Costume drama

14 08 2010

For five decades, Kenneth Jay Lane has glammed up first ladies and Hollywood celebrities with dazzling costume jewelry. Starting tomorrow, the public can get a closer look at some of these baubles when the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence unveils “Fabulous Fakes: Jewelry by Kenneth Jay Lane.” More than 350 necklaces, bracelets, brooches, and earrings will be on display. We caught up with Lane, a 1954 RISD grad, to chat about his work.
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What have been some of your favorite pieces, your best work? Certain things have become so iconic and popular, like the lion doorknocker earrings. I did so many things with animal motifs. I love my octopus pin. They are all my children. I can’t say a favorite.

Are you influenced by trends or is elegant jewelry timeless? It depends on what the buyers decide is a trend. They say art deco in jewelry is coming back. I don’t think it went away. I think jewelry isn’t like fashion, it doesn’t need to change every season. I did a strawberry pendant and earring and brooch about 20 years ago. About four years ago, it took off. We were selling them by the thousands. It seems that every lady in Japan had to have one.

What’s the most unexpected material you’ve worked with? I go to Greece every summer. I pick up polished stones on the beaches and have them cast as beads.

Nancy Reagan, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Britney Spears have all bought your pieces. Why don’t wealthy customers like that wear the real thing? When you travel, you don’t have to worry about insurance. Some of the richest ladies in New York wear my pearls. Nobody knows they are not the best South Sea pearls. People travel so much today.

Hotels don’t have the kind of safes they did years ago. What real jewelry do you admire? I travel a lot. I go to all the wonderful collections. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Green Vaults in Dresden. There are wonderful things to see in this world.

What men’s jewelry designer do you wear? I don’t like to wear any jewelry. I wear a couple of small evil-eye chains around my wrist. They are very unnoticeable. My favorite watch is my Minnie Mouse, given to me by Mickey. It’s Cartier.

What is the most important piece of jewelry that a woman should own? I don’t think a woman is dressed without earrings. If a woman is good looking, it brings eyes to the face. If she’s hideous, it helps.

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