Friday, October 15, 2010

A Conversation With Judith Miller About Costume Jewelry

I had the opportunity to send Judith Miller a few questions about her newest book Costume Jewelry. Do look through her books and guides ... this is like having a best friend who knows everything. Very cool. Ms. Miller answered in red ...
This is a delicious book, yummy with information and illustrations and a sort of where in the price race the designer currently is. I was really fascinated because I sold several of the designers she's written about. Herve Van Der Straetten amazed ... his pieces were grabbed, literally, by the more intellectual ladies who wore the savage black of Japanese designers, highly intellectualized and deconstructed. Robert Lee Morris, way back to the Artwear days, whom she correctly said was more about art than fashion (he sold Ted Muehling and Cara Croninger in his shop on West Broadway). Having sold a bit of Butler & Wilson in the mid-80's, it was wonderful having them anchor Sunset Plaza with a memorable boutique (I had the other end). I carried gobs and gobs of Eric Beamon (there really was an Eric, a very talented man) before it was Erickson Beamon. I've sold it new and fresh, as accessories to fashion, with an appreciation for refinement and fantasy, not thinking collectible: at the end of the season it was a markdown. But I do have a Chinese wedding basket where I keep almost everything I ever fell in love with because accessories should be forever.

The pieces, as they should be of course, are all pristine and that is part of the allure and the spendy part of it all. I'd imagine there are people that love the romance of a particular period/designer and look for something personal that speaks to them and then again there are thousands (literally) of items on eBay, in dank cabinets at antique shows of varying quality and price.
And you can still find some absolute bargains everywhere – from charity stores, to estate sales, to job lots at auction ...but also on eBay I have just bought a beautiful pair of unsigned multi-faceted earrings in glorious shades of blue for $9.00
To be sure beauty and want would matter tremendously but plunking down 500. and up for a piece from a previous season - there's clues in the book but is there failsafe advice on how to buy and what to do if there is a patina issue or one itsy missing stone or a loose screw? Is the price sliced or ???
Condition is of course paramount and missing stones can make a piece unsaleable. However I have bought job lots of costume jewelry at auction and have many stones that I can set in pieces.
Special shops with "estate or vintage" pieces, such as the hand picked selection at Barneys and Bergdorfs, a few very fine boutiques, carry pieces that while exquisite are at least at the top of the price range. For the piece you can't live without it seems that would be the best way to find a well-edited, valuable piece that probably oozes half its value on the way to the door?
It is amazing what you can pick up. I went with a friend to a really sweet little store in Galveston Texas a couple of years ago and boght really good Haskell, Joseff and Hagler for very reasonable prices and some very good unsigned pieces too.
Interested in your thoughts on Coco Chanel in 1924 making a chic set of faux pearl earrings (one black, one white - so chic) and setting the tone for costume jewelry as chic as the relatively inexpensive jersey she cut for refined elegant simple chic) vs the American commercial (?) use of plastic (is that bakelite). Was that a sort of middle of the road commercial implosion to make things pretty, seemingly coincident with womens rights (so to speak, not many) and red lipstick with all that sexuality and freedom it implied? Or was the plastic tres chic and expensive albeit mass produced?
I think the joy of costume jewelry is that it was all things to all women. Chic, trashy, in your face, outrageous, humorous......The time was right for girls to have fun and copy their favourite film star or take the little black dress and add that little ‘je ne sais quoi’...
And of course, the pieces used in the book are incredible examples, exquisite and perfect, no dings or shadows. Could Ms. Miller speak about the selection of designer and pieces and how she came across these pieces.
The designer selection is really like my top favourites. Many of the pieces are mine or belong to friends. We also photographed the whole stock of friends Yai and Steven at Cristobal here in London and friends at Also two friendly dealers in Philly and New York.
Is there a best way to preserve the beauty of these at home - what to do when we let the last clasp go?
Pin to cushions, decorate mirrors
Not important but terribly curious on the exclusion of Tim Binns, another mad designer whose exquisite edgey work is grabbed at by fashion people and accessory lovers (I'm half mad about his work.)
Unfortunately some designers do get left out. I tried to get some Alice in Wonderland pieces but couldn’t in time.
Importantly and because it's become sadly rampant in fashion and handbags, what about mirror copies and fakes of good quality? Is there protection or proof?
No protection – just handle as much of the real stuff.
So many idiosyncratic people made statements in jewelry. I remember a just away from being a Playboy bunny Elsa Perretti at Halston adjusting a leather strap on one of her first sterling seeminly rolled by her dainty fingers belt buckle, all organic shape. Tina Chow, my friend, and her crystals she worked in Japan. Berry Berenson making beads and sewing pillows. People are drawn to jewelry .. making it and buying it. Almost a genetic requirement? Any thoughts on this?
I think you are right. ..from staring into my mum’s jewelry box in the late 1950’s, to finding vintage ‘stuff’ in Edinburgh as a student in the late 1960’s jewelry is very individual.


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