Faux and Fabulous

By GREG COOK  |  October 30, 2007
itrine displays a 1995 news photo of Princess Diana in what appears to be pearls. The original caption read: “Real gems like Princess Di aren’t afraid to fake it — her $85 Kenneth Jay Lane collar outclassed the competition.” Lane helped make costume jewels cool with a client list that included Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Edie Sedgwick, Nancy Reagan, Raquel Welch, Paris Hilton, and the ladies on Sex and the City. On the QVC TV shopping channel, much of his stuff retails for under $100. A two-tone Roman-style coin ring (inspired by ’60s Bulgari designs) is just $39.75, plus shipping and handling. A cute strawberry pendant from the early ’90s with “goldtone” seeds and leaves is yours for only $39.98.
A TOUCH OF ROYALTY: A copy of the
Duchess of Windsor’s flamingo brooch.
Lane was born in Detroit in 1932, earned a bachelor of arts degree in advertising design from RISD in 1954, and moved to New York. He designed shoes for Christian Dior and Arnold Scaasi, before moving into jewelry in the early ’60s by making earrings and bracelets to match the shoes.
The 1960s rewarded his penchant for razzle-dazzle. He turned out chandelier earrings like the glamorous loop-the-loop rhinestone chains of his “Spanish flamenco-inspired earrings” of the early ’60s. The design brings to mind the interlace decoration and double-tiered arches of Spanish mosques.
Diana Vreeland, the iconic fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and then editor-in-chief of Vogue, was an early fan. She regularly featured his costume jewelry in the magazines and wore it herself. Here is one of Lane’s “headlight” necklaces from the late ’60s, which he designed for her. Inspired by the British crown jewels, it’s a strand of shimmering glass diamonds the size of ice cubes.
For a time Lane manufactured his jewelry at a Providence factory that he bought in the early ’60s. He no longer owns the place, but the RISD museum reports he still does much production in Rhode Island.
Part of Lane’s charm is his craftiness. In 1963, he created a line of bracelets and earrings inspired by snakeskin shoes by stretching leather with a snakeskin design over plastic bangles he picked up at a New York dime store. He’s knocked off designs by Cartier and Chanel. He finds inspiration all over the place: Indian necklaces, Byzantine crosses, Chinese jade, Egyptian hieroglyphics, pre-Columbian pendants, art deco, the showrooms of Schlumberger, Verdura, Bulgari (“You can’t be a successful costume jewelry designer unless you know the goods — the real stuff”), and Jackie O’s vault.
Lane has written that Onassis, who wore some of his costume earrings, asked him to make her a copy of her Maharani-style necklace of diamonds, emeralds, and rubies that her second husband Aristotle Onassis commissioned from the Paris jewelers Van Cleef and Arpels as a wedding present in 1967. Lane agreed on the condition that the could sell copies. He made versions in various color combos, a few of which appear here.
Also here is Lane’s late ’80s copy of the Duchess of Windsor’s Cartier flamingo brooch, which was given to her by her husband in 1940. When you compare it to a photo of the original, the designs are similar but it’s apparent that Lane’s craftsmanship is not as refined, and he abstracts the wings a bit more than in the original.
Lane seems forever a child of the ’60s: psychedelia, India, and all that. He loves big, splashy, chunky designs. Even his glass pearls that the notoriously buttoned-down First Lady Barbara Bush wore to the 1989 presidential inaugural ball were as big as hailstones.

“Fabulous Fakes: Jewelry By Kenneth Jay Lane” | The RISD Museum, 224 Benefit Street, Providence | Through January 27
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