The beginning of the second decade of the 1900s saw an ex-seamstress and failed music-hall singer open up a hat shop on the Rue Cambon in Paris. Thus begins the story of the most influential fashion designer in the 20th century. From her first maison de couture in Biarritz Coco Chanel dressed women in a style we might now call "grunge", but which was more poetically called "luxurious poverty" by Poiret. As women cast aside the uncomfortable Edwardian corsets of the previous decade, they became liberated not only in their clothing but also in their jewelry. Chanel copied the brightly coloured jewels sold in precious jewelry houses and worn by her rich and aristocratic friends.
Although Mme Chanel is generally credited with inventing "costume jewelry", this is not really the case. As we have seen, the origins of imitation jewels and the concept of "costume jewelry", if not the term itself, precede Chanel by a long stretch: the faux jewelry trade thrived as early as the 18th century, and people have adorned themselves with all manner of non-precious jewelry for centuries. Moreover; other couturiers, such as Lucien Lelong, Elsa Schiaparelli, Cristobal Balenciaga, and Jean Patou, were also producing costume jewelry in these early days. However, with her talent in showmanship, Chanel was instrumental in popularizing costume jewelry.
In England, the Arts and Crafts aesthetic was alive and well, with many talented proponents. It was the age of the Liberty Style, which arguably can be characterized as a reaction against the more decadent ethos of Art Nouveau: a style favouring the artisan, and the blending of art and industry. Under this banner, artists and firms such as Archibald Knox; Muffle, Bennett & Co; Sybil Dunlop; and Jessie King, to name but a few, produced well-priced, stylish silver jewelry, frequently enamelled and set with semi-precious stones.
Far from being a backwater movement, the Arts and Crafts style of England was influential across Europe, perhaps nowhere more so than in Austria. The Wiener Werkstatte had been founded in 1903 by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser to promote the decorative arts of the Vienna Secessionists. Arts and Crafts aided the Wiener Werkstatte to explore a more avant-garde school of design, which eventually lead to the German Bauhaus of the 1930s.TheVienna Secession saw jewelry produced by painters, architects, and sculptors. To characterize the designs is difficult, but it is fair to say that they attempted to turn two dimensions into three dimensions and to accentuate geometry. Squares became cubes, and the strong and varied colours of previous fashions became black and white spawning the term "zebra design".
Others in the movement chose to employ the more naturalistic themes of flora and fauna, mixed with squares and cubes, to create more curvaceous designs: in many ways the Wiener Werkstatte seemed to presage the Art Deco movement of the 1930s.
In the United States, jewelry design and retailing was an embryonic affair, but it was in the 1910s that things started to stir. One of the most celebrated and well known companies was created by the collaboration of Gustavo Trifari and Leo F. Krussman to form Trifari and Krussman. (Later in 1925, Carl M. Fischel, an exceptional salesman recently arrived from France and buoyed by the interest in costume jewelry there, would join the firm) Cohn and Rosenberger formed Coro (a contraction of their names) in 1901, selling from a small store on Broadway, New York. Coro would later become one of the most important costume jewelry companies in the world at this time. Henrietta Kanengeiser (later to become Hattie Carnegie), originally from Vienna, opened her first store with a friend in 1913 on East 10th Street, New York, selling hats.
From these humble origins she emerged as a truly talented and innovative designer, later selling costume jewelry that is very collectable today. On the West Coast, Jonas Eisenberg founded the clothing firm of the same name, where he accessorized his clothes with jewelry. Eisenberg jewels were later made in their own right from the mid-1930s and proved to be as hugely popular then as they are today to the collector. Another famous name appears in this decade: the Mazer brothers. Starting business in 1917 they produced shoe buckles under the trading name of the Franco-American Bead Company of Philadelphia.
During the First World War many manufacturers turned their production over to military articles such as bullet cases and gas marks, but with the end of the war came a surge in popularity of plastic costume jewelry. The early plastic, celluloid, was manufactured in many colours and commonly set with large numbers of rhinestones. Many of the celluloid bangles were worn all up the arm. Now the "Roaring Twenties" were in sight, and the "Jazz Age" was about to begin.
Writer- Steven Miners