Monday, July 2, 2012

Designer I Love: Elsa the Great

Elsa Peretti revolutionized chic women’s jewelry.

I’ve always loved the purity and elegance of her designs.

For almost forty years with Tiffany & Co she has stayed true to her sculptural chic vision—and to the simplicity and minimalism of her designs. It’s time to rediscover her.

The jewelry and her tabletop designs continue to inspire me. I have some wonderful images here to remind you of Peretti’s legacy. 

Elsa Peretti® lacquer bangles (clockwise from top): negoro, black, red, gold

When she first launched her collection (which has grown to thousands of pieces, including remarkable tabletop décor) there was only precious jewelry and ‘costume’. Elsa did not do fake. Instead, working in sterling silver and in gold, she offered elegant real jewelry at ultra-reasonable prices. Let’s take a closer look. 

Lacquer bangles in black, persimmon and orchid lacquer by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co.

Blue lacquer bangle by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co.

No one was wearing elegant and refined silver jewelry until Elsa made it chic. Stylish women never wore diamonds in the daytime until Elsa created her wonderful Diamonds by the Yard collection in platinum. Modern sculptural silver and crystal for candlesticks and boxes and glorious decanters became chic tabletop décor, beloved by top designers and the design world, thanks to Elsa. 

Elsa Peretti, Designer

This post is my homage to Elsa Peretti. I’ve worn her handsome lacquer bracelets, her Diamonds by the Yard, and variations on the bean and other nature-inspired silhouettes.

I admire her designs on my stylish girlfriends.

I think it’s time for an Elsa Peretti revival. Let’s take a look at her accomplishment, and the rare beauty she devises and dreams up. 

With her signature approach to ease and elegance, Elsa Peretti creates an unmistakable presence with her exclusive home designs for Tiffany & Co. Her unique stylization of natural forms takes fluid shape in the sculptural silver and vermeil Teardrop carafe, contoured Thumbprint service plate, and Thumbprint water cup.

Padova™ bottle opener in sterling silver by Elsa Peretti® for Tiffany & Co.

Since 1974, Elsa Peretti has been creating a consistent, cohesive, focused and ultra-original series of jewels and tabletop décor for Tiffany & Co.

Tiffany & Co is celebrating the one hundred seventy-fifth anniversary of its founding, so it’s the perfect time to honor Elsa Peretti, a major creator in the history and success of the company.

Elsa Peretti® candlestick and boxes in sterling silver (clockwise from top): Bone candlestick, heart box, pumpkin box with silk tassel.

I’m thinking of the heady days of Halston—and Peretti’s devastingly dynamic designs (bone cuff bracelet, belt buckles) for his fashion shows. And then there were her lacquer evening boxes, the silver decanter, her witty pendants, the terra cotta and the crystal bone-shaped candlesticks, the fetishy silver and gold bottle pendants (with jade stoppers), and her lacquer boxes and woven bamboo basket-weave clutches.

Oh, and what better gift for a baby than the Peretti silver spoon or a hostess gift of a Peretti silver bottle opener. I've given dozens. Ice bucket, too.

What a trip it has been. I think I’m falling in love with Elsa Peretti’s designs all over again. 

Elsa Peretti® Bone cuff in sterling silver.

Elsa Peretti® Bone cuff in sterling silver and 18 karat gold.

Hand-carved cabochon rings by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co. (from left): black jade in 18 karat gold, turquoise in sterling silver and green jade in 18 karat gold.

It was startling from the beginning to see her approach—the stylization of natural and organic forms such as bones, beans, hearts, apples, snakes, teardrops and starfish.

Peretti, unlike any other jewelry designer at that time, based her sleek work on the natural world (a wave, seeds, a shell), and these designs evoke subtle abstractions. It was the start of fine casual jewelry, a less ‘serious’ approach to jewels. 

Gold lacquer Bean® necklace on silk cord by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co.

Elsa Peretti® lacquer pendants (from left): red round lacquer pendant on a black silk cord, gold lacquer Sevillana pendant on a black silk cord, black lacquer Bean® pendant on a black silk cord.

Elsa Peretti® Bottle pendants (from left): round in sterling silver with a turquoise stopper, round in 18 karat gold with a lapis stopper, round in sterling silver with a lapis stopper, jug-shaped in sterling silver on a black silk cord.

Elsa Peretti’s designs are crafted in a variety of materials, but she is best known for her works in sterling silver, which elevated the metal to new heights.

Then she progressed to gold mesh necklaces and earrings, to Padova sterling silver flatware and her revolutionary Diamonds by the Yard.


Diamonds By The Yard® necklace, bracelet and earrings in platinum by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co.

Imagine her rather blessed life. (She now lives in Spain.)

Born in Italy and educated in Rome and Switzerland, Peretti initially made her living teaching French. She eventually returned to Rome to pursue a degree in interior design.

By 1969 she had established herself as a fashion model in New York and Barcelona, and was also beginning to design her own jewelry. American fashion designer Giorgio di Sant'Angelo (remember his flowing gowns, his fabulous robes and evening gowns?) used a few of her pieces in a fashion show, which were an instant success. It was also during this time that she met the legendary Halston, who became her longtime friend, nightclub hopper, late-night fellow-traveler, and frequent collaborator. Peretti was on the social pages seven days a week, in Vogue every month, and was a faithful denizen of Studio 54, along with the Andy Warhol gang and the Halston-ettes (hello, Liza). 

Elsa Peretti® Lacquer Bean® purses (from left): red lacquer, gold lacquer

In the early 1980s, her collections for Tiffany were expanded to include china, crystal and silver designs. Like her jewelry, these new designs followed a fluid shape and serene, undulating surfaces. 

Open Heart pendant in sterling silver by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co.

Tiffany & Co recently established the Elsa Peretti Professorship in Jewelry Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the first endowed professorship in the history of FIT. The Elsa Peretti jewelry case in Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue flagship store was designated a Tiffany landmark. I'm glad. She deserves it. Brava, Elsa. 

Feather necklace in 18 karat yellow gold by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co.

So when you’re in New York City, try breakfast at Tiffany (hello, Audrey!) and pop in to swoon over Elsa’s designs. Suddenly they look fresh, all over again.

Tiffany stores around the world have selections of Elsa Peretti and

Elsa Peretti’s designs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.

Thanks for Tiffany & Co. for supplying the images for this feature, exclusively.


mary said...

I think I'll go shopping/hunting for some of her cuffs-amazingly gorgeous and of the moment. thanks. Mary

vicki archer said...

Stunning jewellery Diane...I have always been a fan of Elsa Peretti's work ... her simplicity and beauty of style is timeless...
Your blog looks lovely... xv

Anonymous said...

Love the sobriety of her work.

-Brad said...

beautiful post.