TIFFANY & CO. SPECIAL
That perfectly cut white-shirt, flattering pair of cigarette leg jeans or LBD that hugs your figure in all the right places; they’ve never gone out of style and remain effortlessly chic irrespective of age, era, or occasion. Elsa Peretti, undoubtedly one of the most iconic names in design in the 21st century, is jewellery’s answer to these classics. She once said, “Jewellery has to last and not be discarded as soon as something else comes along.”
Born in Florence in 1940, Peretti studied interor design and worked for an architect in Milan before beginning a modelling career in Barcelona. Soaking up the art nouveau architecture of Gaudi and posing for surrealist artist Salvatore Dali led to a fascination with sculpture – a love that would have profound influence on her later creations. A move to New York then saw her mingling with the creative crowd: Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Liza Minelli and – most importantly – the American designer Halston, who dressed the jet set in his minimal, sophisticated luxury. She soon began dabbling in design herself and in 1974, started what would become a lifelong collaboration with Tiffany & Co.
Removing all unneccesary extras, her aesthetic has always been based around simple, fluid, undulating lines. “Style is to be simple, I like to push myself to achieve a certain quality and eliminate the excess detail.” Rather than churning out new collections on a seasonal basis, like a true artist, her most iconic designs have come about when inspiration strikes. Nature is a big one. Take her infamous bean design, for example, which symbolises the seed of life; her perfectly simple Teardrop form; or her more literal distinctive scorpion necklace from 1979.
She also drew from her own memories and experiences. Her instantly recognisable bone cuffs, for example, were inspired by childhood visits to a 17th century Capuchin church that was adorned with human bones. She is said to have sneakily brought one of the bones home in a small purse: “Things that are forbidden remain with you forever,” she said. Specially designed for the left or right hand, the chunky abstract form rendered in silver or gold perfectly melds to the wrist and makes a bold statement with any outfit.
The inspiration for her Bottle necklaces came from her memories of sunkissed, glamourous Portofino in the ’60s. Surounded by lithe Italian beauties, she recalls carrying a picked gardinia in a bottle found at a junk shop. Her most popular piece in the collection, the Open Heart, came about after noticing how the empty void in a Henry Moore sculpture loosely resembled the shape of a heart. Bold and modern without a hint of twee, the form hangs freely off a fine chain or rope and moves with the body.
A lover of craftmanship and all things artisinal (she prefers to call herself a “craftswoman”), Peretti maintained an obsessive eye for detail and form. For her Mesh range, she was drawn to the softness and intricacy of antique mesh handbags. After being told that that fine mesh could no longer be made, longtime collaborator Samuel Biezer, head of jewellery at the FIT, helped her source the old machines that had crafted these bags a century ago. Copying the process, the result was a beautiful silk-like necklace you could around your neck like a scarf, or triangular earrings that hang ever so lightly from the ear. Another example is how she tracked down a Japanese master artisan who still employed the age-old traditional 70-step lacquer technique – a finish she would use for her Sevillana range made of lacquered hardwood.
Perhaps the main reason her jewellery has reached evergreen status, however, is how it is unpretentious and can be worn by anyone with a sense of style. Take her infamous Diamonds by the Yard sautoire necklace, for example, which made wearing the gemstones effortlessly cool and everyday-friendly. Bezel set brilliant diamonds are sprinkled on stands of delicate overlapping chains to resemble drop of light. She said, “If diamonds are mounted like this the light is different – very modern.”
Few designs maintain their style and beauty for decades, but Peretti’s are as modern today as they were when they were first realised. As Peretti says: “Good lines and good forms are timeless.”