Faux jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane is as thrilling as ever

From the Duchess of Windsor and Nancy Reagan to Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Claudette Colbert, Kenneth Jay Lane’s celebrity clients are a reflection of an exemplary career making fake jewelry stylish, and built on talent, creativity and good timing. «I was very lucky, I came into the business when there was a vacuum – a lot of women in New York who had never worn costume jewelry before started wearing my pieces,» said Lane to Kathimerini English Edition during a recent visit to Athens. «Back then, ladies wore pearls primarily, nobody wore big, amusing earrings.» A globetrotting bon vivant, living on the elegant boulevard of glamorous New York society, Lane has been a truly international designer since the 1960s: There were Kenneth Jay Lane shops in Europe before they opened in America, including in London, where the first outlet was established in 1967. In Athens, pieces of Kenneth Jay Lane jewelry are sold exclusively at the Museum of Cycladic Art’s gift shop. Why are fakes so appealing? «Every woman wants to be Cinderella when she puts on jewels. Faux jewelry is like wearing glass slippers. A woman can feel like she’s going to the ball, even if she’s not,» wrote the designer in the autobiographical book «Faking It,» published by Harry N. Abrams in 1995. Some ladies, such as Barbara Bush, arrived at the ball in a triple-strand pearl choker. Designed by Lane, this piece became the former first lady’s signature ornament, while the only jewelry piece Lane ever made on commission was a replica of a necklace that Aristotle Onassis had offered Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Years later, both pieces were sold at separate auctions – the Lane piece fetching more than a third of the price that the original Van Cleef did. There have also been occasions when Lane’s faux pieces have been copied into the real thing – take Countess Christiana Brandolini, sister of Gianni Agnelli, for example, who asked high jewelry designer Boivin to copy a signature Lane cross. Born in Detroit, Lane attended the University of Michigan and the Rhode Island School of Design. He then went on to work in American Vogue’s art department before joining Christian Dior and Delman, where he embarked on a career in shoe design. While commuting between Paris and New York – in Paris working for celebrated shoemaker Roger Vivier – Lane began experimenting by throwing in rhinestone buckles every now and then on the shoes. Soon, he started flirting with the idea of jewelry design. In the early swinging ’60s, Lane’s venture into costume jewelry translated into plastic bangles covered with colorful crystals. He was also supported by fashion leaders such as Diane Vreeland, eventually creating pieces for Costume Institute exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. A recipient of the Coty Award for his outstanding contribution to fashion, he has also won various awards from Neiman Marcus and Harper’s Bazaar, among others. Today, besides hot sales on QVC, Kenneth Jay Lane pieces are found in major department stores but also in stores under his own label. From Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and the Trump Tower in New York, there are also four shops in London, one in Vienna, two in Paris and a recent addition in Lyon. «I have my own business; I don’t have any partners; nobody tells me what to do. I’m very impractical and I do whatever I like. So, I will do things in 22 different colors, while a commercial company would make it in two, maximum three colors,» said Lane, whose suppliers include Swarovski, among others. Some have compared him to legendary jeweler Fulco di Verdura, as well as to Coco Chanel – another pioneer of mixing real with fake. Others have occasionally accused him of copying. He says he is merely inspired by all that he sees around him. As a designer, Lane has gone from Maltese cross brooches to pre-Columbian cuffs and Art Deco sautoirs, working his way through the Renaissance and Byzantium. What kind of creative mood is Lane in these days? There are a lot of semi-precious stones, but also shells and other sea elements. He’s focusing on deep orange coral and coral beads as well as bold gold-plated pieces inspired by pre-Colombian civilizations, while he is also working on a new line of picture frames. Meanwhile, he is also very clear about what he is not into – anymore. «Certain things that I did years ago, what you’d call amusing, are not so much in fashion now. Little tiny animals, I’m tired of that,» said Lane. «I like dark metals, paves, strange colors, colors from nature. If you look at nature, there are some amazing combinations of colors. Look at a flower. Nature makes more combinations than any artist could ever make.» Yet the most fascinating aspect about Lane’s job in the faux field is that he can produce absolutely anything he wishes. Adapting seasonal styles but also doing very much his own thing is one of the secrets of his long-lasting success. «It’s so much more fluid. I don’t have to worry about the cost of the stones. I’ve tried to do real jewelry for other companies, you add one little thing and the price skyrockets. This way I can add as much as I want,» said Lane. «It’s like being a painter and using paints to do whatever I want. It doesn’t cost any more to do another stroke.»

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