enthralling and lead you down a path that brings to life fashion, art, and culture. His in depth more personal description of Elsa’s journey brings to life more details as well as a clearer path in terms of how she became an icon. Where many historical depictions of Elsa, skim her early failures and successes, through his collection of personal letters and beyond, Billy breaths life into her story.
Anyone who has seen his creations, met, or read about BillyBoy* probably understands
that this is an individual which one can NOT know well from one interview or meeting. He’s got layers, sometimes too seemly fantastic to comprehendimmediately. It is very
similar feeling to glimpsing a multilayered deep chocolate fudge cake, then being told it is from an ancient secret cacao source? I will tell you, after having gotten through a bit of his layers, that I am biased andthis review will be a bit unprofessional (Lucky that I am not a newspaper writer, I guess- but I promise it will be factual not factoidual:) Initially, of course I enjoyed the book, because I want to know more about the designer of Surreal Bijoux-the jewelry I enjoy so much. However; now this has led to insights on someone who has become a friend. Just when I think well let me focus on what I am enthralled with about his work, he throws out things like well you know I used old Gripoix sample stock earrings on many of the dolls?

Marisa and BillyBoy* at the Schiaparelli show, with Go Go Marisa’s mother.

The book is for fans of his creations, but it is also for those who have any interest in fashion, vintage, Schiaparelli, or life really, because he throws very deep and juicy details out throughout the book. His candid life’s experiences seem almost to great to be true, but they are, as you see by connecting the dots to his work, collection, sketches, and photographs all very real. So, if you are doubting how someone can have meet so many amazing iconic people, refer back to my original interview with him which is chalked full of photographs. I enjoyed this book, as it challenges us to look again at it’s subjects were made of and the notion of what fashion and such artists were like before social media and reality TV. It’s the description of icons in their candid older years and tales of some of them in real interactions, that reminds us how life used to be lived and hopefully inspires one to just get a “Frocking Life”. Here, he’s searching for Schiaparelli, whose own life shaped how he saw the world in part. However, as interested as I am in Elsa…I still cannot get passed the steamer trunks full of old couture he collected or his descriptions of hunting vintage pieces in New York and Paris, when they were ripe for picking. His relationship to fashion is enthrallingly realist, yet stepped at the same time in fantasticalness.

Outfit made for Daisy Fellowes 1929-30 by Elsa Schiaparelli, from Frocking Life.

It is in this deep conversation that we get very dear and special glimpses of Elsa’s not so glamorous and inspiring beginnings as well as her personality as seen via his first hand account of speaking with  the mentor’s daughter in the 1970s.

He quotes Perrine, daughter of Paul Pioret: “They really appreciated each other’s company, and when my father had financial difficulties, it was Schiaparelli who came to his aid…At one point, he was in deep financial trouble and she’d rally all the designers around to give him help. But not in a humiliating way… she was so elegant and so devoted to him. I know he much appreciated her work…She wore his clothes and he was very pleased by that, he said she wore them to perfection….”(Frocking Life, 173).

BillyBoy* Interview:

Let’s start with a discussion of our custom made Surreal Bijoux box, which BillyBoy* and LaLa insisted on making for a 1980s surreal mouth necklace and earrings set, that Iwas obsessed with….and well had to have.

*Why was the box so important to competing this set, which was originally done in the 1980s? *Great question! Well, when I started Surreal Couture, as you read in my recent book Frocking Life, Searching for Elsa Schiaparelli,…it was about doing things organically and things which were not necessarily wearable. My only objective was to create artworks which was commentary and reflection about fashion and what fashionability meant. Back then, I used to make the jewels almost as installations, to be used as sculpture… I did boxes, stands, sets, scenarios, and all types of way to complete the work. Quite regularly and each piece I did had some set up ranging from simple to elaborate. When Lala and I were doing Surreal Bijoux on rue de la Paix in Paris, we did that much less, though we did still do it regularly. Lala understood the idea immediately, organically and as if by osmosis. These last years, let’s say this last decade, we decided to go back to our roots, or rather my roots and we decided even to go all the way back to Surreal Couture manifestos I wrote as early as 1972. We focused on doing many of our creative processes and things as I originally saw them, and I may add, we also went back to ideas Lala had as a young artist at roughly the same time I was thinking these things up. …. back then, when someone purchased the necklace from Surreal Bijoux, I wanted it to be the fullest expression of Surreal Couture and Surreal Bijoux combined. We do this now whenever any piece is sold. As you know we studied and worked on your piece for quite a while and I am delighted with the results. It’s funny because Lala says he sees me in the piece and I see him.

He is very gifted with so much that we do. We have a funny expression about our osmosis. I once said that “I am the genius and Lala is the one with talent” as a joke but he repeats it since 30 years or more by this point. I know someone could be mean and throw this joke back at me for having said it publicly, but it’s true. Lala has an incredible understanding of what I really need to say in my work and I believe I have a total understanding of his needs as co-author of the works we do together, our work is alchemistic and follows all Wiccan, if you will, “protocol”. It expresses completely my Wiccan origins, my belief in love spells which my mother taught me…and it is a tangible object which is the metaphysical existence of the soul contract I have with Lala. As I feel our work is not that easy to understand and perhaps some people possibly don’t understand us, I have to work harder to allow the work to be as organic as possible but the nomenclature must be clear. I want the work to let people know who I am and who my soulmate Lala and I are.

*I love the blue lip painting, Why blue? AH! As I may have mentioned to you when we’ve chatted, colour is an important part of Wiccan energy and like things such as feng shui and other various affirmative rituals in the world, colour is of great importance in our lives. Since I was a child, I had to sleep in a violet room, with pink incorporated with gold. I have maintained this all my life, so far. Violet is the furthest on the spectrum of the rainbow and blue is right behind, which can symbolise sky, water and earthly delights. The blue was essential for this piece as it was to surround the pieces inside…and protect it. As a double Pisces, water is my element and this box is a way of protecting it’s Wiccan powers and the energy Lala and I put in your hands, so-to-speak. We entrust you with our work and it comes along with it’s own magick spell.

*What was the original inspiration for the lip necklace? There were several, clearly one is Schiaparelli and Man Ray. But also it represents sensuality and life, fertility. At the time I was very much into the leitmotivs of the Dadaists and the Surrealists but they have a Wiccan significance as well. In the Bible it signifies various things notably doctrine. The mouth also is the center of many of the fundamental aspects of our humanity. Lips can mean consumption, breath, romance and speech (as in any kind of doctrine). It is communication, interaction, almost a door to the soul. As the mouth of a river, it assumes the meaning of a door, a gate or an entrance which can lead to another realm of existence. Andy Warhol even named a blue after me called Billy Boy* Blue and some silly déclassé society woman named her race horse Billy Boy Blue after me. Blue is one of my colours aside from those I mentioned. One other thing, rather hard to explain but poignant is my Wiccan mother’s views on the existence of life on earth and my role in her life. When we did the small painting on canvas incrusted into the box, we distinctly were recalling some very personal things my mother spoke to me about regarding her views about non-earthly space travel vehicles. These things my mother told me have been always a subject of discussion between Lala and I. They range from ridiculous to serious discussions and the idea of this spaceship is represented by the blue lips.

Book: *The text is very candid and really helps one to understand many motivations behind your work is this why you choose this subject? You could have focused on your collection or jewelry, you had done a book already on the dolls? As you already know, Rizzoli really wanted a memoir of myself because the huge manuscript they bought after reading it, they’d decided it was too academic and that, for a publisher is a fancy way to say fewer people would like to buy and read it. The original manuscript, while I tell anecdotes, was literally every single thing of every single year I had uncovered about Schiaparelli and I had detailed outfit by outfit descriptions for each collection she ever did as well as every license and every anecdote and document I had. Rizzoli felt the fact I knew and still know many people in a diverse array of milieu and some of whom were highly identifiable and in our current zeitgeist, they wanted my story mixed in. So, I did it though I was a bit disappointed to do so. It was difficult only in that I had not anticipated doing a whole new book and I had exceptionally many important life things to deal with including my mum’s suicide. So, though it was written through a ring of fire, the result is what it is…though hybrid, I think it makes sense when you read it. I cannot be objective. I was battling endlessly with copy editors and in total, I think there were five. They really did not know, in my opinion, what they were doing or even reading and it slowed the process down. If they had their way, I am convinced there would not be much reference to my spiritual and metaphysical journey…which is ironic as it is the singularly only thing which counted for me. The very first time I spoke to the publisher of Rizzoli, the first thing I told him was my metaphysical journey was the most important thing I wanted in the book and asked him if this would be an issue to which he replied “no”. Nonetheless, it was and I had to really battle with quite frustratingly unenlightened copy editors. Listing my own pieces would not have been an option as I already had plans for other books to deal with the various collections on academic levels, and these will come out, hopefully, on a more regular basis now that this “BillyBoy* 101” is out.

*Where did your name come from, you’ve hinted you did not give it to yourself…Is it somehow related to your real family? You don’t have to give details but we must know how such a great calling card was attributed to you My real name is Billy and my surname Boy. I certainly did not give it to myself as it’s not the kind of conspicuous name I’d want though I am proud and happy to have it now as an adult. The surname Boy originates in Berwickshire many hundreds of years ago. There was an Earl of Berwickshire (in some way related to my families) who was surnamed Boy. My real family who were purely Austrian and my adopted family who were purely Russian were linked and knew each other for literally many generations. So, with the English name Boy, through this British link, I guess it all got put together and I was thusly named, so vôila, … my adopted family did not follow through on the name agreed upon with my real family which was long and stodgy and decided this was the best solution. That’s what was always told to me…as vague as it is. I had severe issues with my family about my adoption and had many years of suffering and temper tantrums to find out more and even on the eve of my mum’s suicide she refused to tell me one single thing more about it. She always maintained that it’s best I not know about “all of that” as she’d say. So, I finally accept that as gospel and not longer suffer in that regard. The eve of her death I told my mum I forgave her all and everything and hope she forgave me and we were very happy at letting go of all old issues. I had no idea she’d kill herself, so I feel blessed this occurred before that finality. I found great peace, even after her death, knowing we’d arrived at a mutual agreement on my origins and all the issues of the many years where it was unbearable for us both.

*You were not born in the US, but I do feel you really grew up very touched by the culture until you left in your teens- so I kind of want to claim you as one of us. How important was your time in New York to your identity? Hahaha, sure! I am fine with that, you can claim me as one of your own. I’m touched and flattered. Thank you. I am Swiss though as you know. And I may add very proud of my Swiss nationality. I cannot imagine life being any other nationality. Did you keep the collection you sent over in the LV steamer trunks, do you still have most of it? Yes, I have essentially everything still, though now it’s grown to unreal dimensions. I had to buy a factory to house it. I will one day de-acquisition and finally sell it privately to major museums whom already solicited me for a variety of different things in the collections. I don’t want my family to have to deal with it and certainly not my son, he’d be lost in it. As much as he lovesit, it’s not his nature to keep and store and take care of so many ephemeral and fragile things.

Reading about the time in New York I started to dream about going to one of those packed apartments..How many were there full of vintage couture clothing? Did you leave an storage lockers or apartments by chance so I can just take over:) Those trunks held masterpieces that rival the best of the best but they also had Bugs Bunny dolls and Eve Plumb memorabilia. Those trunks held everything which had meaning for me, so a lot of art, jewellery, haute couture, Pop culture…in my book I mention things I traveled to the Chelsea Hotel with….so you can get a good idea of what they held in them. Unfortunately for you, dear …there are no longer any empty apartments filled with my stuff. I finally got my life together and it’s better organised now. Those trunks were transformed into works of art which have been shown in various shows around the world.

I was very impressed by your descriptions and Schiaparelli’s life from a more detailed stance, which gave me a sense of who she was emotionally. To speak to this, you mention her letters….Do you have an extensive collection of first hand historic documents concerning her or her own letters? Oh yes, I am an avid documentarist. I have literally thousands of documents, letters, photos, all sorts of personal things. Go Go Schiaparelli gave me things from her mother, like Le Roi Soleil flacon designed by Dali, some jewellery which Schiap owned and wore (though did not design or have anything to do with it’s creation), her initials entwined in silver dating to maybe 1900 or so, something she wore as a young girl and later, a few things, costume jewellery in bakelite with her initials, which were hers as an adult. These pieces are not valuable unto themselves, they are not fine jewellery, but to me they are priceless. You know, I have saved every single letter, card, invitation I’ve ever received, it’s hundreds and hundreds of archival boxes and books of documents. I have collected letters from the most famous people in the world, to completely unknown people whom I had experiences with, or loved. Seeing it now, a number of these people in fashion and the arts can sort of be, to an extent, summed up and you get an idea of their work or life incredibly well. As for my collecting documentation, it’s a fascinating experience and is very thought-provoking. It has always given me helpful insight into things I was not able to fully comprehend. It adds so much dimension to a story and to the history. I guess you can see the humanity of iconic people (and even events) through the remaining letters, documents, photos and even things they owned or were made at the same time. What I don’t like, which happens occasionally, is the way someone implies the reason why I am (and others) can be so passioned by collecting documentation is linked to something fetish-y. I preserve these things, not stroke them delicately at night. Apart from this one slightly annoying thing, all of these elements are always very interesting for me. I was fortunate to be invited to some extraordinary events, and shows, fashion défilé etc and as an ensemble when I see it now it seems almost to summarise some of the mondaine events, but also some of the most outside the box underground culture that existed during 1970s up until now. I think about doing something creative with it all …like books. I will show it on my Youtube series no doubt. It’s called Spinach is Fashion and will debut in the late spring and it is going to be a show and tell of all kinds of cultural and lifestyle-related things. I wanted it laid back, casual and friendly. I hope it’ll be perceived as such.

Status

Jewelry According to BillyBoy*: An Interview with the Avid Collector of Haute Couture Accessories and Creator of Surreal Bijoux

avatar
Dallas shop Lou Latimore, ad for BillyBoy* jewelry.

Dallas shop Lou Latimore, ad for BillyBoy* jewelry. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

BillyBoy* has had many loves during his lifetime, thus far. From designing clothing and “artwear”, writing about his muse Schiaparelli, collecting art, sculpture, rare antique and 20th-century dolls and toys to re-designing Barbie for Mattel, which set precedents for the doll. He is also known for amassing an important haute couture fashion collection, the largest privately owned in the world.

BillyBoy* as pictured in New York Magazine, 1984.

BillyBoy* as pictured in New York Magazine, 1984. Image courtesy of BillyBoy*.

BillyBoy* has really nailed exactly what fashion jewelry is all about. His pieces are whimsical, have great scale, reference fashion history and can be found in museums like the Metropolitian Museum of Art Costume Institute, Musée du Louvre, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Kyoto Museum of Art and many others. Since the 1970s he’s been cited in reference books and as of relatively recent like Fashion Jewelry, The Collection of Barbara Berger and the first 1990s edition of Jewelry by Chanel by Patrick Mauriés (nearly everything in the book belonged to him). His work is in important art and jewelry collections worldwide. He has become the “go to” expert for museums and auction houses when they have pieces which require identification.

His significance as a collector and preserver of haute couture accessories and clothing cannot be understated. He started at the age of 14 when he found a Schiaparelli hat with an gilded insect on it at a Parisian flea market. He began collecting early in his life, when haute couture pieces could be found for mere dollars, if one knew what they were looking for…. He is a highly regarded fashion historian with a collection of over 12,000 significant pieces of clothing and accessories chronicling the work of designers such as Dior, Vionnet, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Poiret, Chanel, and of course, his great love Elsa Schiaparelli. These last two designers he met as a child in the mid-1960s prior to their deaths. He also had the pleasure of having known nearly all of the last truly Old School haute couturiers in Paris and Italy such as Pierre Balmain, André Courrèges, Mme Grès, Jacques Griffe and Maryll Lanvin amongst many others. Items from his personal collection have sold at auction houses such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillip’s and Artcurial in Paris setting record prices. He has also assisted with dozens of museum exhibits on these subjects. BillyBoy*, in his early 20s already was a certified expert in France at the Union Française des Experts and for decades assisted the commisseur-priseurs like Camard, Millon, Tajan and many others at Hôtel Drouot in the heart of Paris.

Givenchy, Bettina and BillyBoy*

Givenchy, Bettina and BillyBoy*. Photograph provided by BillyBoy*.

With his new first book of memoirs called Frocking Life: Searching for Elsa Schiaparelli, published by esteemed Rizzoli Publishers International, which will be out on May, 24th 2016, his fashion endeavors continue. He’s looking forward to many future publications concerning his experiences in the worlds of fashion and art. He is also finishing a series of books specifically about his collections, each book will be organized by theme including Haute Couture Jewelry and Schiaparelli Haute Couture Jewellery.

 

 BillyBoy* Surreal Couture, invitation for the Fashion Show at the Fashion Institute of Technology, (F.I.T.) 1980. Drawing by Amelia Faulkner.


BillyBoy* Surreal Couture, invitation for the Fashion Show at the Fashion Institute of Technology, (F.I.T.) 1980. Drawing by Amelia Faulkner. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

Who is BillyBoy*?

BillyBoy* opened his atelier/showroom in Manhattan on Park Avenue in 1975 creating art work and wearable art style clothing, called “artwear”, which caught the eye of fashion influencers and the press such as Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily.  He soon included accessories and jewelry made under the moniker Surreal Couture. Diana Vreeland and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in America are said to have called him their protégé and Yvonne Deslandres (founder of the Union Française des Arts du Costume … U.F.A.C … in the Musée de Louvre) called him her spiritual son and they took him under their wings. Andy Warhol reportedly called him his muse and “the last Superstar”. He participated in now-iconic exhibitions on this new genre of fashion and art such as Regalia at the Henri Street Settlement in Manhattan in 1980. He was voted Man of the Year In England in the mid-1980s and a Modern Legend by British Vogue in the 1990s, notably for his work as a contemporary artist mixing art with jewelry.

Atelier Rue de la Paix, 1983.

Atelier Rue de la Paix, 1983. Image Courtesy of BillyBoy*

For several years after amassing the world’s largest Barbie doll collection including many hundreds of them uniquely dressed by haute couturiers and alta moda designers, he was a consultant and designer for the first Barbie dolls with a designer’s name on the box, one in which was called Feeling Groovy Barbie. These Barbies had an emphasis on his costume jewelry, as Barbie wore exact replicas in miniature of those he created for Bettina Graziani. He created an exhibition, now iconic, about these dolls which traveled throughout France and the United States from 1984 until 1988. As the muse to Andy Warhol, he was depicted in a painting as a Barbie doll, the painting being named “Portrait of BillyBoy*”. While this story in itself is an interesting one, today our focus is on Surreal Bijoux, which involves the likes of Diana Vreeland.

BillyBoy* in the 1970s, Surreal Couture.

BillyBoy* in the 1970s, Surreal Couture. Photograph courtesy of BillyBoy*

After he “retired” and moved to Europe in the late 1970s, his jewelry career really began. He started making and giving away jewelry when, a friend, the iconic 1950s fashion model Bettina Graziani, with whom he had a close relationship, urged him to start selling it. One day while she was having lunch with Gerry Stutz of Henri Bendel’s fame (she was the owner), they decided to call him directly and persuade him to do a show, which he did and it sold out in one hour after opening. Meeting, his soulmate and now husband in life in 1982, Jean Pierre Lestrade (known as Lala) played an important role in the creation of his art as well as the Surreal Couture/ Surreal Bijoux fashion and jewels which followed. They created a non-profit foundation to help artists in Switzerland in 1997, which has an active website. They also created a manifesto based upon an artwork of theirs which took the guise of a doll called Mdvaniiism : www.fondationtanagra.com and www.mdvanii.ch

What do you ask an iconic jewelry designer whose family was close to Salvador Dali, who drew pictures of him as a child and teen, who spent time at Andy Warhol’s factory, had friendships with fascinating people from Andy, William Burroughs, Salvador Dali, Gene Kelly, Cary Grant and Liz Taylor to Sid Vicious, Erté and Alexander McQueen?

 
Bettina Graziani and BillyBoy* Front row at YSL show. Bettina wearing Surreal Bijoux plane brooch.

Bettina Graziani and BillyBoy* Front row at YSL show. Bettina wearing Surreal Couture plane brooch. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

The Interview and Jewelry Image Archive:

1. How would you define fashion jewelry? Why did you choose the medium you chose for your jewelry designs, as for the most part they were costume elements? Speak about the Pop art elements and recycled aspects a bit….

BB*: I don’t really think one can define it really because it can be so much. What was considered good fashion jewelry in the past are considered iconic works of art now. Just look at the works of Jean Schlumberger, Alberto and Diego Giacometti, Elsa Triolet, Countess Cis Zoltowska (I knew Jean and Diego and Cis personally, she was a true character!) Lina Baretti, Jean Clément and François Hugo, all who made jewels which now are thought of as art works. There are hundreds and hundreds more in Paris who did the same thing, though lesser known. In time, I hope that people will learn their names and hold them in high esteem. As long as you can use a piece of jewelry, even if not wear it, you can use, in a way, to make you think. When I started in the 1970s many of my pieces intentionally were not really wearable, and I felt that it was fine and good like that. If looking at it can be a good experience, if it made you smile or just think (even if those weren’t always happy thoughts) that was what was important to me…what counted was how someone would relate spatially and cerebrally to it and if it made them either happy or think differently, to see it and feel it, that was my priority.

I always chose to make art work with my stuff, so it could be just about anything. I think I was working in the true definition of Surrealism and Absurdism. At the very beginning, it was not a matter of wearing it, but understanding it as a work of art. I used irony and camp, sarcasm and poetry to express some very deep feelings within myself. I made a necklace of live insects inside a plastic flexible tube, I wore a live lobster tangled in fake pearls, I wore a gilded doll’s house wardrobe (a free standing closet) which opened to reveal a diamond heart as a brooch, which I later gave to Yvonne Deslandres as a birthday gift. I embedded diamonds in trash I found on the street. These things, at least some, eventually evolved into my doing more jewelry for people to wear, than as a thing to contemplate and see exclusively as a work of art. This happened when Bettina Graziani insisted I do something for Bendel’s. It struck my fancy because as I’d worked with them even earlier than that date, in the 70s, I was nostalgic and thought it could be fun. Lala and I used the old-fashioned chalky plâtre de Paris with stones in the Old School manner we had made by the parisian artisans which were still around back then. The joke was that the chalk would rub off on the expensive Norman Norell and Bill Blass suits the clients wore. I found it rather funny. I wanted to make the point, like Elsa Triolet had with her jewels, that anything worthless can be made beautiful and incorporated into something to wear. For my work, I used “recycled” things, like Dinky toys, broken 18th-century porcelain and dried out starfish painted gold, in my mind at the time, they were overlooked things which were poetic.

Surreal Bijoux cuffs, 1985. Vogue.

Surreal Bijoux cuffs, 1985. Vogue. Archive image courtesy of BillyBoy*

2. You did create a small amount of “fine” jewelry examples that are rare to find today, in both sterling and gold. Do you have any examples in your personal collection? What was the difference for you in terms of working in those mediums versus other materials?

BB* : I did create precious metal and real gemstone jewels (sometimes used zircons which was new at the time) for a while for special people who requested it. They were truly absurd as they were big and uncomfortable, but nice to look at. Lady Gaga would have loved them had she been around at the time. I used white, pink or yellow 24 karat gold, platinum, diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Very few exist and I lost contact with most of the owners, some died and some just went off my radar. I sometimes wonder what happened to them. I have one or two pieces myself. I did a whole show of them in the late 70s. Those were Russian Constructivist-inspired. Only some of these were eminently more wearable and pretty.

ABSOLUT BILLYBOY*, brooch in gilt metal with pâte de verre stone, the bottle engraved ABSOLUT and painted gold, ruby cabochon, 1 out of 1000 examples, 1987. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

ABSOLUT BILLYBOY*, brooch in gilt metal with pâte de verre stone, the bottle engraved ABSOLUT and painted gold, ruby cabochon, 1 out of 1000 examples, 1987. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

The Absolut Vodka company, thanks to Andy, asked to do Absolut BillyBoy* in 1987. I was the third artist along with Kenny Scharf to be part of that campaign. Andy was the first with Absolut Warhol and then Keith (Haring). Kenny and I simultaneously were asked at the same time. So, I did a scarf (in a thousand examples) with a drawing of mine, rather cartoon-ish, on it. This was made by the manufacturer who does Hermès and Chanel scarves. Acompanying it were a series of 1000 jewels. The scarf and jewels were given as gifts to “1000 of the most successful and influential  women of the United States” according to the PR the Absolut company had. Many famous ladies I personally knew received a set. Simultaneously the owner, Michel Roux who is now deceased, ordered a series of 20 sterling vermeil, rock crystal and ruby pieces for himself and ten in 24 karat gold.

3.Why did you call your jewelry Surreal Bijoux, explain your experience with Surrealism and it’s importance to you for those readers who know only the basics of your influences?

BB* : I knew many famous Surrealist artists and authors as a child and teen; Bill Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Leonor Fini (who designed the Shocking perfume bottle), Dali, Diego Giacometti and many others. They inspired me and made me love this genre of artwork. I first founded Surreal Couture and then in Paris did Surreal Bijoux, on Rue de la Paix, number 6, right next door to where Schiaparelli started her maison de haute couture (she was at number 4).

I had the luck to have the opportunity to chose this property and then buy that place. I did not start Surreal Bijoux immediately when I moved back to Paris, but not too long after acquiring rue de la Paix Lala and I decided to do it there. In the beginning the president of Christian Dior and his wife were partners but after a month or two I bought them out because they wanted to create a big business with a big commercial vision they had. I did not share this idea for my work, so after a difficult negotiation, I bought them out for more than they paid for their shares. They argued that I was going to be wildly successful and they wanted a compensation for my sudden desire to own the company entirely. So I paid them quite a lot more just to retrieve their shares. I wanted to work exclusively with my partner Lala. He was a well-known singer and had just launched his first single, Jolie Fille D’Alger when we met. You can find it on Youtube.

Ex-votoSchiap1941Louvredocument

Image of the original authentic Schiaparelli sketch from 1941 with is now in the U.F.A.C archives at the Louvre. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

4. Why Elsa Schiaparelli? What about her versus any other designer captivated you so deeply?

BB* : Well, that is a very long story which you will be able to read in my upcoming Rizzoli memoirs (May 24th 2016 is the publication date for the moment). I found a hat at the puces de Clignanacourt, and I had a full-blown, full-blast metaphyscial experience. I had met her a number of times as a child and it was only about two or three years she had been gone, back to the world of souls that this odd hat and I found each other. I literally tripped out of my mind into a dimension of absolute love when I physically picked up that hat. It was truly an experience which required a whole book to explain. For me, she is someone I have a soul contract with.

BillyBoy*, Dallas. Courtesy of the designer.

BillyBoy*, Dallas. photo by Ivy Ney. Courtesy of the designer. Rights reserved.

5. How did she influence your jewelry? What are some other designers that have captivated your imagination?

BB* : It’s not that easy to explain, but having seen so much of the early Jean Clément and Roger Jean-Pierre jewels, they had a chunkiness and a hand-made look and feel which I found enthralling. I liked the contrast of the brutalistic fastenings and the way her jewels were juxtaposed against the luxurious and refined materials. I also had a huge fascination for the odd colours and peculiar contrasts.

I have had many friends and acquaintances who were jewel designers like Kenny Lane as well as artist and jewelry-maker Andrew Logan…. I met and befriended in varied degrees, nearly all the others from generations past like Mme Gripoix whom I knew since 1973 and Roger Scemama to Robert Goossens and I am sure they influenced me in some way or another. I love the hand-made aspect of costume jewels. One of the greatest kinds of luck I had was to be able to know, befriend and work with the very last remaining old school artisans who were by then near the age of retirement, but still active. I knew Mme Gripoix, Scemama, Cis, and Desrues and worked with them all. I worked with Lukés who did some of the first Chanel jewelry, and the company Janvier who did Chanel’s chains and when I designed chains it was these artisans who made them for me. I worked with Gripoix and others in the field of pâte de verre and emaille and all the stones Lala and I designed were made by artisans who were established over a hundred years by that time. Apart from these stones and elements made just for my own jewels I had access to old stock and used wonderful beads, stones and strass from these now iconic names. Swaroski at the time was a name nobody except those in the business knew. I still have hundreds and hundreds of exquisitely wrapped stones by them in colours made just for me. When I first started and throughout my career in Paris, I had this amazing privilege to be part of this old school community. They were my friends and fellow artisans who contributed to my success. It was a pretty closed community, but once in it you could consider yourself there for life. It was very rewarding and very satisfying to work this way. Now that it is gone, and I see how branded jewels are made, nearly everything is made in China, the Orient and India, I miss it and have a little nostalgia for it. Some of the French ones were bought by Chanel and industrialized. It also makes seeing all the horrible errors in descriptions I see today, in the world of collecting European costume jewelry that much more annoying… I often I read completely incorrect evaluations and descriptions. I almost feel it’s my duty to pass on the real information I have and the experiences I have had. To summarize it I could say, not every Gripoix jewel was for Chanel, not every quirky piece of pre-war French figural jewelery was by Schiaparelli. Besides, most of these jewels were designed and made outside the haute couture house itself and was actually designed and made by others. Jean Clément for example was an unsung hero up until these last two or three years and still mostly nobody knows about him. Though only of late, I see his name bandied about and incorrectly attributed to others who worked in a similiar vain, such as the company Doliet and Création Art et Décor.They made things which resemble Clément and we are years away from dealers understanding the differences.

6. How important was Diana Vreeland to the trajectory your work took?

BB* : I was her protégé. I cannot underestimate how much she helped me and her devotion to me and getting my work “out there”, as she’d say. She did so much for me and opened so many doors for so many things. She shared her experiences and her knowledge and she introduced me to friends of hers who later became friends of mine. She taught me the word pizzaz and her ideas on what real chic was. She told me that I had a natural and instinctive sense of chic and she found it very amusing since I was so young.This meant a lot to me as I was always so aware of my strange alien type features and body. Her encouragement helped me get over my doubt about my own skinny awkward looks.

Naturally, I also was deeply flattered and honored. She was truly one-of-a-kind. I am not sure people know to which extent she was unique. I know she is greatly admired and respected and iconic now, but there seems not to be anyone like her with that amazing generosity she had and that vibrant love affair with life she had. When branding came in in the 1990s and real haute couture died when Yves Saint Laurent passed away, people as brilliant as Mrs Vreeland stopped becoming renewed into the world, or so it seemed to me. I think this kind of magic will come back, but perhaps not soon. Isabella Blow was one of them but her tragic demise made her stay here on earth brief.

 

7. While I’m on the subject please indulge us on Diana Vreeland’s jewelry collection-did you ever see it? Do you own any pieces belonging to her? What was her taste in jewelry like? Did she have a piece she wore most that you noticed?

BB* : Of course I saw it, she showed me everything, as I was so curious to see the real thing! I was like a slightly mad little puppy bouncing around and wagging my tail at all the beautiful things she’d show me and telling me their stories, I was in rapture. The real deal of what was what and who was who was mesmerizing. She gave me a number of things I cherish like a pair of Schiaparelli Schlumberger-made baby frog women’s cufflinks which are as big as the real thing and I also bought some of her things, notably the authentic Chanel Fulco di Verdura cuffs when she had her sale at Sotheby’s in the 80s. She had the real deal and the copies by Lane, which I did not buy.

She was into the dramatic, the pieces which had some reference, like Saint Laurent pieces from the Russia-inspired collection or the China-inspired collection. She wore a big thing, some sort of animal tusk (it looked like a wild boar’s curved tusk) as a pendant which she wore long or short by inserting it through the end and making a choker which had the tusk dangle on the side and she wore a wide variety of cuffs, notably Indian-style ones in I think bone, which looked like ivory. She wore them with grace and cuffs are not that easy to wear and she wore great YSL chain belts. Like when one has long manicured nails and you use your fingers more stylistically, wearing cuffs make you use your hands in a very elegant and different way. Diana has wonderfully expressive hands, always manicured with bright red polish.

She also liked heavy, dramatic and unusual chain necklaces. They looked Etruscan or ancient and though they had a great simplicity had drama as well. She wore a lot of my jewelry and in the sale of her jewels there were one or two pieces of mine. I think she kept some for herself and later gave many pieces to her family.

When I first met her in the late 1960s, I was still a child, but I vividly recall she still wore turbans or wraps around her hair with antique military medallion brooches pinned to the top; sometimes one, sometimes two. She wore great old Chanel pieces and a lot of Kenneth J. Lane who made special pieces for her too, as I would later on. Kenneth Lane did great copies of other designers and as I mentioned earlier, she had “Verdura” style cuffs reproduced by him.

Catherine Baba photographed in items from the collection of BillyBoy* - the coat once belonged to Marlena Dietrich.

Catherine Baba photographed in items from the collection of BillyBoy* – the white dress is haute couture Schiaparelli and once belonged to Marlene Dietrich. A gift from her to BillyBoy* Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

The only person I know still alive, whom I do not know personally is of course Mrs. Iris Apfel. Those I do know are wonderful people like Barbara Berger who wears jewels too with a Vreeland touch. I haven’t of yet met a young person with the exception of my friends the stylist Catherine Baba who truly knows about how to wear jewels and clothes. She is almost a time traveller from the past as the use of drama and flair with fashion is inately in her. The other person is Monsieur Laurent Mercier a.k.a Dragoness Lola Von Flame, who is my “drag daughter”. She totally get’s it too. I invented the word Dragoness (a mix between a dragon and a Countess) for my late friend Maxime de la Falaise and Lola needed a title so I said she should be a Dragoness as well as if she did not accept the title, the era of Dragonesses will have died out, like dinosaurs. I am sure other chic woman and even men still exist who wear jewels like Diana but I’d have to sit down and think for a while to come up with whom. I think anonymous, unknown ladies (and perhaps some men) are still out there with that special understanding of jewelry, but they are a dying breed.

 Lip necklace, hand-painted resin with peals on tubular gilt chain, 1986. Collection BillyBoy* & Lala. Courtesy of BillyBoy*


Lip necklace, hand-painted resin with peals on tubular gilt chain, 1986. Collection BillyBoy* & Lala. Image courtesy of BillyBoy*

8. For the BillyBoy* jewelry collectors? What do you see as your most iconic and important themes or pieces?

MuglerBB* copy

BillyBoy* in Thierry Mugler for Harper’s Bazaar. Archival image courtesy of BillyBoy*

BB* : That’s hard to say. I have never really thought in such terms, but I think it’d really be dependent on what kind of collector you are talking about and what that someone would want to do with the pieces by Surreal Couture or Surreal Bijoux they may have or collect. It is what matters to the collector in their life that would define the answer to your second question. I know some people tend to really gravitate towards those huge pieces I did as art works and which are probably the most eccentric. When they come up for sale in auctions, notably in Europe, they sell really well. I know museums have been buying them too. These pieces, the collectors I know display or wear them rarely and like them, – I suppose, for the concept and the contrasting ideas in them, the way art works should be appreciated as. For example a wonderful collector of my work lives in Hamburg, Germany, her name is Christiane and she has truly some of the most remarkable pieces I have done, some we custom designed and made just for her. She inspired me many times. It’s a very exciting type of relationship; the kind between myself, artist and herself, devoted collector. She has what I could say are the best of the best of my work. Her collection has the most lavish surrealist pieces I’ve done and just for her. She has not just one piece but the whole parure: necklace, pendant, earrings, a pair of bracelets and several brooches all with the same theme and all matching.

Iman, Thierry Mugler fashion show, 1984.

Iman, Thierry Mugler fashion show, 1984. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

Others collect what they intend to wear, the haute couture I did for all those designers in Paris and London in the 1980s and 90s for example. The Thierry Mugler pieces we did I am rather fond of. Personally those pieces I think are truly personal successes for myself. They are not necessarily wearable or even understandable but I like them still. The pieces in the Met Costume Institute or the Louvre all have very close connections to my life, so I am rather fond of them too. These pieces they have were amongst my most personal and eccentric. A piece I have worked on since 1975 (and own as it was never available to buy) of hundreds of Bakelite bracelets strung like beads and several meters long is one of them. When it was small, and I wore it as a necklace as it only had just twenty bracelets already, wearing it was very hard as it weighed already then quite a lot. The piece I named “Self-Portrait”. Andy really immortalized the Joan of Arc collection which he wore everywhere. Yvonnes Deslandres often wore my over-sized starfish and Jackie Kennedy Onassis wore many forms of the hearts I adored making and many variants I had done for her over the years of our friendship. Mrs Vreeland wore some really big Surreal Couture and Surreal Bijoux pieces, bigger than most people would consider wearing. I recall a summer we spent a few weeks in Christophe de Menil’s house in France and she had this amazing Oceanic art everywhere and that inspired me for shapes. I am fond of those pieces as they are big, heavy and graphic. She supported my work too, which is such a pleasure for me as she is an art collector.

 ANDY WARHOL'S INTERVIEW: FLOWE POWER necklace in colored lucite and chains and JOAN OF ARC necklace in resine and glass stones.


ANDY WARHOL’S INTERVIEW: FLOWER POWER necklace in colored lucite and chains and JOAN OF ARC necklace in resine and glass stones. Photo Christopher Makos. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

9. How many examples of jewelry do you estimate you have made over the years?

BB* : The ones I made by hand, I have no idea. However those that were made as Surreal Bijoux must be in the thousands but bear in mind each and everyone was hand-made or finished and Lala or myself personally inspected nearly all of them. We did an early show at Maison Jansen in Paris which had, literally 1000 jewels each and everyone a unique creation. It took us months of night and day work with a staff of workers but we did it and it was a very big success. It was like Ali Baba’s cave. We also did a show at Lou Lattimore in Dallas which was a similar thing, hundreds of pieces all one-of-a-kind. We had a boutique in department stores like Bloomingdale’s Bonwit Teller, I. Magnin, Barney’s NY and Sak’s Fifth Avenue. Lala and I wanted to evoke sumptuousness and luxury without using luxurious old leitmotivs or materials, so these big stores really made a big effort and exception to give so much space to such a rather unusual type of jewelry. I suppose back then stores took more risks than they do today. It was so much fun in any case. Most of my earliest work is in museums like the Musee du Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute, and The Victoria & Albert Museum, The Kyoto Museum, etc. etc.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 6.49.54 PM

Press image. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

10. You also did accessories like hats or shoes, do you have an image of those or favorite designs?

BB* : Yes, of course, my favorites were the sunglasses. We made some for Ray Charles and he wore them a lot and that stands out as being something I have loved doing. My hats, I did so many, and all those I kept for myself were taken by the Louvre in 1982 and they are mostly all inspired by Schiaparelli.

 BillyBoy* with Greg Gorman and assistant, wearing BillyBoy* eyewear. Los Angeles, studio polaroïd,1988.


BillyBoy* with Greg Gorman and assistant, wearing BillyBoy* eyewear. Los Angeles, studio polaroïd,1988. Courtesy of BillyBoy* Rights reserved.

Back in NY in 1980 a furniture design gallery called Art et Industrie was in the newly trendy Soho and I had a wonderfully fun and big fashion show there. It was owned by a man named Rick Kaufman and he had a wife, or girlfriend, I cannot recall, named Tracy Rust who was like Auntie Mame and he bought her an olive necklace I made of olives I hand-carved and enclosed in a vintage olive bottle jar which was from the series as the peanuts necklace in the Met and the pizza necklace which I kept for myself. She also acquired a harlequin hat from a series I made inspired by Schiap and hers I used in my performance called Harlequin Hold Onto Your Hat at Victoria Falls, a fancy gallery/shop also in Soho owned by Rena Gill that sold rare vintage clothes and artwear. The artist Colette (of Colette is Dead) had done a show just before mine. My late friend Jeffrey Geiger did pictures of it. The hat ended up in a huge feature story about me in the then-trendy Soho Weekly News where the article said I was a Renaissnace Boy. A great number of clothes were taken by the Louvre and I recall specific pieces I enjoyed doing so much. The Pagliacci coats with embroidered lips was one of my favorites  and jackets I did with Mimi Gross hand-woodblock prints (I kept one for myself) were really thrilling for me to do. Mimi is such a vibrant artist.

BABY YOU CAN DRIVE MY CARS: A spectacular baroque necklace composed of three 1950s Dinky Toys cars (2 Jaguar cars and a London cab) studded with cabochons and enhanced with gold leaf with various pearls and beads in glass and plastic as well as turquoise wrapped around each car with brass thread, the ensemble mounted on several metal chains, some gilt or in brass, with pearls painted gold. One-of-a-kind, Surreal Couture, New York 1978. Collection: Barbara Berger, Mexico

BABY YOU CAN DRIVE MY CARS: A spectacular baroque necklace composed of three 1950s Dinky Toys cars (2 Jaguar cars and a London cab) studded with cabochons and enhanced with gold leaf with various pearls and beads in glass and plastic as well as turquoise wrapped around each car with brass thread, the ensemble mounted on several metal chains, some gilt or in brass, with pearls painted gold. One-of-a-kind, Surreal Couture, New York 1978. Collection: Barbara Berger, Mexico. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

11. Were any of the pieces you made unsigned, perhaps when you first started creating jewelry in New York?

BB* : Many were signed, I think nearly all except maybe the Flintstones bracelets and fifties looking multi-strand bead necklaces which are in the Louvre may not have been signed. But on the whole, most are signed and documented.

12. When you began to focus on jewelry in Paris, what roles did Jean Pierre (Lala) and Bettina play?

BB* : Jean Pierre who I always called Lala was essential to every aspect of my life and the work …we were in complete osmosis, we are soulmates so it’s practically telepathic, we work perfectly together since the day we met and the day we started to do things together. I cannot emphasize it enough but he is essential to my creating and my happiness. I cannot even imagine what my life would have been without him. Bettina Graziani and Bettina Bergery were two of the major friends in my life and that introduced my jewels to everyone they knew …which is saying a lot since they were two of the most famous and most beloved fashion people of Paris for decades. Huge stars like Liz Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Zizi Jeanmaire, Arletty and Jeanne Moreau and so many others, and it did not stop at stars and socialites but includes many important people of royalty, Princesses and Princes wore my stuff thanks to them both. Bettina  Bergery in my life is a book unto itself, whom I was very, very attached to since childhood. She was a Schiaparelli model since the 1920s. Her title was Honorable Madame Bettina Bergery as Gaston, her dapper husband, was a very famous political man, lawyer and was known as a great supporter of the arts. He was granted the Legion d’Honneur after the war by De Gaulle. She was the ultimate parisian femme mondaine and we were equally if not more close than Bettina Graziani and I. She was like nobody I can describe. She was part of my soul in a way. Diana and her were close friends and she was one of the first models for Schiaparelli and muse to artists like Dali and Picabia and Man Ray. It was Bettina that modeled the necklace by Elsa Triolet Schiap called the “Aspirin necklace” and I have the necklace and the Man Ray photos of her modeling it. It is funny because I used to always work late and Lala and I would stop by her house almost every day and I’d fall asleep on the day bed after we’d eat dinner. At Bettina Graziani’s house, I’d go often for lunch and I had my own bedroom in her classically beautiful apartment on Rue de Grenelle to fall asleep in. On weekends I practically lived there after Lala and I moved to Normandy. Sometimes, regularly in fact, though I’d eat lunch with Madame Grès who was my friend and neighbour on rue de la Paix. I’d spent a half an hour or an hour watching her drape a dress afterwards where we’d chat about everything under the sun. I asked her about her costume jewels all the time, for which I have many. They are rare but so evocative of her taste and vision of classical beauty. They look rather tribal and primitive. Often made from bronze, iron and steel, there was nothing fussy. They were very modernistic and not at all baroque, but sober and they go perfectly with her clothes.

There is a chapter in my upcoming book called The Two Bettinas which tells a bit more about this odd friend situation of mine. Bettina Bergery in the 20s and 30s and Bettina Graziani in the 40s and 50s were both extremely famous fashion models. They were in a silly sort of way rivals in regards to me because Bettina Bergery was purely aristocratic, she was a Shaw (related to Bernard Shaw) and was truly part of the most inner, most privileged and most elite circles of Paris intelligensia. She knew all the famous artists and authors and all of Europe’s aristocracy/high society. Bettina Bergery thought of Bettina Graziani as someone very Existentialist as Bettina G. knew all those people, like Franciose Sagan and Juliette Greco.  Also she thought she was very “Hollywood”, as she knew many stars. “Hollywood” though in her mouth was a sarcasm. She often asked me “How is your friend, you know the country girl, what’s her name, the one with the boy’s hairstyle ? She’s so quaint.” 

Bettina Graziani thought of Bettina B. as very snobbish Old School Parisian and intimidating as she was truly part of the great art and literature culture of France and was truly American Royalty. Getting them together at our jewelery shows or dinner at home was hilarious, because they were always so elegant and polite with each other but you could see Bettina Graziani streaming from afar. They never outwardly said anything truly mean but only little spikes of annoyance and mostly from Bettina Graziani as she was very possessive of me. She knew how deeply attached I was to Bettina B. I loved them equally but as anyone knows, no love is explainable. They both owned parts of my heart. They were very different yet very important equally to my heart.

BillyBoy* and Bettina Bergery. 1984.

BillyBoy* and Bettina Bergery. 1984. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

13. In 1984 you opened your atelier/showroom and offices with companion/partner (now husband) Jean Pierre Lestrade/Lala. What was the “Surreal Bijoux” workshop and showroom on mythical Rue de la Paix in Paris like on a daily basis?

BB* : It was hectic. There was my office in the back, which was painted violet with black furniture and books up to the ceiling in a corner. The showroom was smallish and just had black tables against all the walls and velvet trays were on them, there was a big main atelier and a smaller room for supplies and stock. The main room had big work tables and each worker had their station where they did one special aspect of a jewel. There was gilding, there was moulding and sanding, there was the one who did the setting of thre stones and another for the dangling beads. Lala directed everything and as I was very very strict about following the designs exactly, Lala saw to that but he also did many, many of the pieces from my suggestions or one basic sketch, he’d elaborate the idea into jewels for overly big pendants and the same design made small for matching earrings. He came up with many ideas and we spoke endlessly about them. I don’t think we ever disagreed on a single jewel – it was like osmosis. He also did all the plaster prototypes for the molds. Private clients came all the time and asked me to design unique things for them and journalists and stylists came all the time to do stories or borrow pieces to put on stars in the magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Marie-Claire amongst many others. Many, many stars came and it became a little party where we’d drink champagne and laugh and they’d try stuff on. One never knew what a day would be like as we had no idea who’d drop by unannounced. I rarely spoke to the workers except for good morning and good night and at Christmas they got their bonus, could chose a jewel. I later learned that one of them stole jewels from us and bragged about it. Lala said he regretted having hired her. Most of them however were charming and were sorry when we moved to Switzerland and we let them go with severance pay and great recommendation reference letters.

At the top period we must have had eleven or twelve workers in the atelier plus my secretary, Lala’s secretary, assistants and representatives who went out and showed the jewels to shops and department stores. Lala always dealt with the haute couturiers and designers whom we did jewels for. He has a much more convivial nature than I and everyone in Paris knew him for being so sweet and kind and fair. I unfortunately always remained a mystery and almost never dealt with anyone except the very élite private clients, stars, royalty and my friends who wore our stuff. At one point in the early 1990s we also had a wonderful gallery showroom for the jewels and the Mdvaniis on rue de Cherche-Midi close to Paco Rabanne. It was entirely Schiaparelli pink, with a circus tent made of Shocking pink fabric which the House of Schiaparelli gave me in the 1970s. It rose to a point in the middle and had a chandelier in iron covered in violet and pink silk flowers which matched a swagged frieze around the room of the same vivid flowers. We had Paul Poiret furniture lacquered Shocking pink and furniture we designed to match it. The floor was also Shocking pink wool carpet. It was an old 19th-century registered national monument building and shop so it had the painted glass panels outside and gigantic BillyBoy* Goons in Shocking pink as handles to the door. On it was stenciled “Poupées, Luxe et Volupté” paraphrasing “Luxe, Calme et Volupté”, the title of a 1904 Henri Matisse painting which is taken from the poem L’Invitation au voyage from Charle’s Beaudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal

14. Did you create couture hand-made pieces in limited quantities or were some designs manufactured on a larger scale? Was Henry Bendel the first store to carry the jewelry?

BB* : Yes, mostly all were haute couture but we did several series in metal, for Charles Jourdan and a few other haute couture designers which we distributed worldwide. Henri Bendel’s was the first client of Surreal Bijoux in America, but I’d been selling my jewels long before with them and Bloomingdale’s, Bonwit Teller and Sak’s. In Paris, I think it was Maison Jansen, the iconic interior decorators who sold the jewels first. The Maison Jansen was right in between the Art Nouveau masterpiece that is the restaurant Maxims de Paris and Pierre Cardin’s haute couture hat salon on Rue Royale. The owner was the jovial and chic Mme Jeanne Gambert de Loche who was rather enamored with the jewels and she insisted I do a gigantic show there which Lala and I did.We did a film at Vogue Studios and had go-go dancers, male and female in my own Mod-era clothes, in the windows. There were three minor car accidents the night of the show due to the very brightly coloured lights and noise coming from the otherwise classic and conservative French establishment. The show was such a great success, the jewels sold almost out the night of the opening were nearly every star I’d every heard of was there. The success was such that Mme Gambert de Loche made a boutique of the jewels there for many years which worked astonishingly well, with sales and publicity which was a surprise to us as we thought such a conservative place would not have clients who’d be into such funkiness. Mme Gambert de Loche was very happy as were we at the unpredictable success of the jewels there and for such a long time. We sold in most major luxury boutiques and shops and department stores throughout France and later England, with Liberty of London and an important designer of the time named Scott Crolla. We had entire boutiques in these shops, like in the USA and they were very successful.

DATING BILLYBOY* JEWELRY:

BillyBoy* signature examples.

BillyBoy* signature examples. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

15. What difference in signature can be found on early pieces versus later or one of a kind, hand made versus more produced items?

BB* : Early Surreal Couture (as early as 1975) are hand-signed Billy Boy (this spelling) or had a tag with a stamp marked Surreal Couture, 7, Park Avenue with the hand-written facsimile Billy Boy (with and without asterisk) signature.

When I moved to Paris in the late 70s, and soon after meeting we started doing jewelery in the kitchen of our Paris apartment, the first ones were made in plaster of Paris and hand-signed by Lala in ink (mostly blue or black or gold on fuchsia Shocking pink) in script letters marked Billy Boy (with or without asterisk).

Then I used a new for the times material called “Plastiroc”, which is a kind of Fimo plaster that hardens, they were signed also by Lala with a pin, the name Billy Boy also written in script letters. They when we moved to rue de la Paix and founded Surreal Bijoux, we had a gilt oval tag stating BillyBoy* Surreal Bijoux ©) with my logo letters.

Then many jewels were cast in metal with my name in my usual font BillyBoy* – Surreal Bijoux – Made in France with the date (86, 87, 88 or 89 for example).

Some were cast into the metal with BillyBoy* copyright or BillyBoy*, Paris copyright.

Some jewels made in woven fabric exactly like haute couture labels, these appeared for example on such pieces as knit necklaces. These were Shocking pink, a woven Goon (my soul on a cloud, sometimes people called him a gingerbread man though his real name was “Goon”). The goon was either gilt gold metallic thread or silver metallic thread marked BillyBoy* Surreal Bijoux N°—. The number was for the haute couture client number and season etc. I am about to relaunch some limited-edition sweaters with the same label.

The most recent are the Mdvanii logo, marked Mdvanii, Paris and it is often engraved with the client and haute couture number on the back. It is a huge three inch métal tag, imitating the Mdvanii tag on the back of a Mdvanii doll.

Boxes have stamps, or embossed names, sometimes with Mdvaniiism de BillyBoy* & Lala.

These newer boxes have Mdvaniiism BillyBoy* & Lala with our finger prints in gold in a 2.5 inch gold circle. We use these on our serigraphs, silkscreen and photograph prints as well as other artworks.

16. Please describe your time working with haute couture designers in Paris making jewelry for them in the 1980s: How did it add to your experience as a designer? What was your favorite moment where you saw your work in context of another designer’s collection? When it just really worked or dazzled you.

BB* : Most of the designers I was friends with or at least frequented them socially. I went to their homes for dinners and parties, they came to our homes. Naturally, as the reader will discover in my new book, I was thrilled to be doing what we were doing. Mostly, I’d speak to the designer on the phone or we’d see each other and I’d ask what the new « mood » was going to be, with Mugler for example it was Africana, Tribal, Sauvage,…also lost in the jungle kind of thing. Iman was going to be wearing my pieces. It was called the “To Be Savage is to Live” collection and I did the graphics for it and designed the pieces for this look Mugler explained to me. At that time Dauphine de Jerphanion, his muse and model and my friend had lots of dinners together and she and I would talk about the  new mood. I always had a casual, intimate relationship in some form or another with the designer and it was through these kind of chats and directives that I’d get inspired. I saw some sketches and some fabrics and so with all that in mind I set about to do the actual pieces. As this theme was already dear to me it was rather easy and great fun.

We did a coconut shell brassière for Iman and though they looked exactly as the real thing, they were moulded in resin and hand-carved after being taken from the mould. So, after the sketch period we’d do prototypes. We did many, many from which we’d show to the house of haute couture and they’d mix and match them to the clothes, some times even just seconds before the model stepped onto the catwalk. Iman, in her sand-coloured raphia type fabric suit in the classic Mugler nipped waist style, she wore the jewels, the brassière and all and carried in her arms a live monkey !

I worked with many haute couture fashion houses for example there was Emanuel Ungaro, Hanae Mori, Bernard Perris, Diane Von Fürstenberg, Francesco Smalto, Tan Guidicelli and it was always very casual, very friendly and if I dare say, chic.. I was asked to do jewels for Mme. Grès and for Jacques Fath when they were trying to open again under the famous names. Though we did prototypes, at the last minute I decided not to do it for Fath and for Grès, her house was forcibly bought out from under her by people who ultimately ruined her business forever. She never opened again and the jewels remained some with her and some with us. She stopped making haute couture and the end was rather sad for this amazing artist and soulful person. I was personally devastated for her and extremely sad. I did do the very last photos of her very last shows, including the very final one. I did photos of her and Mme Claude Pompidou. I was also asked  by Boucheron and Tiffany to do jewels but I did not wish to at that time though it intrigued me as I had such admiration for those haute joaillerie houses. I did so many things for so many different designers but all had that very parisian way that fellow designers collaborated. It was very Old School and it exists in a much smaller degree now.

Once the jewels were in the hands of the designers and after the haute couture shows, they then put them in their boutiques or they could be ordered especially for clients. I was always flexible about re-doing a design because it usually meant I could do a slightly new version of it, change the stones of colors of the paint. If  Madame X ordered her gown in red instead of pink she saw in the show, she may want the jewel that went with that dress in a red tone, or maybe contrasted with white or violet. It was quite a wonderful thing to do as it had it’s challenges and surprises.

I loved seeing them on other designers clothes because it was for me a wonderful new way to express myself and a great learning curve. By this stage in my life, I felt very lucky and privileged because FINALLY people were understanding the work in a more intense and more naturalistic way. It was no longer just for the avant-garde and the underground and the alternative, art-y minded ladies and gentleman. Regular Parisian women (and men, mostly Princes, music and movie stars) were wearing the jewels. I had become exactly what I dreamed of being, part of the Old School haute couture art in Paris, France. I had achieved my most treasured dream and goal.

Bracelet with fluo plastic horses and charms made of miniature frames with rhinestones strass, in the style of Surreal Couture, one of a kind, Surreal Bijoux. WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY, 1985.

Bracelet with fluo plastic horses and charms made of miniature frames with rhinestones strass, in the style of Surreal Couture, one of a kind, Surreal Bijoux. WOMEN’S WEAR DAILY, 1985. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

17. In an interview with the Dallas Times Herald in the 1980s you stated-

BB* : “I really resent being called an artist. I’m not. My jewelry is fashion. It’s meant to be worn and admired and thrown away. People don’t come home from a party and hang my earrings on the wall. At least I hope they don’t” –  BillyBoy*.

I find that to be a good statement about fashion jewelry in general. Do you still feel this way about jewelry and art and what would you add to this statement after all these years if anything?

I actually was being flippant though there is still truth in it. By that stage of my life, people right, left and center were telling me that my work was art work more than anything else, and I knew many collectors who beautifully mounted my jewels on velvet in frames. The stores asked me to try to make more wearable things, which though they had no bad intentions or desire to offend me, I was appalled at the idea of watering down my stuff. Many people did not understand what I was about though they thought they could guide me to become more of a businessman, and a commercial costume jewelry designer. This annoyed me to no end back then but now I see that it was all with good intentions. It was unthinkable for me to do things just for doing things to sell as I had been doing always a very purist vision of mine and how I saw jewelry. I was so lazy and oblivious when it came to making a business. I hated everything to do with the money side and it was both a quality and a huge flaw. There are consequences for being that flippant and versatile about careers and money-making. I did it but dragged my feet. Lala still reminds me and laughs at how I used to fall asleep at business meetings at the attorney who handled the contracts. It was just not something most people understood. When I said this, I was trying to be camp and ironic. Maybe it seems like I was a bit annoying. I have long changed my ways as being annoying is not a quality to pursue.

I think that it is a good idea the world has evolved in which craftsmen and women are regarded more as artists and artisans than just jewelry suppliers and craftsmen. For instance ,a great example would be the artist and poétesse Elsa Triolet, who made some of the earliest Schiaparelli, Chanel and Poiret jewelry (and who wrote her ideas on the matter in her book written in 1931 but only published in the early 70s). She regarded her work as only a fast, easy means to fund her trip to Communist Russia in 1930. She made jewelry for all these different couturiers with her lover Surrealist artist and author Louis Aragon in the role of the salesman. When we see them now, (I saw them in the 1970s when they were given to the city of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray) there is no question at all and beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are genuine works of art. I have to point out though that that old quote of mine is definitely true for a lot of costume jewelry still. Not all, in fact, rather relatively few, are really works of art. Most are still simply nice accessories to wear and that’s all.

This is the link to see the Triolet collection:

18. Your jewelry was not for the faint of heart, really statement pieces. Can you speak to why or the central elements of your aesthetic?

They were works of art (I know I repeat this a lot, please excuse me. It is not only a main aspect of my philosophy about jewels but also about gri-gri and humanity) and I cannot honestly say I thought about who would buy it or just even wear it. Things that were playing a practical or applied role in the creation of my pieces, were pretty much ignored. Making the pieces, notably the ones I made from sketch to building with my own hands, had that one objective only-art. I made them, and still make them for myself and to express myself.

19. I feel like your jewelry in many ways is a product of the era it was produced not just a nod to vintage, it was especially relevant to the 1980s style? Would you agree? what makes your pieces BillyBoy*?

BB* : Well, the truth is simple. I think I became a big influence on costume jewelry despite of myself. It was not my goal to do so, not exactly the kind of fame I achieved. I wanted to be understood and I wanted to do something really new which I think I did achieve. The times were really different back then. There was only television, radio and paper press. If you were seen a lot in these mediums, everyone saw it.

Since I had a very mediatic career at a very young age, I was a strong presence in this field. The press I received was worldwide and so many famous, influential people of the times wore them that from that came a certain look for the decade, the big, chunky 1980s jewels came from all that exposure.

I can avow that it certainly was not inspired by anything particularly 1980s,…my main influence was Schiaparelli, Surrealism and art work made by artists from the long gone past. I think anyone knowledgable about costume jewelry can spot one of my pieces a mile away. It has a very distinctive style which nobody really knew how to truly imitate though many tried. I think many of the pieces you can see what I refer to such as a specific artist or period of history. What makes it “BillyBoy” most likely besides the highly recognizable look, was my philosophy which to this day is still pretty unusual, if not singularly unique. Nobody does artwork these days without thinking about the branding and selling of it. Money pretty much is the zeitgeist of today. I find it sad and glad I am not starting my career now.

 COOKIE MONSTER, brooch and earrings, painted resin with Swarovski crystals, ball chainette, loops, 1986.


COOKIE MONSTER, brooch and earrings, painted resin with Swarovski crystals, ball chainette, loops, 1986. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

20. What era besides the 1960s has had an influence on your jewelry design? Also why did the 60s have such power in terms of your aesthetic choices?

BB* : I had just finished writing a book for Crown about growing up in the 1960s and learning about America, France and England, all simultaneously. Fortunately, I prevented the book from being published because I realized I was too young to write about my life up until that point, my mid-20s. So, I was very inspired by that book and all those memories. Funnily enough, some of it will be in the book following the up-coming book with the bonus of being expressed by (I think) a much more mature man with a distance and understanding of my first years in this world than I had when I wrote them originally. In the first drafts of that book, I was afraid to speak about the negative aspects of my life, the tragedies and the failures. I just wanted to be the BillyBoy* of that time, which was larger than life happy. This was just a character I played to avoid my natural melancholia. The sixties stuff was so useful to me as that Pop, very colorful, wacky and zany era expressed a jubilance which matched my external personality I felt was right for me and the time. Fortunately, I think I’ve evolved. If only just a bit.

21. What were the names of some of your jewelry collections- for example-Jeanne d’Arc 1986? Which were your favorites?

BB* : Happy Germs from Outer Space was a favorite as was the collection inspired by Christophe de Menil’s Oceanic art I mentioned earlier. I can’t say I have favorites as they are all my children in a way,…but sometimes I look at old pieces and still like them and laugh. That’s a good sign for me. If I can still laugh about a piece….

1986, BillyBoy* and Warhol.

1986, BillyBoy* and Warhol. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

 JEANNE D'ARC (JOAN OF ARC), triangle brooch in silvered metal with emerald green stones in moulded glass, 1986.


JEANNE D’ARC (JOAN OF ARC), triangle brooch in silvered metal with emerald green stones in moulded glass, 1986. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

22. Are you still designing any jewelry or are you focused on your work with Lala and the Mdvanii projects such as your Manifesto of Mdvaniiisms? Where is jewelry still available if so?

BB* : Oh yes, I never stopped. I established a private clientèle, and we do jewelry regularly. I’d say half are for clients and the other half is often for myself to see some ideas through to the finalised piece. I love doing that. The way it works is I start a piece and we’ll say,… “Oh, this is a piece I can see so and so wearing”. So we finish the piece and offer if for sale to the client. Usually they buy it. If not it’s fine, we show it in shows later on. It’s never a waste to do a jewel. Sometimes a client calls and asks to see the new pieces or asks for something let’s say, blue or red (which for me is a bit crazy, but fun nonetheless) …I just get cracking and we both jump into a red or blue piece and we have no idea what will come out but we work on it until something does pop out. We don’t stop until we are happy and think it’s finished.

Up until recently it was only available in Japan through my gallerist Sumiko Watanabe who has represented our work for over 34 years. Sumiko has ceased doing business as she is retired but she has not totally stopped. She represented only us exclusively for all these years. Our success was truly huge in Japan. It’s been a glorious relationship, friendship and business endeavor. She is one of the truly few people I can say truly gets me, gets us and gets the work! We have shows here in Switzerland regularly and it’s in galleries or our atelier and sometimes in a suite in one of the five star hotels. We do it when the muse inspires us to as it’s a lot of work and preparation. We currently are doing a new collection which I am very excited about and if anyone is interested in any of my work they can easily contact Lala through www.mdvanii.ch or any of my social media.

Examples of pieces made for the Japanese market. The very first piece shown is one done for Hanae Mori. Some of these styles are still made today.

Examples of pieces made for the Japanese market. The very first piece shown is one done for Hanae Mori. Some of these styles are still made today. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

23. Was there a difference creating jewelry sold in stores versus the haute couture creations for private clients?

BB* : Well, yes there was only in the fact that the luxury shop pieces were often made in metals and with hand-made stones….and though the shape maybe the same, the stones made them all different. There are hand-made but not as elaborated and big as the ones made exclusively for a designer or a client. These pieces take many times more time to finish. We name them, create special boxes or stands for them, while they are resting from being worn.

OCTOPUS and HIPPOCAMPE, brooches in painted resin with Swarovski crystal and pearls, 1987.

OCTOPUS and HIPPOCAMPE, brooches in painted resin with Swarovski crystal and pearls, 1987. Courtesy of BillyBoy*

24. As a jewelry historian I am fascinated by these details and am wondering will we ever get a jewelry memoir by BillyBoy*?

BB* : Aw, that’s sweet. For my collection of haute couture jewels, notably Schiaparelli, there are many, many stories, anecdotes and info most people perhaps do not know in the new  book, Frocking Life, In Search of Elsa Schiaparelli coming out with Rizzoli. It’s up on Amazon for pre-order now. Afterwards, we are planning a series of full-page picture books for the various collections of jewels and cloths and other things, like dolls and design. I am really looking forward to showing people the width and depth of Schiaparelli’s jewelry as it’s very, very diversified. So many artists did them, from the 1920s until the fifties and then of course after until the late 70s when the Rhode Island manufacturer completely stopped the creation of pieces signed by her. The artisans and then the American designers for her license there all had their own hallmark and identifable  materials, forms and ideas that as an ensemble it’s astounding to see. I think it’s very important to see them all together to get the full-on œuvre of Schiap. I consider the ensemble of all that was done by Schiaparelli, like any fine artist is an œuvre and not just fashions from a haute couture designer. After all these decades I still am enthralled, and amused and astounded by her work. In fact I love my collection and enjoy touching the pieces, looking at them and studying them. My darling husband just designed the renovation of a whole 1902 mansion geared to housing and dealing with my collection. It’s thrilling for me.

One of the greatest aspects of having collected so long has been the loans and collaborations I have done with the designers when they needed pieces for museum shows. It is these many experiences which makes the whole collecting make sense and validate the process of studying history. I lent to so many houses and books. Having been close to the House of YSL, I was so happy when Stephen de Pietri, one of my close friends who happened to be the first archivist for Monsieur Saint Laurent would call me up and ask to use things from my collection. I think I participated in every YSL show from the first one until the last ones in the 1990s, after that I was in Switzerland and I slowed down loans as it’s so much work. Mr Pierre Bergé had always been so nice to me, it was he who initially asked me to loan things and I sort of think that because I made the house so aware of the need to create their own archives, I may have inspired their amazing museum they finally created. Stephen was hired to start this work right after the first show at the Met in New York. I also had wonderful friendships which people like Mme Gripoix, Dali, Jacques Griffe. I was pretty close to him. He lived in Mme Vionnet’s house and visiting him was like entering a timewarp filled with so much history. I remember using the bathroom and thinking, this is where Mme Vionnet bathed and you know…did human things. It was in the truest sense of the word, it was a word I  never use, awesome! I went on vacation to Pallama de Majorca with Erté in 1979. Erté helped me learn so much about so many things. He did nearly naked photos of me on the beach at night resembling his famous alphabet made from the human form. People like Mme. Gripoix gave me hundreds of old prototypes for clasps, earrings, belts etc. I have sacks full of them still. They need to be mounted and shown for what they are, a pet project for my new house.

As for my work you’ll get a little glimpse in the chapter about Surreal Couture and Surreal Bijoux in the up-coming book. Readers will get a glimpse into the world of my own and the work with Lala. For the full BillyBoy* jewelry story he is planning a larger book about our whole haute couture history together. He is very good for the minutia something I really am into, though he is also able to be less emotional and even sometimes more objective than I.

25. Do you hold a significant archive of your original pieces from the 1970s-90s or images? I see some on (link to your site)….

BB* : Yes we do. It’s almost complete in the sense we have at least one of everything. The unique one-of-a-kind pieces I have the sketches and photos. Things which were moulded we have the plaster prototypes and the moulds.

FRATERNITY GOON necklace in gilded, silvered, coppered, bronze and lacquered metal, 1987.

FRATERNITY GOON necklace in gilded, silvered, coppered, bronze and lacquered metal, 1987. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

 Bettina with STARLETTES hair piece and grand necklace, Bal at Marie-Hélène de Rotschild's, gown by Adeline André, coiffure Alexandre de Paris, 1988. Photo BillyBoy*.


Bettina with STARLETTES hair piece and grand necklace, Bal at Marie-Hélène de Rotschild’s, gown by Adeline André, coiffure Alexandre de Paris, 1988. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

 MAX’S KANSAS CITY, important necklace composed of four wood elements with case fermoirs, nails and cabochons, hanging from various chains enhanced with bakelite beads, plastic pearls and Swarovksi rhinestones. 1979.


MAX’S KANSAS CITY, important necklace composed of four wood elements with case fermoirs, nails and cabochons, hanging from various chains enhanced with bakelite beads, plastic pearls and Swarovksi rhinestones. 1979. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

SAFE SEX Collection, brooches in painted resin with wooden beads, 1988.

SAFE SEX Collection, brooches in painted resin with wooden beads, 1988. These were made for a big show at Barney’s NY. On the day of the opening, he had not yet even shown them the pieces and had them on display there only….Billy has restricted their sale and only a few have sold in the last decade. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

1979-80 Peanut Necklace.

1979-80 Peanut Necklace. Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

EarlySurrealBijouxSlashGuns&Roses

Guns & Roses worn by Slash necklace. Early Surreal Bijoux example. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

MetCostInstitnecklace

Collier by Surreal Couture, glass beads, tiny bells, key and bisque bust, 1980. Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

Matching brooch to the collier above. Originally the base to the statuette.

Matching brooch to the collier above. Originally the base to the statuette. 1980. Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

Brooch Baroque late-1970s, Surreal Couture.Gilt metal, crab claw and baroque plastic pearls. Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

BillyBoy* Lucite Collar, part of an ensemble called “Conquering the American Home After the Blast” in relation to a performance at the club Hurrah in NY. The ensemble in it’s entirety is in the Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

Caroline Torem Craig BBpin-2

BillyBoy* Surreal Bijoux Brooch. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

Cricket, 1990.

Cricket, 1990. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

BillyBoy*’s Collection:

1.Let us turn to your jewelry collection/archive. You have many pieces of clothing and accessories worn by women like Marilyn Monroe, Josephine Baker, the Duchess of Windsor, Arletty, Gloria Vanderbilt, Diana Vreeland, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Gala Dali, many iconic Hollywood actresses from Liz Taylor, Louise Brooks, Ann Miller and so many more. What are examples some of your favorite accessories/jewelry from your collection and why?

Ex voto 1941 Schiaparelli Necklace. From the personal collection of BillyBoy*.

Ex voto 1941 Schiaparelli Necklace. From the personal collection of BillyBoy*. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

Good question. I have many I like. I have quite a few things I am very attached to. The costume jewelry Marlene Dietrich and Arletty gave me are amongst my favorites. The baby frog cufflinks by Jean Schlumberger for Schiaparelli Diana gave me I get kind of teary-eyed when I think of them. The Schiap pieces from my friend Comte Henri de Beaumont designed by his famous uncle Comte Etienne de Beaumont are very striking as are the Triolet jewels, all from friends, some famous, some not. The Schiaparelli pieces Gala and Salvador Dali gave me also are prized. One is a mermaid in gilded resin-type material. Another is a bird designed by Dali executed by Gripoix. I love my polychromed Zodiac necklace by Schiaparelli and the leg ex-voto necklace by Schiap. The seaweed necklace designed by Serge Matta and made by Coppolo e Toppo and modeled by Bettina Graziani in a Henri Clarke photo is very neat. I love all the connections, especially when I knew the people involved. The seaweed necklace once belonged to the photographer John French’s wife. One bronze haute couture necklace by Schiaparelli is truly a work of art. It is stylized human figures dancing. I am very very powerfully attracted to the Schiaparelli haute couture pieces. The Poiret pieces also are truly important to me sentimentally. It’d be difficult to pin down just a few pieces because each one carries a story. My collection was amassed through my life experiences so it is not as if I bought them all at an auction. They remind me of people I loved and who loved me back. Most are gone now so I am very sentimental about them. They are charged with a profound metaphysical synergy for me. They mostly are like Wiccan talismans to me, not banal purchases or cold acquisitions. When I finish my book on them, you will understand why.

Architectural Digest 3 copy

Archival copy Architectural Digest, courtesy of BillyBoy*

2.What is the craziest or luckiest way you’ve ever found a significant vintage fashion accessory?

BB* : My first Schiaparelli hat made me go into a Quantum multiverse. So I think it must be that hat. I elaborate on it in my up-coming book.

3. Favorite accessories designers?

BB* : The pre-war French artisans. There are many. Jean Schlumberger and Mme Gripoix because I knew them so well, Roger Vivier and Kenneth Lane for a similar reason. I have been so lucky and have known so many talented people who are now iconic I could not really chose.

4. What movie would you live in purely for the accessories or wardrobe?

BB* : I have to mention a few as they probably reflect all my true loves. « Last Year in Marienbad » by  Alain Resnais and « Broadway Melody » (by M.G.M, the 1929 or /and the 1936 version with Eleanor Powell), and « Prix de Beauté » with Louise Brooks. « Madame Satan » wouldn’t be bad either. There are several films with Schiaparelli, so I suppose they’d be a priority if I get only one hit at this thing. I guess the way I dress is home on a usual basis is close to « L’inhumaine » by Marcel L’Herbier in 1924. There is Barbarella with Jane Fonda and a whole wardrobe of Paco Rabanne clothes and accessories like her bracelet-like thing called a « Tongue Box » . That was a film I really have liked now since decades.

5. What do you look for in a piece of jewelry for your collection?

BB* : Well, I don’t look for anything other than beauty and something interesting about it. I am very faithful to the ones I already collect like Jean Clément and François Hugo and Roger Jean-Pierre. It’s rare that I go into a new branch of the subject though it does happen once in a while. I like so many different things that it’d be hard to pinpoint but as my obsession with Schiaparelli haute couture rages still in my blood, I love getting a piece and then finding it in my endless amount of documentation. That’s still is quite a kick!

Anne Shelton Aaron in haute couture Schiaparelli gloves and jewels from the collection of BillyBoy*

Mme. Anne Shelton Aaron in haute couture Schiaparelli, including gloves and jewels. Collection BillyBoy*. Photography by BillyBoy & Lala.

6. What advice to your have for those just starting their collections?

BB* : Oh dear, well see the answer below, as I say, collect what you love, stay within your budget or means, don’t collect for investment purposes.  I have some rules of thumb, so if you’d like to know they are, voila ;

Many, many of the books on costume and designer jewelry have many historic and factual errors. It’s a pity because these errors are sandwiched in between correctly stated facts so it’s hard to sort through. My friend Norman Mailer called these things “factoids”. When he coined the word, he was referring to Marilyn Monroe and the untrue myths about her. It’s the same with jewelry. A great deal of incorrect information has been repeated so often in books, articles and even oral history that people come to think of them as facts. One of the most historically accurate and the most exigent is Deanna Farneti Cera. She is the highest level of historic research. There are one or two others I could mention but as I don’t known them other than a passing acquaintanceship, I prefer not to say. Deanna and I correspond and I find her as picky as I am and I like that. In my opinion, it is a quality. She wants the truth and not the myth, like myself. We all can make mistakes and that’s fine as long as you correct it when you can.

The collectors I admire most are the most demanding in terms of ethics, scruples and how to do the right thing. I fully recognise that most dealers need to make a living and collectors occasionally may need to de-acquisition. It’s normal and fine. What needs to be present to impress me are the ethics of the exchange. I fortunately do have a few friendships with dealers like this but I also have witnessed first hand really undercut, cut-throat, frighteningly mercenary dealers and they are to be avoided like the plague. I have pet peeves too such as :

There is no such thing as a “Demi Parure”, people should not use this truly out-of-date  franglais.

Then there is the issue of the incorrect use of the name Gripoix in rapport with glass. Only Gripoix can make Gripoix jewels as they invented a special technique using emaille, (which is vitreous enamel) and not technically glass. They use lampwork which is the heating of vitreous enamel or glass or lead crystal rods. Plus, not all Gripoix pieces are for Chanel. I am a bit tired of seeing pieces advertised for sale as such. Gripoix worked with everyone including myself.

Also, the 1970s phrase in on-line auctions of “a book piece”, is cringe-worthy and notably a rather a word for the hoi polloi. Beside’s it being démodé since the use of the often erroneous and cheap guide books for collectors is no longer a big thing since the use of the internet. I wish and believe it should just go away by now!

These are only three little points, I have many others. Bear in mind I am laughing when I say this because though I am a bit maniac about history and facts, in the end people can do whatever they want. I guess the argo and endless factoids now that they are used so much communicate with others of like mind something specific. For that generation I suppose it’s a familiar argo. I am not really entitled to butt in but I don’t really appreciate it.

I also hear this all the time totally wrong information about jewels I personally have a contrary information about. When I smell someone freaking out because I may have said something like; no, Chanel did not make jewels in the 1910 or  no, Schiaparelli did not do haute couture in the 1960s, I try to stay out of it. The nonsense I have read about Schiaparelli, Chanel, Dior and Balenciaga could fill a book unto itself.  Sadly, in life, there are the crème de la crème of people who are knowledgeable and wise and logical about collecting and there is a whole strata of pseudo experts.

In fact, I myself want to learn and I do on almost a daily basis, I want people to teach me the things they know as fact. I am Old School and think we all can learn from one and other, but now costume jewelry is a big deal, things sell for much more than when I started and the stakes are much higher, so I try to be informative, do my work as an expert, as I am really lucky and have worked with the very best…and other than that, be discreet as possible. I prefer to spend a day with a student from a school showing them the rarest costume jewels by iconic designers than doing something more public and showy.

We did enjoy speaking about costume jewels both historic and our own to people not in the milieu and I find that still always refreshing. I’ve lectured at “haute écoles” such  Pierre Bergé’s school called the I.F.M (Institute Française de la Mode) and The Paris American Academy in Paris and The Haute Ecole d’Art et Design in Geneva. Lala and I did a show at the British Embassy in Moscow right at the time of Perestroika, (invited by Mrs Thatcher and Sir and Lady Cartledge) about Surrealism and Schiaparelli Jewelry and I did lectures to all of the ambassadors and their wives about my own work. It actually, spontaneously turned into a very luxurious version of a Tupperware party for my jewels as all the woman insisted to buy the display of our work. Under a Fragonard painting on the ceiling we saw nearly all the diplomat’s of the world’s spouses trying on Surreal Bijoux earrings shaped liked cookies with faces and broochs shaped like turnips and dragons. Radishes, turnips, carrots etc and food motifs in general are a direct inspiration from Paul Poiret’s Atelier Martine. I knew his children and saw and was gifted pure marvels for so many years how could they not inspire me? I love talking about that because it was aside from being highly privileged and informative about his work, it was such a lesson in life.

So, if you are just starting, seek out the people known for their exigence. Find the most difficult and the most demanding of experts. I know it sounds abstract and it is difficult admittedly, but seek out the highest level of expert and if possible the first source people. Try to collect things where you can meet the creators or the original sources. By the way, I think I have put to final rest some myths about Schiaparelli jewelry, notably those about my Cocteau eye brooch, the telephone dial compact and a few other things. I am impatient to have people finally read the facts about these pieces.

ALWAYS do research and look at period documents. Build your own private library whether it be in your mind (if you have a fabulous memory) or in a library on a shelf and always refer to it. Even if you have only 50 bucks a month to spend, spend it on pieces you love and start reading about them in first source, period documents. It is very fulfilling and you can never go wrong. Read the internet, print out articles or information which you need and put them in a ring binder. Build your own info base. Try to stick to information which is documented. Just because so-and-so in a book said something, it does not necessarily mean it is true.

7. What jewelry or accessories brands created in the last 30 years to now do you feel maybe worth collecting?

BB* : That’s not an easy question because all jewelry has some significance, so it’d depend on why someone collects. Bracelets made from gumball machine plastic charms of the 1960s to Van Clef et Arpels all interest me. I think many people are like this in the field of costume jewelry. It’s all interesting. My personal point of view though is NEVER collect for investment or monetary reasons, it’s just a very bad idea. It’s like gambling and I know this from some members of my adopted family, you can win once in a while, even big time, but in the end, all gamblers lose. Spend as much as you want or can and enjoy it but avoid if possible, for the value.

If you collect, and this would be my case, for the pure beauty or to wear it, you will never go wrong. There is so much today, so many, many designers in so many genres it’s not possible to suggest what to collect. Collect what you love and as I said, always collect within your budget. It’s a very emotional kind of thing jewelry and it’s very easy to get out of control and over spend. I have seen friends of mine really have problems because of this, not only in collecting jewelry, but collecting in general. A few times I really went berserk but I had to really make up for it. That was when I was young and obsessed. Now, I am middle-aged and obsessed so I, like a great Bleuette doll collector in Paris, Mme. Gautrot said to me many years ago, Je suis philosphe!  which means, I am philosophical. She said this when I asked her if she felt she was satisfied in collecting and do the elusive pieces keep her up at night. What it means is, it’s not important if she got them at that stage in her life, she meant that she understood that we cannot have it all. Lord bless her, she was so hilarious and so wise.

Important examples of Schiaparelli jewelry (Coppola e Toppo for Schiaparelli etc.) from the collection of BillyBoy*

Important examples of Schiaparelli jewelry from the collection of BillyBoy* Photographs courtesy of BillyBoy*

Elsa Triolet for Schiaparelli. 1930-31. From the collection of BillyBoy*

Elsa Triolet for Schiaparelli. 1930-31. From the collection of BillyBoy* Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

Schiaparelli Horse. Collection of BillyBoy*

Schiaparelli Horse. Collection of BillyBoy* Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

8. How many pieces of jewelry do you own?

Many, many thousands by now. In the late 1990s decided I could I no longer catalogue them, it was exhausting and my assistants and secretaries were worn out from it all. I may re-start cataloguing again but this time by myself or with one assistant but there are many thousands of pieces. My husband and I just bought a new house. Well, it’s more than a house. It’s extraordinarily big in a picture postcard setting in the Swiss mountains and my husband Lala has meticulously designed whole floors just for the collection with alarm systems, computer banks, storage and lighting. It’s the size of a small museum now. I want to spend my life now and as much as possible from this time forward simply enjoying it. It has always been the thing that made me make decisions as to moving house and dealing with it could be full time work and honestly, it is rather exhausting. Every time I wanted to move, or even travel…it was Okay, how do we move the collection?  or Who will babysit the collection?  I have things pristinely packed up that I have not looked at in decades. This is because storage at home is literally up the ceiling and heavy and hard to move and in professional storage where it is in endless crates, cartons, trunks and boxes. Now, all the storage places shall be emptied, crates and boxes unpacked and all put in this new place. I can finally poser mes valises as you can say in French.

Large Chanel 1960s/70s brooch. Classic Gripoix Mme gave him five of them!

Large Chanel 1960s/70s brooch. Classic Gripoix Mme gave him five of them! Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

Henri Laurens 24k-necklace from the collection of BillyBoy*

Henri Laurens 1948, 24k-necklace, one of a kind piece: French cubist sculptor Henri Laurens only made these as gifts for friends, no two were alike. This example is from the collection of BillyBoy* Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

In 2016, I confirmed that I will be doing a Youtube series on collecting haute couture, recognizing and preserving it along with costume jewels. This show will get into the nitty-gritty of the vocation and what will be nice, to give it a personal slant, I will be telling anecdotes and experiences growing up surrounded around the most iconic French haute couturiers and all the artisans and designers I knew personally. I am looking forward to it. The show is called Spinach is Fashion.

9. Favorite era for jewelry?

BB* : I love and collect all genres and types and periods of jewelry. From ancient jewels, to real jewels and costume. I have a particular love of the haute couture and alta moda jewels of the 20th-century of course, but I’ve worn Etruscan necklaces with plastic beads by Courréges, so eras are not a focal point for me.

BillyBoy* withe Bettina, Arielle Dombasle, Lauren Hutton, Paris Match, 1984.

BillyBoy* with Bettina, Arielle Dombasle, Lauren Hutton, Paris Match, 1984. Photo courtesy of BillyBoy*

10. Who were some of your most famous clients ?

BB* : Bettina Bergery and Bettina Graziani, of course, Lauren Hutton, Arielle Dombasle, Marisa Berenson, Maria Shriver, Pat Lawford, Diane Von Furstenberg, Jackie Onassis, Arletty, Liz Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Diana Vreeland, Prince Mubarak-El-Sabat and his entire entourage including his body guards, Norris Church Mailer (Norman Mailer’s wife) Princess Gloria Turn and Taxis, Princesse Dominique Constantinovich de Montenegro, Princesse Marie–Pia de Savoie, Prince Serge de Yugoslavie, Mohammad VI of Morocco, Prince Antoine de Lobkowicz, Sid Vicious, Françoise Sagan, Marguerite Duras, Anne Rice, Andy Warhol and pretty much anyone with him at times he visited and bought jewelry, Fred Hughes (same for Fred, he brought droves of people to Rue de la Paix), Ray Charles and one of his wives named Arlette, Boy George, Slash (from Guns N’ Roses), Michael Jackson, Madonna, The Communards, Ian Dury of Ian and the Blockheads, Isabella Rosselini, Leigh Bowery, Leonor Fini, Marie-Hélène de Rothchild, Henry Geldzahler (Commissioner of Art to New York City in the 70s). Gay icons like Edmund White, Brion Gysin and even a crazy piece I did as a teen was owned by and I think occasionally worn by Truman Capote. That’s a long story!

11. Favorite jewelry brands? Favorite producers of couture jewelry?

BB* : I cannot say I have any. I like what I like and it’s a broad spectrum. Naturally, many people who may possibly know me, would know my obsession with Schiaparelli haute couture jewels, but things of now, I don’t think I have any favorites. I can sit and look at anything made as jewelry now and always walk away happier and with a teeny bit more knowledge of the subject. It’s all good. How lucky we are to be able to do what we do in the field of costume jewelry.

Follow BillyBoy* on instagram: @mdvaniiism

Twitter:Mdvanii

On Facebook

Keep updated on Schiaparelli Pieces via: https://www.pinterest.com/mdvanii/schiaparelli-jewels/

SHOP OUR COLLECTION OF RARE EXAMPLES OF SURREAL BIJOUX 

 

MontageArt: Abstract Portrait of a Brazilian Fashion Jeweler

Montageart "African" collection jewelry. Image Montageart.

Montageart African Necklace. Image Montageart.

 

I have a deep love for the way in which Brazilian artists and designers see the world. Having studied 5 years in Brazil, I was able to get a sense of fashion trends, learn about popular fashion designers, take in how they interpret popular and folk cultural inspirations and follow their fashion week coverage. Beyond this, I have such an appreciation for the jewelry created by indigenous Brazilians, as well as, by artists with brands or even those that can be bought on a beach or roadside.  I ran across the brand Montageart recently, and decided they’d be a fit for the blogazine. They are beyond creative and this is evident in both their jewelry line and artistic home decor and lighting. They had me at the gigantic necklace they created as wall decor! The artist’s definition of Montage is “a combination of images taken from any number of media (photographs, film, and handmade). These images can be whole or partial, glued together on a surface (such as a photomontage), or edited together to produce a video or film” (arthistory.about.com).  When one gazes at their pieces, they can begin to understand why they chose this name. They create with each piece, a sort of an accessories collage. Their necklaces and bracelets are very editorial but also textural. Their work has been featured in Brazilian Cosmopolitan, Estilo, Shape, Elle and on well known figures.

Montageart jewelry in Shape Brazil.

Montageart jewelry in Shape Brazil.

 

I was instantly drawn to their armor style modern, but earthy mesh pieces. These oversized examples have such style and fashion references as well.  Some of my favorite designs can be seen below. You can also browse more of their creative process and jewelry examples via their instagram.

mesh necklace Montageart

Amazing montageart headdress via https://instagram.com/loo_ana/

Amazing montageart headdress via https://instagram.com/loo_ana/

The Interview:

When did you begin making jewelry and why?

We started in 2002 as a hobby, when we realized that we could turn it into a business. Eduardo is an architect and I (Alex) am a graphic designer. Today, we work as designers for Montageart. We discovered that people had been looking for accessories to mix with their jewelry in order to create unique looks. We then started selling as this aesthetic became a trend, incorporating such vintage pieces. We were sort of in the right place at the right time. Our strength is in the mix of materials and the superposition of layers without limits.

Vietnam collection image. Montageart.

Vietnam collection image. Montageart.

Vietnam collection 2015. Montageart.

Vietnam collection 2015. Montageart.

What are some of the things you look to for inspiration each season?

Our latest collection was inspired on Vietnam. We have always researched diverse cultural groups and have chosen a few of these as a theme for some of our collections. However, we are not limited to such inspiration. We have used different themes such as bees, travel, etc.

Montageart bee necklaces. image by Montageart.

Montageart bee necklaces. image by Montageart.

Explain your process for design and construction?

We have a sort of intuitive process during the construction of the pieces. We always try to be attentive to what is happening. Also, taking into account the attitude and wide diversity of the people who wear our jewelry. We keep an open mind and don’t get caught up in trends, but we do pay attention to them. 

Montageart image, large decorative necklace wall art.

Montageart image, large decorative necklace wall art.

What were some of your favorite creations so far?

Besides accessories we created a brand of objects for home decor. Sort of decor out of objects, right now our favorite is a large “collar” made to decorate the wall.  

Does Brazil inspire your designs in any way?

Yes, but not solely. As it was mentioned before, we are always open to new ideas and contrasts. Again, with no limits.

What are some of your favorite materials to work with?

Many. We really like textile treads in general, crystals, rough stones, and metals- which we also dye. We are constantly experimenting with new materials.

Fashion inspirations current or past?

We like a lot Karl Lagerfeld, Manish Arora, Vivienne Westwood, Miucha Prada. Among Brazilian designers, Antonio Bernardo and Amir Slama…

Who are your jewelry icons, maybe a brand you look up to, styles 1920s, art deco, 1970s, Victorian?

Miriam Haskell ,YSL Bijoux, Cartier, Paco Rabanne, 1920s/art deco  jewelry, antique pieces, tribal/ethnic jewelry. We are always doing research look not only to the history of the accessory, but decoration, art etc.

Delilah’s Snake Rings

 

Delilah looking chic and well accessorized.

Delilah looking chic and well accessorized.

Thursday evening coming back from working in the city, I made a stop about an hour outside the city in Connecticut to get something good to eat on the way home. Now, I never stop at this town, but I did this evening. I stumbled into a ambiance filled little place with an old style bar and eatery.  All was normal as I waited at the bar for the food I had ordered, when in came a chic lady (of a certain age- I didn’t ask, she didn’t tell) completely done: deep red, almost black nails, hair and when she slipped her coat over her shoulders I saw the rings!  She had a certain vibe and really her name said it all: Delilah. If I was to give her a name it would have been that one…… After watching her stir her martini for a bit I decided to ask about those rings.  Snakes on almost every finger. She said, “oh thank you, I got them in New York at the Trump towers… I had them made”. I was wondering the age of a few of them, since they had an older aesthetic- but she replied that she had them all made in the 70s-80s. Plus they weren’t just snakes- there was the cobra, I think there was a viper and on. I have to admit I’d rock that cobra ring -ready to strike. Loved it and it was no light weight. We continued to chat and she let me snap some images. I told her I was in the vintage jewelry business and that she was quite in fashion.  When the food appeared, I said goodbye and left for the rest of my trip home. Now I wished I’d asked a bit more, interesting looking people often have interesting lives…… Enjoy this little accessories memoirs nugget:

Snake Rings

Snake Rings

Gold snake rings

Vintage Fine Gold snake rings

 

 

Lynn Ban Opens Her Online Boutique

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 5.06.06 PM

Lynn Ban Website –

I must admit I’m crushing on her scarab ring, but I’m in good company. The accessories maven has a line of music and rock princesses wearing her bangles, necklaces, and stacked rings. Lynn’s personal style is as inspiring as her collection. Her instagram account provides visual stimulation with a constant array of Lynn’s vintage accessories, fashion and couture clothing styled in amazing ways. Not to mention the images of Rihanna, Lorde, Fergie and more wearing her jewelry while rocking and rolling. Her gold armbands were featured on Christy Turlington in Porter Magazine, but so was her (well sort of her son’s) own personal John Galliano Top hat, as seen below via Porter magazine. It’s those kind of unexpected details that make her style and jewelry so alluring.

Her goods are already sold worldwide in some impressive stores; but I’m excited to have them readily available on her own site www.lynnban.com:

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 5.07.02 PM

Lynn Ban scarab and assorted rings, via LynnBan.com, rights reserved.

The Costume Jewelry Collection of Barbara Berger: Taking on the World of Fashion Jewelry

Trifari, 40s Fruit Salad Bracelet.PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

What attracts us wearers and collectors of jewelry to costume pieces? Many important costume jewelry collections are owned by those who can certainly afford the real thing, Barbara herself was the daughter of a diamond merchant/jeweler.   One is free to re-imagine themselves when they wear it. That is why I wear it and the bigger the better. I personally have always thought why wear jewelry if you can’t enjoy it or see it?  I love ethnic designs/statement pieces and Iris Apfel has always been an icon to me. I came to find out this adoration of the statement piece and Iris, I also shared with Barbara as well. Costume jewelry lets the design and intention really shine. As Barbara pointed out, “the construction is often similar to that of fine pieces”, She painted an image to me during her talk, that she feels there seems to be no bounds to it and that it sort of is freeing or liberating. 

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1938.Ostrich pendants. Circus collection.PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

Barbara Berger has put together one amazing collection and David McFadden, Chief Curator, and Harrice Simons Miller, Guest Curator along with Dorothy Globus, Curator of Exhibitions have organized one stunning show.  Harrice Simons Miller is a consultant to Christies and was brought in to appraise and catalog Elizabeth Taylor’s costume jewelry as well. She wrote the first book I ever bought about collecting and valuing costume jewelry. Collectors may also remember her fab book on Kenneth Jay Lane jewelry!

Miriam Haskell, late 50s example from the Berger collection. Also featured in Miriam Haskell Jewelry by Cathy Gordon and Sheila Pamfiloff. It is a sort of Haskell holy grail piece. PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

Barbara’s life work and passion spoke for themselves at the opening and her discussion with the curators at MAD museum New York. This collection has never been shown in the United States.  I was there, practically running in, as the doors opened on the show.  The full scale of her archive reaches beyond 4,000 pieces and growing. The exhibition houses 450 well chosen iconic examples including jewelry by: Lanvin, Miriam Haskell, Valentino, Coppola e Toppo, Pucci, Kenneth Jay Lane, Countess Zoltowska/Cis, Oscar de La Renta, Mimi Di N. Balenciaga, Maison Gripoix, Marcel Boucher, Trifari, Pierre Cardin, Chanel (she owns one of the most important collection of Chanel jewelry),David Mandel, Lawrence Vrba, Iradj Moini,Joseff-Hollywood, Robert Sorrell, Elsa Schiaparelli and many more. The list includes fantastic vintage examples and recent new designers.  If you are a collector or wearer you may have become a little dizzy at the thought, I know I did when I entered the show. I was literally drunk on jewelry from costume to couture to everything in between.

Chanel feather necklace, Barbara Berger collection. Sarara Vintage image.

Barbara, began collecting after her mother’s death at about age 13. She acquired Chanel earrings at a Parisian flea market. They reminded them of her mother, her style, essence and way of putting herself together.  From the beginning, you can see that fashion jewelry meant something to her on a personal level. She remembers where she got each piece and their stories.  She falls in love with the presence and aesthetic of each example of the jewelry she purchases for the collection. It has to speak to her, be a statement piece, scale and size matters….. She made it clear at her talk that she doesn’t just buy a piece for the collection because it is signed, it has to have that something that makes it great.  She wasn’t focused on the history but the essence.  She even admits that for the exhibit she left the historical research to Harrice.  

As Barbara stated at the “All the Brilliant Facets” talk:

“The size of the jewelry is important, because jewelry gives a woman power, it has to be dramatic. A woman has to feel she can take on the world.  I collect dream jewelry”. (Barbara Berger, All the Brilliant Facets”).

Mimi Di N, 60s-70s. PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva


Barbara’s passion as well as creative insight
 can be seen through this very extensive collection. She will be donating some examples to the 
Museum of Arts and Design at 2 Columbus Circle, permanent archives in NYC. Now with the publication of Fashion Jewelry the Collection of Barbara Berger, published by Assouline,  Barbara has a beautifully photographed accompaniment to the exhibition. I purchased a signed copy of the book at the exhibit and it is indeed a visual feast.

Cover jewelry by Daniel Von Weinberger, 2008-9.PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

During her talk at Mad on Thursday, she and the rest of the panel involved, including Harrice, illuminated the history of the collection and how it was organized.  Harrice’s story of how costume jewelry, as a phrase, was born through Hobe’s relationship with costume design/film was interesting. “It was jewelry for the costumes, made for Florenz Ziegfeld”  she said.  Barbara also painted a colorful story of her life through jewelry.  Many of her friends, interesting comrades, and fellow jewelry lovers were present. Designers whose jewelry is in the exhibition Iradj Mioni, David Mandel and Robert Sorrell were counted among the attendees.  Iradj and Robert were very interesting to talk to in their own right and I can see why Barbara counts them among friends.  It was clear the designers themselves are important to her, as she included living and contemporary makers in the exhibit. The show represents around 80 designers.  She wore stunning large Iradj earrings and one of her own designs in the form of a brooch pictured below, as she talked to the audience. 

Barbara Berger, left with me before the discussion, image Sarara Vintage
Chanel piece from the Mad Museum exhibit. Berger collection. Sarara Vintage image.

Barbara’s credo spoken at the talk was to mix fine with costume jewelry and to try to always wear earrings. “Ears are a very sexy part of a woman’s body”.   She mused about the hunt, the creation of her collection, and the genius of Miriam Haskell. 

Frank Hess, Miriam Haskell 1954.PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

                                                                   The Exhibit:

Entry way image, contemporary designer body armor style necklace. Sarara Vintage image.
William DeLillo necklace, vintage 1969. From the exhibit. Image Sarara Vintage.
Exhibit entrance, displays. Sarara Vintage, rights reserved.
Pucci by Coppola e Toppo necklaces, 1960s. Sarara Vintage image.

My impression from the beginning was that they created a jewelry show that relayed the history and passion of costume and fashion. The displays were so well done, hanging examples in cases allowed one to see the pieces from all angles, large necklaces were hand knotted onto plum backdrops and hung seamlessly, cases allowed the pieces to be viewed without distraction or clutter.  There were even drawers full, a bonus selection to look through so to speak, covered in lucite cases. I do want to make it clear that the pieces in the drawer are not part of Barbara’s collection, which was also mentioned to me at the talk as well.  They belong to the museum’s permanent collection just to keep it clear as you view them. 

1960s Pierre Cardin and Paco Rabanne examples. Barbara Berger collection, MAD museum.
Valentino, 1970s. Made by Coppola e Toppo. Exhibit example. Sarara Vintage image.
Stunning 1920s-30s examples. Barbara Berger Collection. Sarara Vintage image.
1980s Chanel pendant, one of my favorite pieces. Sarara Vintage image, right reserved.
Miriam Haskell. Barbara Berger Collection. Sarara Vintage image.
David Mandel, 2000. Necklace detail. From exhibit. Sarara Vintage image.
Paco Rabanne, vintage necklace 1980s-90s. Barbara Berger exhibit.
Chanel section at the exhibit, various Maison Gripoix for Chanel examples featured.
Maggy Rouff, 50s-60s. Made by Maison Gripoix. Another favorite of mine from the exhibit. Sarara Vintage image.
Maison Gripoix, 2000. PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

I hope you enjoyed the exclusive images from inside the event and quotes by Barbara from her talk. I hope to finish up an interview with her at a future date, when she is back from her travels. Stay tuned as I’ll repost another article if that comes to fruition.  My advice if you are captivated by the images and depth of the show presented here, would be to take a boat, plane, carriage, walk no run to the show before it closes.   I have included various examples not in the text, and there are many others in both the text and exhibit still to see. The exhibit is truly a break from the mundane into a fantasy world of paste stones, cut glass and beyond. Follow me on instagram to see even more images from the show and a slew of designer and couture jewelry as they come into the shop




MAD Museum press release and information:


Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger will be an eye-opening presentation of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, many of them one-of-a-kind, drawn from the world-renowned collection of Barbara Berger. Featured designers include Kenneth Jay Lane, Lanvin, Missoni, Oscar de la Renta and Pucci. The exhibition will be on view at the Museum of Arts and Design from June 25 through September 22, 2013 (a portion of the exhibition will remain open until January 20, 2014).

Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger is organized by David McFadden, William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, in collaboration with jewelry historian Harrice Simons Miller, as guest curator.

Support for Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger generously provided by Miriam Haskell, with additional support from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the official airline of MAD.

PUBLICATION

The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated publication on the Berger collection published by Assouline in 2013 titled Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger. The book includes forewords by Pamela Golbin and Iris Apfel and an essay on the history of fashion jewelry in the Berger Collection by Harrice Miller.

*** ORIGINALLY Published 7/11/13- part of the archives transferred from our original blog site.