Christie’s Is Auctioning Off Jewelry as Art Again and We’re Calling Dibs (For You)

christies billboy 60s necklace

Christies auction house is set to auction off true little works of art that can be worn daily or just gazed at lovingly in your boudoir! What makes jewelry art? Well, I think we all know rarer bijoux examples, often made by hand such as Calder, Line Vautrin, or Louise Nevelson. They are art. However, in my mind jewelry is almost always an art form. And Christie’s is confirming it with their second Art as Jewellery auction Nov 6th –19th. Pieces can be perused online or at 20 Rockefeller Center Galleries from the 4th –13th.

Of course we agree completely with their inclusion of handmade jewelry by BillyBoy* whose pieces have multiple layers and contain relics of couture past, such as glass sourced from Mme Gripoix long ago. Although, the plethora of works by artists here are sure to add to your definition of jewelry as art!

BillyBoy* 1980s example featuring older couture elements in the design.

See some of our favorite Christies picks that could be yours next week!

Man Ray Brooch

Louise Nevelson necklace

Alexander Calder

Corneille. L’Oiseau


Pablo Picasso


*All images via Click the pic to visit the page.


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

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 : and

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.


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.


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 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*


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


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


On Facebook

Keep updated on Schiaparelli Pieces via:



Chinese Imperial Beads: Jewelry Find of the Week

Chinese Imperial necklace, 19th century. Eden Galleries image.

Chinese Imperial necklace, 19th century. Eden Fine Antique Galleries image.

I often attend auctions, private sales, scout private collections, hunt abroad and on. I think fashion jewelry, collectors and accessories lovers alike will enjoy seeing them. Most of these are available accessories for purchase at auction or in shops, that I run across during my jewelry hunt. This week’s find is a Chinese Chinese Pearl Imperial Court ChaoZhu Beads. China, 19th C., Qing imperial court necklace.  There two necklaces are my favorites from this auction and with the Met exhibit-China through the looking glass, these pieces fit the mood of the month.  Offered at Eden Fine Antiques Galleries Showroom. Preview starts May 20th in Marietta Georgia. This is an online auction as well. 

Chinese Imperial necklace, 19th century. Eden Galleries image. Chinese Pearl Imperial Court ChaoZhu Beads. China, 19th C., Qing imperial court necklace comprised of well strung 108 natural round shape Pearls accented by four larger agate beads bordered with smaller green jade beads. circled toward the center Fotou connecting to a golden-yellow ribbon suspending Oval shaped Filigree emblem-ed with green jade, followed by a quartz crystal tear shaped pendant. Eden Fine Antiques Gallery description and image. Available at auction.

Chinese Imperial necklace, 19th century. Eden Galleries image. Chinese Pearl Imperial Court ChaoZhu Beads. China, 19th C., Qing imperial court necklace comprised of well strung 108 natural round shape Pearls accented by four larger agate beads bordered with smaller green jade beads. circled toward the center Fotou connecting to a golden-yellow ribbon suspending Oval shaped Filigree emblem-ed with green jade, followed by a quartz crystal tear shaped pendant. Eden Fine Antiques Gallery description and image. Available at auction.

A RARE and IMPORTANT Chinese ChenXiang Beads in Filigree (gilt over silver) Trinket Box Chinese ChenXiang Prayer's Beads Necklace comprised of well strung carved round shape ChenXiang wood accented by three larger Tourmaline beads. Circled toward the center Jade Fotou followed with a double-gourd turquoise bead connecting to a golden-yellow ribbon suspending flower shaped cloisonne cartouche emblem-ed with oval shaped green jade, followed by brown and green tassels. Eden Fine Antiques Gallery description and image.

A RARE and IMPORTANT Chinese ChenXiang Beads in Filigree (gilt over silver) Trinket Box
Chinese ChenXiang Prayer’s Beads Necklace comprised of well strung carved round shape ChenXiang wood accented by three larger Tourmaline beads. Circled toward the center Jade Fotou followed with a double-gourd turquoise bead connecting to a golden-yellow ribbon suspending flower shaped cloisonne cartouche emblem-ed with oval shaped green jade, followed by brown and green tassels. Eden Fine Antiques Gallery description and image.


Dragon of the East: Jute Magazine features Sarara Couture Jewelry




Love a good dragon? Feeling a bit Daenerys Targaryen?  Well, so do we; the “webitorial” now posted on Jute Fashion Magazine’s website today, shot by none other than the talented Hannan Saleh, features our jewelry. That’s our Miao collar, Judith Leiber handbag and a big vintage Accessocraft dragon necklace, one of my favorites.  Hannan let us have a few extra images and I’m posting them below.  The editorial went live today so be sure to check out the complete photo story on Jute. 




hannansalehjute IMG_5866


Find: Super Chanel Runway Cuffs Via Katy Kane

Okay, so at the weekly finds we focus on accessories that make us dream, deals, couture and whatever inspires. The fashion accessories that blew my mind this week were : a pair of runway Chanel cuffs in leather and metal listed by veteran shop Katy Kane on 1stdibs.

Katy’s client attended haute couture shows regularly in the 80s and 90s and purchased these right off of the runway. Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than these! Right now the 1980s vintage designer accessories are picking up steam with collectors and wearers showing renewed interest. The big golden CC and powerful look are a no brainer for the Chanel lover.

You can see them linked here for more info.


Katy Kane image, via her 1stdibs storefront. You can shop them here.


The Best Books About Fashion Jewelry and “Jewelry for Haute Couture”

Fashion Jewelry Archive

In it’s most pure form fashion jewelry is literally the costume jewelry that walks the runways every season along with its haute couture counterparts. Side note: sometimes when referring to haute couture fashion jewelry, the term is used out of context.  Couture jewelry may have been made for a specific haute couture fashion show, but more often it is made by a designer/artist specifically for a client who is a couturier ( a designer/brand that has been legally defined as so because the design house has met rigid French requirements).  Constructed by hand in most cases, by the most skilled designers and artisans working together for couturiers, some of the finest vintage jewelry was made…  The roots of haute couture jewelry began in France before the 20s, with Paul Pioret and Vionnet using the idea of selling a whole couture outfit. They would create the jewelry or hire producers like Griopix to make a piece specifically for the outfit or client. Yet, the idea of replacing fine luxury status jewelry with “imitation” has and always will be somewhat a matter of taste. While it seems in the mid 20s and beyond the makers of jewelry for haute couture were overshadowed by their clients: Chanel, Schiaparelli, Lanvin etc… artists like Roger Scemama, who created couture fashion jewelry have begun to take their place in history. Per the basic French definition- the designer creating haute couture must be established as a house producing and a showing a set number of items per season. They go as far to say that house must have a working location in Paris and meet legal requirements.  Thus, one of a kind Robert Goossens jewelry for the runway or those he made for specifically for one of Chanel’s clients would be an example of haute couture fashion jewelry made for a certified couturier. We do use the term loosely here in the U.S. Since pieces of privately commissioned fine jewelry may seem to fit this definition, it is important to state, that all those fine examples in some instances could be considered fashion jewelry, but not couture- because they are produced by jewelers not established elite fashion houses who were certified couturiers. I wanted to sort of make sure we define fashion, fine and haute couture jewelry all in relationship to one another and this list of texts I have complied will help to do so.

The most practical way to address the idea of haute couture jewelry today, might be to take the term “high fashion jewelry”, as Florence Muller uses it in Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture, and apply it to couture quality examples made outside of French couturiers. Thus reserving jewelry for haute couture for the true pieces and high fashion jewelry for others.  Florence explains more about the complexities. In summary of her words on page  9,  the “couture jewelry” created for runway looks were often uncredited examples of the “paruriers” in relationship to the publicly praised fashion houses they created for, the pieces often just being signed made in France. This makes defining and understanding couture jewelry a bit complex. Also, what of the couture quality pieces not produced in Paris? I think the definition of haute couture jewelry that she gives on the jacket cover is perhaps a great building block:

“From Coco Chanel in the 1920s to Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s to Lanvin today, haute couture costume jewelry has been an eye-catching accessory to enhance a designer’s vision. The dazzling one of a kind jewelry was designed by skilled artisans to complement and adorn individual couture pieces for fashion shows and photo shoots”( Costumer Jewelry for Haute Couture, Florence Muller).

Veterans like Erickson Beamon personify the current genre of fashion jewelry.  The one of a kind examples made by hand I witness for Anna Sui S/S 2015 collection would fit right in that definition of high fashion jewelry. “High fashion jewelry” can also be used to describe these runway and one of a kind creations by the likes of Goossens and his son today. Although some would fall into the definition of couture when created under those specifications discussed..while others would just be fashion jewelry. As the demand for fashion jewelry grew they produced a couture line and a fashion line produced off of the runway models each season in larger quantities.  Houses, designers, and brands such as Dior, Chanel, Coppola e Toppo, Gripoix, Lanvin, Kenneth Jay Lane, Pierre Cardin, Robert Goosens, Schiaparelli, Mimi di N  and many others have forged the foundation for our notions about how fashion relates to jewelry. To me the basic use of the term fashion jewelry is really about costume jewelry that has taken an extra step. Perhaps it is successful costume jewelry that pays homage to fashion history and future, plays with scale, has whimsey, a certain taste level and attention to design…. When discussing fashion jewelry in relationship to costume- a great foundational quote would be:

“Whether they were produced in minute made-to-order quantities for French fashion houses or in considerable numbers for mass market in America, these jewels fabricated in non precious stones, continue to amaze by their constant originality, their joyful exuberance, and their ingenious compositions. Without the financial constraints and technical obligations of priceless gems, costume jewelry provided the perfect creative freedom for designers to express an astonishing spectrum of signature styles, continually evolving with the latest fashion trends. Instead of concentrating on the size cut, and clarity of a stone, a myriad of costume jewelers developed true expressions and unique creation. In a reversal of roles that pays wonderful tribute to their inventiveness, contemporary fine jewelry is now inspired directly by the whimsical imagination and structural liberties of costume pieces” Pamela Golbin, Forward for Fashion Jewelry The Collection of Barbara Berger.

Snapshot from inside of the Fashion Jewelry book, by Harice Simons Miller, from my collection. Image by Pablo Esteva.

Snapshot from inside of the Fashion Jewelry book, by Harice Simons Miller, from my collection. Image by Pablo Esteva.

Thus beyond what is created for the runway or even couturiers lets look at- “costume jewelry” examples by brands from Trifari to Kenneth Jay Lane. They have also created great examples of fashion jewelry. With that said I would not call everything Trifari has created fashion jewelry. Now what about “fine” fashion jewelry, isn’t that contradictory? One could argue that for the sake of what’s happening in terms of contemporary jewelry design we must entertain it…. Well, beyond the stones and scale- what is most important to a successful piece of fine jewelry influenced by fashion?  I think it is about design, as it references fashion trends/styles in its fine form.  I think if there is an era where fine jewelry has a turning point towards fashion, it is the late 50s-60s, ushered in part by creative fashion inspired patrons who started bringing in commissions to fine jewelers such as Van Cleef & Arpels.

This idea of a “fine” fashion influenced jewelry evolution is interesting… also with jewelers who began using fine metals and less precious stones, woods, shells and such like Verdura, David Webb, Grima, Seaman Shepps…etc. Overall though the scale to obtain the whimsey of fashion jewelry is limited by the monetary worth of the medium.  Currently, we are now seeing a flip in terms of fine and fashion jewelry with “lesser” metals so to speak (like silvers, rhodium, brass) mixed with diamonds- fine and precious stones.

So as the term fashion jewelry evolves: here are some great texts for avid admirers and beginners alike. 

Fashion and Couture Jewelry Texts:

Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture. Florence Muller. Edited by Patrick Sigal. Vendome Press. New York.  -This latest 2007 edition, with the green jewelry cover can be hard to find -current examples are found here. Explore the links and be sure to ask for the edition you want.  The first in 2006 by Grand Hornu press, I believe had a cream colored necklace on the cover. It is found now on ebay.
* I have embedded links to amazon and other sources for purchase when possible. Also some are not in English so take note when ordering:
The Art of Fashion Accessories: A Twentieth Century Retrospective. 1993 Joanne Dubbs Ball/ Dorothy Hehl Torem.
Jewelry by Chanel. 2012. Patrick Mauriès
Dior Joaillerie. 2012. Michele Heuze. Victoire de Castellane.
American Fashion Accessories. 2008. by Candy Pratts PriceJessica GlasscockArt Tavee.
Drawing Jewels for Fashion. 2011. Carol Woolton  
Maison Goosens. Haute Couture Jewelry. Patrick Mauries. Thames & Hudson.
Dior. The three set series. published by Assouline. Specifically the Jewelry edition inside. Unfortunately cannot be purchased separately, but if you like Dior this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Vintage Jewelry Design: Classics to Collect & Wear (Vintage Fashion Series), 2011
by Caroline Cox and Gerda Flockinger.
Fashion for Jewels: 100 Years of Styles and Icons. 2010. Carol Woolton.
Fashion Jewelry, The Collection of Barbara Berger. 2013
Fashion Jewellery: Made in Italy Hardcover.  2013.
Jewels of Fantasy: Costume Jewelry of the 20th Century. 1992.
Coppola e Toppo. 2010.
Fashion Jewelry: Catwalk and Couture.  2010.
by Maia Adams  
Books that Bridge the World of Costume and Fashion Jewelry:
Bijoux Paperback by Deanna Farneti Cera  
Miller’s Costume Jewellery, Hardcover, 2012. Judith Miller.
Fabulous Fakes: A Passion for Vintage Costume Jewelry 2006. Carole Tanenbaum.
Kenneth Jay Lane. Faking it. By Kenneth Jay Lane. 1996. Harry N Abrams.
21st Century Jewellery Designers: An Inspired Style, 2013. Juliet Weir-de la Rouchefoucauld
Vintage Jewelry Design. Classics to Collect and Wear. Caroline Cox. 2010. Lark Crafts.
Jewelry of the Stars. Creations from Joseff of Hollywood. Joanne Dubbs Ball. 1991.
Miriam Haskell Jewelry. Cathy Gordon & Sheila Pamfiloff- Schiffer. 2nd Edition. (Haskell, really bridges that space in her designs and watercolor ads which featured fashions of the time with her jewelry).

Image from The Couture Accessory, snapshot of the book, inside pages of The Couture Accessory images.

Books of Specific Interest Related to Fashion Accessories:
The Couture Accessory. Caroline Rennolds Milbank. Harry N. Abrams.
Daphne Guinness, 2011 by Valerie SteeleAccompanied the Fit exhibit, I included it her for fashion fans, such as myself, and to highlight her use of accessories in the book’s images.
Vogue and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute: Parties, Exhibitions, People. 2014 by Hamish Bowles.  
Lou Lou de La Falaise. Ariel de Ravenel. Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni. 2014.
Vogue: The Editor’s Eye, 2012, by Conde Nast (Author), Anna Wintour (Foreword)
Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry by Elizabeth Taylor.
20th Century Jewelry & the Icons of Style, 2013 Stefano Papi, Alexandra Rhodes.
Vintage Fashion and Couture. Kerry Taylor. 2013.
Bejeweled: Great Designers, Celebrity Style, by: Penny Proddow, Marion Fasel
Fine Jewelry Books With a Fashion Approach:
Diamonds. A Century of Spectacular Jewels. Penny Proddow and Marion Fasel. 1996.
Extraordinary Jewels by John Traina. 1994.
The Windsor Style. Suzy Menkes. Salem House.
by: Hans Nadelhoffer
Boucheron: The Secret Archives. 2012
The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita and Beyond, 2013
Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels, 2011
Bulgari Serpenti, 2013, by Marion Fasel
Van Cleef & Arpels: Treasures and Legends, 2014
by Vincent Meylan  (Author)
Cartier and America. 2010. Martin Chapman.
 Tiffany & Co. Hardcover – 10 Nov 1997
*Originally published January 2015.
Feel free to comment about or add texts we might have missed below. We’d love to hear from you concerning your favorites too!

Finding Lou Lou De La Falaise

                                                                    -The Glamorous Romantic-

Lou Lou de La Falaise

Lou Lou de La Falaise The Glamorous Romantic, rights reserved. From my copy of the text.

I knew of Lou Lou de La Falaise through her work with Yves Saint Laurent and via old photographs. Possibly my favorite image is of Lou Lou and Yves styling model and icon Willy Van Rooy. That moment captures her work philosophy, fashion style and tells you she is the cool girl. Not in the cliche way, but in a very natural fluid way.  She’s an it girl because her style seems to flow from within towards the surface.  Lou Lou was born of a complex and beautiful model mother, which the book by her name covers quite well. Her father was a French count.

Lou, Lou, Willy Van Rooy and Yves, 1980.

Lou, Lou, Willy Van Rooy and Yves, 1980. Image from text, copy also provided by Willy as seen in our interview with her.

However, through the descriptions in the book (such as that of Kenneth Jay Lane), I also became very interested in her strict, but stylish, creative, muse of a grandmother- Rhoda. Rhoda had two hobbies central to Lou Lou’s own personal character; jewelry making and gardening. But you’ll have to read the book for more about Lou Lou’s formative years! Her personal, love life and career sort of intertwine in the book giving us an idea of how she arrived at YSL’s house so to speak. The journey is so well described by Ariel de Ravenel and Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni…

Her relationship with Yves Saint Laurent was a deep and meaningful partnership, which produced so many outstanding fashion accessories and beyond, so the book really is a truly hypnotic read. I found her years spent working after YSL and her work ethic overall very inspiring. The images of her creations for Yves are illuminated by how she actually wore jewelry throughout the images accompanying the text.  The photographs of her style are much welcomed and absolutely essential.  The book is not to be missed (Pierre Berge’s forward for instance) and provides wonderful quotes from fashion icons concerning Lou Lou, as well as building a foundation for readers concerning why she was so essential to one of the most beloved and talented fashion designers that ever lived.


Lou Lou de La Falaise The Glamorous Romantic, rights reserved. From my copy of the text.

To quote the book and Yves:

“I tell myself that I am truly fortunate to have had Lou Lou at my side all of these years because there isn’t a day that goes by when she doesn’t fill me with wonder” (Lou Lou de La Falaise, 132).

Lou LouTurkmen1

*IMAGES: Credit-Lou Lou de La Falaise The Glamorous Romantic, rights reserved. I have included my favorite photos from the book in this review. I am drawn to her ever present vintage/antique Turkmen silver cuffs which she mixed with other accessories, seen in two images included. However possibly my favorite cuffs she did, were for YSL haute couture. These in my mind are some of the most telling pieces she designed. They mix that chic, modern and bohemian aesthetic perfectly- that I also ascribe to and love so innately.  They are large, not to be missed, a bit wild, yet refined…..

It is at this point I pause… I found that the complete review had already been done so well, as the book released in October of this year. Our blog relaunch was in wild swing at that time so rather than not post I did want to highlight this book I enjoyed so much.  For a more detailed description: click here.

De Young Museum Presents: Bulgari, A Vision of Art, Jewelry and Heritage


What comes to mind when one hears, Bulgari? The name has become synonymous with high-end jewelry. In fact, there seems to be no comparison for the standard the Italian company has set in the fine jewelry market. For over a century, Bulgari has epitomized fine jewelry making and maintained the balance of exuberance and class.

Image of exhibit entrance. Image Nathan Brandon.

The sumptuous jewels characterized by a casual formality are what curator, Amanda Triossi, calls (and many would agree), “…the essence of Italian style at large.” The exhibit currently on display at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, showcases vintage pieces from La Dolce Vita—literally translated “the sweet life”—from 1950 to 1990. This includes a room entirely dedicated to Elizabeth Taylor’s private collection, each sparkle from quarter inch diamonds a testament to the power and grace of women who held the world on a string and a pound of emeralds and diamonds around her neck.

Image of the Elizabeth Taylor banner at museum exhibit.

The pieces on display take the viewer on a journey through decades of Bulagri’s distinct interpretation of culture, visual language, and a fantasy world of all that glitters. Each diamond, each sapphire, and each ruby collected is of the highest grade, outsourced from the far reaches of the globe, and each piece constructed by the hands of the best jewelers. With an estimated one thousand hours of work per piece and an impending final inspection that could result in melting the piece back down to the drawing board, the result becomes mystical. To be face-to-face with these emblems of beauty is dream-like and inconceivable. One begins to realize what one is looking at is not simply high-end jewelry: it is truly art. 

Custom no flash exhibit images created by Nathan Brandon.

There are the earlier pieces which hold true to Parisian high jewelry standards: one type of precious stone employed individually with platinum and never mixed with others. Then there are the the early sixties pieces where Bulgari —among a young and vibrant style revolution—began to mix and match. We see the classic cabochon (smooth, round finish on gemstones) mixed high and low. Color is used as if it were a paint and there is no longer the strong concern with the individual intrinsic value of the gemstones. What counts is the ultimate effect, for example turquoise next to diamonds. The recurring ingredients of the Bulgari style in a 1967 necklace—color, cabochon, compact shape, mounted in yellow gold, and featuring emeralds, rubies, diamonds, and sapphires —combine to create the effect of a peacock tail of jewels. 

Playing Card sautoir, 1972. Bulgari Heritage Collection. Image Antonio Barrella Studio.


Known today as the Keira Knightly necklace, it’s a piece that is proof that regardless of era the timelessness of their design is confirmed. In another room, Bulgari dances with the unique relationship between jewels and other art forms. For example, the coin jewelry of Bulgari derives its inspiration from post-modernist architecture, like the Philip Johnson AT&T building of 1982, which ends in a classic greek pediment. We see sleek modern cuff bracelets and sautoir, or long necklaces, of gold and silver set with roman coins. The past and the present merge. Of everything on display, there are two pieces that speak the loudest; two gifts from Elizabeth Taylor’s fifth husband, Richard Burton, each worn extensibly by Elizabeth both on and off screen. The first jewel she received from Burton, is a spectacular broach of 23.44 carrots surrounded by diamonds that she received on the set of Cleopatra. 

Elizabeth Taylor brooch, image created by Nathan Brandon.

As a wedding gift, she also received a luxurious emerald and diamond necklace to which the broach can be attached as a centerpiece. The other pièce de résistance, which acted as the poster image for the exhibit, is an art deco inspired sautoir made in 1972 and gifted as a fortieth birthday gift with matching ring. This piece is set with a very fine Burmese sapphire of 57.5 carrots and is characteristically Bulgari with the cabochon rounded effect. Beyond its initial splendor it is unique in creation because from the 60s onward Bulgari used mainly yellow gold to set their jewels. This platinum sautoir harkens back to the original days of high Parisian influence. 

Emerald and diamond necklace, belonging to Elizabeth Taylor. Image created by Nathan Brandon.
Elizabeth Taylor Burmese sapphire necklace. Image created by Nathan Brandon.

Whether you are just a casual observer or a modern day queen of the Nile, it is plain to see the extraordinary diversity and creative power of Bulgari. From 1950 to 1990, what is clear is that Bulgari has been able to respond to changing times and remain true to itself, which as an artist is one the greatest challenges faced. It’s easy to see why according to Richard Burton, “The only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari.” 

Exhibit Catalogue available for purchase here.

Lecture material and subject property of the De Young Museum:


De Young Museum image, courtesy of Nathan Brandon.

 Writer: Habibi Winter Editor: Nathan Brandon, M.A. Exclusive photos credit: Nathan Brandon, M.A.


***ORIGINALLY Published 12/14/13 –

The Jewelry of Art Smith

Art Smith, of Jamaican decent and cuban birth, moved to the United States, New York City/Brookyln to be specific in the 1920s.  Considered an important early American jewelry designer, he produced some of the most beautiful modernist work. He has also been recognized as the first “African American” jewelry designer. This year the MFA presented some of his work in their exhibit and the Brookyln museum also summarized in their coverage:

Knuckle Duster ring, Art Smith. 1968. Brooklyn museum.

“Inspired by surrealism, biomorphicism, and primitivism, Art Smith’s jewelry is dynamic in its size and form. Although sometimes massive in scale, his jewelry remains lightweight and wearable. The jewelry dates from the late 1940s to the 1970s and includes his most famous pieces, such as a “Patina” necklace inspired by the mobiles of Alexander Calder; a “Lava” bracelet, or cuff, that extends over the entire lower arm in undulating and overlapping forms; and a massive ring with three semi-precious stones that stretches over three fingers.

Trained at Cooper Union, Art Smith, an African American, opened his first shop on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village in 1946. One of the leading modernist jewelers of the mid-twentieth century, Smith was also an active supporter of black and gay civil rights, an avid jazz enthusiast, and a supporter of early black modern dance groups”. (From the exhibit and online article- Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith-Brooklyn Museum).

Boa, by Art Smith.1964. Brooklyn museum image.
Lava, 1946. Art Smith. Brooklyn Museum image. 

By the 1950s he had coverage in magazines like Harpers Bazaar and Vogue. He sold to celebrity clientele as well as-one of the most noted cases, Eleanor Roosevelt for whom he designed a brooch.  During the 1960s his style grew to include significant use of sterling silver. Recognized over and over from jewelry text to exhibits and awards, needless to say he is of interest to anyone who collects or appreciates jewelry. Examples currently for sale, can be viewed online and in Hudson, NY.   So hope you enjoyed, this little visual feast of images of some of my favorite examples of his work. I think it is safe to say that many a collector, myself included, might do many a thing for my favorite piece, this necklace: 

Ellington Necklace, 1962- online image from the Brooklyn museum site.

Ellington Necklace, 1962- online image from the Brooklyn museum site.

Designing for YSL: Willy van Rooy An Inspirational Career.

Willy Van Rooy personal image archive.

Lou Lou, Willy, and Yves. 1980.

Willy van Rooy has lived a life of travel, art, love, design, and is the face of one of the most popular fashion mannequins ever made. One could write her off as just a top model, but they would be missing the core of who she is- an artist and free spirit. Many things about Willy intrigue me-  her classic magazine covers, her time as a designer and muse in the 80s for Yves Saint Laurent, as well as her own shoe line.  Before gracing the runways of Gaultier and Thierry Mugler among others, she worked with prolific photographers as well as studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Fashion department in Rotterdam.  For more fashion images from her career you can see her instagram account.  As a vintage textile and jewelry lover, her time designing shoes, prints, and accessories for YSL and Karl Lagerfeld appeals to my curiosity. We explored this here together. 

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Willy van Rooy, high school street photograph, rights reserved.

Willy van Rooy:

Q. How did you get into modeling, what was your first big break?

 A. It all happened by itself, photographers would sometimes ask me, just in the street. Really, when I think back to when I was still in High-school, my friend and fashion freak like me, Sophie van Kleef, and I would pose for her friend who wanted to be a photographer. We posed in the dresses we had made. I wish I had those pictures. I had them for a long time, but because I change places and countries quite often, things get lost. 

My first paid modeling job was in 1963, in Japan, where I was stopped in the street by “Arab Edy”, as  the foreigners called him, and he said he had an agency. He asked if I would like to be a model or an actress. He had some young travelers like me and some American girls from the American army base in Tokyo ,for whom he found work in the movies, television, or pictures when they needed a foreigner. Actually, I did quite a lot of work there but that would be another chapter. Back in Holland I did some modeling, but it was not exciting at all. At one point, I decided to take it seriously and made a collection of dresses and jackets. Then I went to Barcelona Spain, where a friend and I made a lot of pictures, which we printed ourselves and made a”model-book”. There in Barcelona I was also working as a model, because a lady came up to me in the street and asked me to be a model in her agency. I did a lot of TV commercials and even a short movie, that now is considered very avant-garde and plays in the film museums. I went back to Holland to prepare for a trip to London because it was there that it was”happening”. Immediately I was accepted as something new and was booked stiff for a long time to come, lots of newspaper articles and interviews, they even made window dolls in my image, so like I said… it went by itself

Q. When did you first begin designing or creating in an artistic way? When did your interest in fashion, modeling, and the arts begin? 

A. Since as far as I can remember. 

When I was about 16, I made my first fashion self portrait. I don’t have that picture either, but one day I will make a drawing. If I really start to think about it- it started much earlier, when I was 10. I had a very nice picture in the newspaper because of a play we did in the orphanage for a 

highly elegant public who were the donators and friends of the directrice who was of Dutch aristocracy, a baroness to be exact. I had directed and done the costumes for the play in which I had given myself the role of the princess and the other kids were gnomes. I never forgot the dress which came from a closet that was always locked. There were all these amazing dresses, capes, and furs which were stowed in big sacks, all from that society lady. When there was a reason to dress up, the big bags came out. The dress I am talking about was a long evening dress of yellow satin silk with big elegant grey and white flowers, cut in a way that hugs the body softly. At the time I did not know if it was silk but I remember the softness, so I guess it must have been. A few years later I directed another Japanese themed play in which I had everybody dressed up and that time the directrice hired a photographer to make pictures of me dressed up. There are many more incidents that led me to be a model, although that is not what I really wanted so I did not really look for it. I thought that as a model you had to be perfect with perfect hair and nails… and I’d rather get my hands dirty in paint or spend my time making clothes or just see what is going on in the world.

Q. What do you think was different about modeling then and now? 

A. Don’t get me started, everything is different. First of all in many countries

like Holland or Spain ( and surely many others but I did not witness those) it was considered a job for “light girls” and not respected at all by the ordinary people. Because of London and the fashion of young real people this slowly changed, but of course not like today, today the models are as famous as the movie stars and are idolized. They can earn a lot of money and respect, which is great. In the early sixties you were expected to have a collection of wigs, stockings, gloves, costume jewelry, make up, and hairsprays. I mean it was a whole suitcase full and then you also had to be a makeup artist, a hairdresser and a stylist. The other day I looked at some Vogue pictures and saw that the make up was not perfect at all, so funny, no one notices I guess. On the other hand it was marvelous in the sense that you could create your image and make yourself look like what you felt like, well not always, but you had a hand in it so to speak. The reason for all the wigs and stuff is that mostly they did not want you to be recognized but rather be a different person every time. Now the thing is to be recognized and everything looks so much more natural and they are open to new things.

It was funny for me to see the incredible organization that was going on for the Italian Vogue shoot at the Korean cemetery with Steven Meisel in 2008 in LA. First of all, I got picked up by a beautiful black Mercedes and upon arrival was immediately brought to a delicious breakfast by the best gatherers. There were Trailers with everything one can wish for, tables and tables with accessories and shoes, racks of the most gorgeous outfits, big tents for the photographer and his equipment which include enormous computers so the result is seen immediately and so on and so fort. About 5 make up artists, hairdressers, stylist with a group of assistants. Back then there was an editor, the photographer, an assistant and the model(s). Slowly but very slowly there were hairdressers on the set and even slower the make up artists. For the rest, it is hard work, please don’t think it is all fun and glamour, it is also hard work, specially in my days. If I think of the racks with all the clothes that had to be photographed in one day, planes here and there… yes, it is fun but it is also hard work to be in shape and take care to look beautiful as many people depend on you and there is a lot of money involved. 

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Willy’s style, image courtesy of Willy van Rooy. rights reserved.

Q. What was your favorite fashion moment from the 60s? What was your life like then?

A. Everything seemed possible, there was a certain freedom because of the knowledge that one was not alone, one knew there were many like you who wanted to express themselves and a good way to do so was the way we dressed. Fashion was young, fashion was new, mostly because it got a whole new public as things were more exciting and more affordable then the designer clothes that were around. My favorite moment was when I discovered a shoe store in London, that I saw sort of hidden in the window in the background, gold leather shoes. It turned out they were original Ferragamo shoes from the 40’s. They were a model’s, the sales girl told me- “they did not know what to do with them”. No problem, hallelujah, they were my size and I bought all 6 pairs of them for next to nothing. Vintage was great to combine with the latest and there was lots of it on the fabulous Chelsea market. The modeling at that time was exciting too.

Q. What photographer do you think had the most influence on your career and why?

 A. Definitely Helmut Newton because it was with him that some different style pictures were made. He was getting known and when I came in, it seemed to be the right time. I think the pictures we did together were new and people thought they were exciting. The thing is I was such a nomad and disappeared to Ibiza or India sometimes for a year or more, otherwise we would have made many more pictures together. As he told me once, I was the only model he would ever think to ask to be under contract with him, but I told him that was not necessary because I would always choose to work with him first. In reality maybe is not always true because doing all the editorials is great but you also want to bring home the bacon.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Willy van Rooy walking in a YSL show.

Q. What was your favorite part of working as a model for YSL and how was the transition to designer for you? How exactly did this happen? 

 A. I loved to do the shows or pictures for YSL because I liked his designs, it made you look and feel good even though in real life I was not dressed like that at all. He was a wonderful person and was in the height of his incredible career. The whole atmosphere there was good and exciting and the shows were a party. Now the runway shows are so different too. We were not that many girls, maybe 20 or less and we each had at least 6 or 7 changes. Now I see lots of girls coming on only once. Also, we could walk how we felt best and each model had a style which the people enjoyed I think, now they all walk the same? In that time my husband and I became friends with Anne Marie Muñoz who was a very important person in the history and the House of YSL and and it was through her that I later started to design for YSL. Drawing and designing has always been my thing so when the modeling became less exciting and my shop was closed, I wanted to draw and my husband told Anne Marie one evening when she came for a visit, to have a look at my drawings…so thats how that started…… 
Q. So to quote your blog about the beginning of your career as a designer for YSL,

“It is 1980 and I started drawing a collection of shoes for Yves Saint Laurent and when I had 24 of them I called Anne Marie Muñoz and went to see her at Avenue Marceau, the official “house” of YSL. I had been there often for fittings and private shows so I knew a lot of people there, but this felt different. I was quiet nervous and at the same time excited to show my drawings as I myself really liked them. Good for me Anne Marie did so too and so I got my first check as a free lance designer and it was a good one. I had hoped they would buy at least 6 but they bought all 24 of them!” (Willy van Rooy, blog). 

Yes, thats what happened and after that I designed lots of perfume and powder boxes, jewelry and umbrellas, tee shirts, bathing suits and lots of hand bags and shoes. It was great fun, I had a lot of pleasure drawing them and what they at Yves Saint Laurent liked about it was that if I designed T shirts or bathing suits, I would draw the jewels and belts as well, just because I liked it. 

Q. What pieces did you design for YSL and Karl Lagerfeld? About how many jewelry designs would you estimate? Do you have any examples of these you saved or images? 

A. Like I said, for YSL I designed all kind of things and for Karl Lagerfeld mostly prints, something I like to do very much. I did design prints for YSL too and some jewelry for Lagerfeld as well. The thing is that at that time it was not so easy to make copies in color and so on and often you forgot or did not care in the end. I do have photocopies of a lot of it but in black and white. 

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

WWD cover with her prints for Lagerfeld. 1980.

These days one would just do it with the Iphone and gets a great copy. In the end they actually used little of the original designs I made for them because it is more a inspiration for the accessories, I would sometimes see a glimpse of it in some jewelry or especially the shoes. I don’t really know what they were selling and weren’t so I don’t really know if they made up the umbrellas or handbags that I had designed. Everything was kept though for later times or whatever. The prints for Lagerfeld were different because he really used them and when I saw the show and all the girls coming out in silks and satins with the prints I designed, that was really something else. I have some newspaper cuttings of the Karl Lagerfeld prints in the WWD but to be honest I did not check it out very well, once sold, something new is coming and that was it.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Willy’s original jewelry and accessories sketches for YSL. 

Q. On your blog you displayed some original sketches from YSL- how many do you have in your possession? 

A. At a point when they were selling the YSL label Anne Marie called me and gave me back some of my original drawings because, as she said” Monsieur St Laurent had liked those very much and you should have them, maybe one day you can do something with them”. So, yes, I have about 20 originals drawings I did for them.

Q. Many vintage lovers adore Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche collection- do you have a favorite piece you modeled?  

 A.Yes, me too I love most vintage YSL but the Russian inspired collection was really one of my favorites and I have one of this lovely Russian suede hats with fur, red and Black which is an original, used in the show… other pieces of designers I had I gave to my sisters because I really only wear what I feel best in. The only vintage clothes I wear are also my own.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Saint Laurent ad, Eric Boman.  

Q. You are sort of synonymous with YSL- so many fashion ads…. They are often used when researching vintage designs.  Do you have a favorite campaign? 

 A. Mostly everything I did for YSL I liked, but the pictures I did with Eric Boman for them I think I like best and the series with the green fur coat by Hans Feurer for the French Elle, all very 30’s-40’s inspired, which is a fashion period I like very much and I love the picture the master himself signed for me with a wonderful text which was handwritten…. ah, the elegance

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Q. How did you meet your husband?

A. My husband and I met on a photo shoot with Helmut Newton for the English magazine The Observer. I was booked for 3 weeks with Helmut for different jobs in Marrakech, Morocco, some publicity’s, Elegance and 3 series for the Observer. One day he saw 2 very interesting looking young men in the street with an Afghan dog ( they looked foreign and were actually Spanish) and he later thought about it and send some people to find them and ask them to be in the pictures he was going to make the next day. I already had seen them as well in the Marrakech souk, you could not miss them, and to make a long story short, we fell in love right there the morning they showed up for the shoot. I was waiting in the bus doing my make-up and there they were and I only remember seeing Salvador. Now he was sitting beside me in the car and the moment he offered me his pipe of kiv and we looked at each other… Later we were posing together so we have this wonderful pictures by Newton from the day we really met. The next day the whole crew was leaving for London but I stayed in Marrakech to the chagrin of Helmut who had booked me already for weeks ahead.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Irving Penn. Vogue image of Willy’s shoe

Q. In the 1980s you designed a quite successful shoe line under your own name, worn by famous women and fashion lovers. Why shoes?

A. It was the only thing I could not make myself and shoes had always fascinated me as I had designed some shoes for YSL. Sometimes I had my shoes made up after my own design, there was a good shoemaker I knew in Milan, Italy, and later in Spain. The marvelous boots one could have made up, the best shoemaker of those was in Marbella, now it is not what it used to be 40 years ago either. The thing is that in 1980 I was in Spain and Spain is a shoe manufacturer country which was an interesting fact to explore. Shoes on my mind because one day when I was bringing my drawings to the YSL house, I met up with the man who was responsible for the production of the YSL shoe line and he told me I had an extra ordinary feeling for shoes. It is not only the design but the balance and the comfort and soon. He gave me a few incredible wooden shoe forms and some courage to start my own shoe line if the opportunity appeared. It did and in 1982 I had produced my first shoe collection in Elda,Alicante, Spain.

Q.How many collections did you design and what inspired your favorite pair?

A. About 2 collections a year for 10 years. Many of my shoes and boots were inspired by the wonderful brocades still available in the area which they used in their yearly festival costumes. It was also tricky because some of it was hand woven in could take months to produce. It is hard to say which is my favorite but some models I sold over and over again for many years… they also happened to be my favorites.

Q. In what way was the Tunic Unique indicative of the era, what was it’s impact on your career? 

A. well, everything comes together. Because of my career as a model I knew many people and many knew me. I got a lot of help from Karl Lagerfeld who bought them for all his friends and everybody who worked at YSL including Lou Lou and Dear Anna Piaggi and all the models I knew, it was a blast and I got a lot of publicity.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Celebrities wearing and press about her Tunic Unique.

Q. What other fashion houses have you designed for?

 A. In the 90’s I lived in Madrid and designed for the Spanish designer Juanjo Rochefort who had a lot of celebrity clients and I designed mostly evening dresses for him. It was a lot of fun.

Q. On your instagram account I see quite a bit of wonderful images from your career and related to your husband and children? How has and does your family and especially your husband continue to inspire you?

 A. Thats the point, they never stop to inspire me, my family is most important to me, probably because that is something I have not known and my husband always surprises me with the art he makes and that is very inspiring. We are very lucky like that, to have our art and have each other. Not that these things come bythemselves, you have to work at it.

Q. Do you wear vintage? What is the oldest item in your wardrobe? Do you have a collection of your shoes? 

 A. No, I don’t wear vintage except my own and the oldest piece, my faux fur coat, is 26 years old (not that vintage really?) I do buy vintage sometimes because I am full of admiration for the workmanship but really I think that young people look great in it combined with the latest accessories. Or I love and wear the vintage jewelry, that looks always good and again, it is the artistry that went into it that mostly enchant me. Dressing vintage for me now would look like I never left it.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

One of Willy’s latest jewelry illustrations. rights reserved.

Q. You design jewelry today and have your own shop- how would you describe your aesthetic? 

 A. I do sporadically design and make up a piece of jewelry or bags and sell it in my online Etsy shop but to tell you the truth it is too much work, I always want to make it very special and it does not pay in that way so I only do it when I really feel like it and then mostly give it away. What I do enjoy a lot is drawing them, that makes me really happy.

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Necklace currently available in Willy’s shop

Image Provided by Willy Van Rooy.

Leather and vintage component necklace, created by Willy.

Q. What other projects are your working on? 

A. Right now I am working on a book of my illustrations and if possible would like to make a book of my shoes and all the adventures that went with it. Also a book about the wonderful work of my husband… We just released the new SHOP, I have been working on with my son and daughter, which is very important. It contains designs and product made by the Willy van Rooy label. We have ambitious plans….so much to do. Yet we have to take care to take the time to look at the clouds and the beauty around us, so I am going step by step and every day is a new day.

Love and Peace

After conducting this interview, I am in even more awe of Willy’s life and passion for it! If you are also more enamored, please check out these links for more Willy van Rooy!

Visit Willy’s jewelry shop: