Sunday, April 27, 2008 | Los Angeles Times
NOW that the patina of the "it" bag has worn off, along with the appeal of the red sole of a Christian Louboutin pump, jewelry — both fine and faux — is having its moment.
We're not talking about a single strand of pearls, a subtle lariat or a few stacking rings. We're talking statement jewelry, the kind of pieces that are so colorful, intricate or just plain enormous, they demand to be noticed.
For spring, jewelry is alive with birds, butterflies, blossoms and blooms echoing the garden of delights on the fashion runways. The details are so lifelike on these fantasy pieces, they look as if they could have been plucked from the wild. Leviev's 60-carat fern frond, dazzling with green garnets and yellow diamonds, is as realistic as a sketch from a botany book. Chanel's Camellia Feuille aquamarine and blue sapphire ring may be small, but the intense color of the stones makes it look like the prize bloom in a garden. Chopard took the trend and turned it into one major cuff clustered with "blossoms" of pink sapphires and diamonds, and priced at $650,000. Talk about flower power.
But just as the runways set the trends for the mass market, these works of art are leading the way for some of the best costume jewelry since the 1980s. Because we may not be rich, but at least we can look like it.
Fashion designers leapt into the fine jewelry business about 15 years ago, as part of the global rise of luxury brands. Chanel launched its fine jewelry collection in 1993, using its camellia signature on rings and necklaces, followed more recently by Christian Dior, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. And soon, Ralph Lauren will introduce a fine jewelry line.
Now, high-end designers, including Lanvin, Marc Jacobs, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Marni, are expanding their costume offerings, seeing the category as an entree for would-be luxury shoppers. Miu Miu's critter brooches — quirky spiders, lizards and dragonflies — reflect the spring collection's nocturnal whimsy and give a lot of personality to a dress or blazer.
Tom Binns, a Venice Beach designer, is one of a new generation of independent costume jewelers elevating the craft. His floral collar with intertwining blooms and vines in every color of the rainbow, looks as if it could be an estate piece. New York designer Alexis Bittar specializes in Lucite, handpainting stunning floral brooches. Then there's Kenneth Jay Lane, the king of costume for nearly 50 years, who made jewelry for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Diana Vreeland and Elizabeth Taylor. (He also designed the three-strand pearl necklace famously worn by Barbara Bush.) Lane's $90 enamel flower cocktail rings are spring's best buy.
Even more accessible, J. Crew is focusing on jewelry like never before, with flower, bird and butterfly baubles in the spring collection. The $150 Magnolia cuff, a vintage-feeling piece in brown enamel with a blossom bursting from the center, is one of the season's true statement pieces.
Of course, jewelers have been translating flora and fauna into sparkling creations forever. Leaves and flowers decorated some of the earliest jewelry in Egypt, where they were linked to life and resurrection. The Greeks and Romans draped themselves with gold leaf ornaments and wreaths, to symbolize prosperity. And the 21st century Angeleno? Think of it as fashionable armature, of the most delicate sort.
Illustration by Cecilia Carlstedt For The Times; photographs by Karen Tapia Anderson Los Angeles Times; Dragonfly photograph courtesy of Van Cleef and Arpels. Photographs, clockwise from top, by Karen Tapia Anderson Los Angeles Times, Pade Vavra, Kirk McKoy Los Angeles Times, Karen Tapia Anderson Los Angeles Times, Kirk McKoy Los Angeles Times, Kirk McKoy Los Angeles Times, Robert Lachman Los Angeles Times, Robert Lachman Los Angeles Times, Alexis Bittar, Alexis Bittar.