Friday, 22 February 2013

Adorable Designing of Verdura Jewelry


An antique Indian carved ivory chessman brooch, with a maharajah on his elephant, c. 1940. "THE CHESSMEN, that's what really started us." Joe Alfano could trace Verdura's success to the day a woman came into the showroom, hoping to interest him in buying a set of eighteenth-century painted ivory chessmen from India. There were twenty-seven pieces, and Fulco took them all: the Mughal figurines had the potential for a more stylish allure than the scantily clad Mayan Ape Man he had just completed. Since the Colonial Exhibition, Indian-style jewelry and objects had been all the rage in Paris. Fulco had admired a green-coated knight astride a crimson steed on show in Elsie de Wolfe's sitting-room. By 1939, that brilliant connoisseur of brooches, Baba de Faucigny-Lucinge, was sporting ebony chessmen mounted as clips probably by Boivin on both lapels. But rather than merely equipping the colorful, chunky figures with a pin, Fulco transformed them into Verdura originals. His main inspiration was the Dinglingers' early eighteenth-century masterwork at the Dresden Schatzkammer (Green Vaults), The Delhi Court on the Birthday of Grand Mogol Aureng-Zeb. In this miniature scenographic extravaganza, encrusted with 5,000 rose diamonds and hundreds of emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls, over a hundred enameled statuettes courtiers, white elephants, griffons, and camels are arrayed upon a gold and silver stage inlaid with agate and lapis lazuli panels.

Ten drawings by Verdura of Rajput warriors as studies for brooches In the center are three brooches based on the drawings: a dyed ivory Rajput with a lemur on a leash; an ivory Rajput gentleman holding s flower; and a dyed ivory warrior with diamonds and pearls on a camel.
Verdura's chessmen were tricked out with jeweled turban ornaments and fans, pendant pearl earrings and medallion necklaces, gold belts, precious and semi-precious cabochon buttons, and trim. The two most elaborate figurines were an elephant with a howdah, and a king and queen seated side-by-side on a twin throne. Others were given graceful pets on leads: leopards, gazelles, and lemurs. Stands on which the chessmen could be displayed when not being worn were planted with golden bushes and gemstone cacti. "We sold every last one of them," Alfano recollected, to society leaders such as Mrs. Joshua Logan, Mrs. William Woodward, Irene Selznick, Mrs. William H. Harkness and Mrs. Jules Stein. "People would come in for years afterward" to place orders for chessmen, and it became firm policy to buy back any originals that reappeared on the market.

A Verdura sketch for a shell brooch
"In times of stress, sentiment comes quickly to the surface and seeks expression in gifts that have lasting beauty and value," was the opinion of one jeweler interviewed by the New York World-Telegramin December 1942. Jewelry sales remained strong during the early Forties, despite the introduction of a two percent luxury tax, the dearth of skilled labor, the lowering of the gold quota and the lack of platinum. Even Verdura found himself obliged to use palladium, albeit sparingly, between 1943 and 1945. But restrictions had no noticeable impact on the variety of his designs. Verdura's wartime jewels are among his most individualistic creations, whether full-blown romantic love tokens or simple mementos.

A brooch of gold and scallop shell, encrusted with diamonds and faceted endues.
Verdura's natural shell jewelry became an instant collector's item a souvenir of carefree times when beaches were for bathing and partying, rather than amphibious landings. It exuded fresh appeal, although the history of natural shell ornaments reaches back to palaeolithic times. In Middle Kingdom Egypt, metal cowrie shells were carried as talismans, and shell-shaped gold baubles appeared e. 1500 BC in various Greek sites. Frequently depicted in antiquity, the scallop shell was adopted during the middle Ages as the emblem of St James's shrine at Compostella. Benvenuto Cellini wrote of unearthing antique urns Filled with ashes, among which he discovered iron and gold rings set with tiny shells. He crafted his own version of these amulets "in fine tempered steel, chased and inlaid with gold."

The re-emergence of shells as a decorative motif in mid-nineteenth-century jewelry was symptomatic of a widespread fascination with all aspects of marine and maritime life.
A suite of coral and shell brooch and earrings, c. 1940
 On both sides of the English Channel, shell forms invested all categories of jewelry, from cheap trinkets to haute joaillerie Shell like whorls enlivened Art Nouveau jewels. Diamond-encrusted ear-clips, brooches, and necklace clasps in the shape of whelk and ammonite shells became indispensable elements of Art Deco style. According to the September 1933 issue of French Vogue, "the shell is a new jewel because it is eternal." However, the special beauty of shell-shaped jewels is that they are the product not of nature, but of human ingenuity. Whatever his sources, Fulco was genealogically predisposed to design shell jewels: the Verdura crest consists of three golden shells on an azure field.

One of Verdura's many shell brooches, encrusted with sapphires and diamonds, 1950. Below: a drawing for a table objet in smoky quartz depicting Atlas supporting a large shell on gold scrolled base.
While continuing to invent shell shapes in the sleek Thirties manner, Verdura realized that a natural shell in a precious mount was the ultimate inimitable jewel. No one piece would ever exactly resemble another, and the result was impossible to classify exclusively as either formal or informal. To prove this last point, Horst photographed Paulette Goddard for the 15 January 1941 issue of Vogue with an orange shell brooch pinned to her "dinner-in-cabana" outfit by Hattie Carnegie, an embroidered silk crepe jacket and shorts. Verdura shell brooches had startling hues so pristine russet, rose, lavender that they looked as if they had just been plucked from the sea. The most sought-after design featured an orangey lion's-paw awash in a sea of diamonds bubbling with blue sapphires or turquoises; the most delicate was a pale powder-blue shell with "trickles of sapphires and diamonds licking the edges like foamy waves." A white nacre shell brooch was rimmed with a gold running-wave border. 
Paulette Goddard, photographed by Horst in 1941, wearing a diamond encrusted lion's paw shell brooch by Verdura.
Turban shell earclips were wrapped in spiraling gold wire and tipped with coral or turquoise cabochons. Brazilian tree snail shells studded with diamonds and tourmalines were fitted with button or cufflink mounts. Speckled brown shells were embedded in chased gold brooches shaped like tortoises.

Fulco beachcombed at Fire Island or Newport whenever gas shortages did not confine him to Manhattan on weekends; he also patronized the Museum of Natural History shop. "What I get a kick out of is to buy a shell for five dollars, use half of it and sell it for twenty-five hundred," Fulco informed The New Yorker.
 He built jeweled compacts around natural bivalves, reviving the notion Schiaparelli had toyed with in 1937. The use of shells as cosmetic holders has its origins in antiquity: examples exist in civilizations from Mesopotamia to Magna Graecia.
A gold and diamond double crescent bracelet designed for Mrs. Merriweather Post, c. 1945.
 During the eighteenth century, elongated conus shells fitted with silver or gold ids served as snuffboxes and bonbonnieres. Verdura also included shells in purely decorative pieces that were evocative of sixteenth-century objects de vertu or ceremonial vessels featuring large polished nautiluses. A tilted shell containing several freshwater pearls rests on the outstretched arms of a nude male figure sculpted in crystal and mounted in gold. "It can't possibly be used as an ashtray," he explained. "It's nice but utterly useless."


A fashion shot featuring this bracelet.
In times of uncertaimy and leave-taking, when personalized keepsakes acquire special significance, monogramming is invariably rediscovered as the easiest, most effective way to render a jewel unique. The decorative and symbolic aspects of lettering had always intrigued Fulco. As a boy in Palermo, he wondered at Princess Torremuzza's tentacular sofa, in the form of four Ts joined together at their bases, signifying the ancestral connections between the Tarente, Thouar, Tremoille, and Torremuzza families. He enjoyed pondering alternative ramifications, such as if the old lady had been related to Wellington, Walpole, Wallenstein, and Washington. While Flato had used letters to spell out messages, Fulco preferred to emphasize the ornamental aspect of initials an interest he shared with Chanel; the couturiere's trademark interlaced Cs derived from the double Cs carved into the wooden benches of her great-grandfather's tavern.

A drawing for a wrapped heart jewel as well as two brooches: one an amethyst studded with small round diamonds; the other a pink tourmaline studded with small round diamonds and surmounted by a pave diamond and gold putto. Although Fulco did not copy specific historic items, he was acquainted with the sumptuous initial jewels associated with Renaissance rulers, such as Henry VIII's H ornaments and the celebrated AA pendant in the Green Vaults, probably a betrothal gift from Augustus I of Saxony to Anne of Denmark. He was familiar with modern royal badges, such as the E brooches Queen Elena of Savoy bestowed upon her ladies-in-waiting (including Granmama), and the U rings handed out by Prince Umberto to beauties who caught his eye. His library included sources ranging from medieval alphabet handbooks to E.G. Lutz's Practical Art of Lettering (1930). Months after her triumphant marriage to Vincent Astor in 1940, Minnie Cushing had Fulco design foliate gold K and C pins set with diamonds as a Christmas gift for her mother, the formidable matchmaker Katherine. Lieutenant Tyrone Power commissioned for his new, but soon to be ex-wife Annabella, a pair of star-shaped gold earrings that combined the suggestion of military valor and big-screen glamor with a personal touch: one was embossed with an A, the other with a T. Verdura was one of the first designers to succeed in persuading customers to wear his logo; during the war years, formations of gold V clips for Victory as well as Verdura clustered on patriotic lapels.

A ruby and diamond wrapped heart brooch, 1949.
Tyrone Power was also among the first to acquire a Verdura heart, a brooch of cabochon rubies tied with a softly knotted gold sash.
Fulco had been right to allow Hollywood to 'discover' him on his own turf, in New York. When in December 1940 Joan Crawford was seen wearing a ruby-set platinum brooch in the form of an arrow-pierced heart, she launched a fashion: bejeweled hearts epitomized the romance and drama that propelled the not-so-private lives of the West Coast elite. Gene Tierney, then married to the designer Oleg Cassini, bought a Drape and Spear Heart; its mass of pink tourmalines, shaded with rubies and glistening with diamonds, was surmounted by a gold swag caught up by crossed spears. Mrs. Mervyn LeRoy ordered a precious pink topaz heart bound in gold rope. Another variant was the pink tourmaline Ardent Heart, crested with diamond flames and bound with a diamond-linked gold chain. Verdura also made small gold flaming hearts, for everyday wear, in twos or threes, as well as suites of winged aquamarine hearts.

Three gold and diamond hulks watches by Verdura. Heart brooches had been in evidence since 1937, when Vogue remarked upon a lady who exhibited a "great blazing ruby heart on or above her heart on every occasion." Verdura hearts avoid the distended, buxom contours of the "puffy hearts" Millicent Rogers made for Flato; nor are they morbidly wounded, like the stabbed hearts, taken from Spanish religious iconography, that accessorized Schiaparelli's 1939 collection. Although Verdura was influenced by baroque Sacred Heart imagery, his designs are closer to the courtly heart jewels that were highly prized in Elizabethan England. In Shakespeare's Henry VI, the king's bride Margaret of Anjou seeks to calm the tempest by casting to the waves one such "costly jewel from my neck, a heart it was, bound in with diamonds." The best known surviving example is the enameled locket that belonged to the Countess of Lennox, Mary Queen of Scots's mother-in-law; beneath its crowned and winged sapphire heart cover lie two more hearts, shot with arrows and tied with lovers' knots.

A fashion shot featuring two rope knot bracelets by Verdura, as well as a ring and earrings.
During the Renaissance, the winged heart could "betoken those desires/By which the reasonable soule aspired/To mysteries and knowledge more sublime." Later, it was viewed as a symbol of amorous attraction though not necessarily of fidelity: a fluttering heart on an ivory box carved at Dieppe during the eighteenth century is accompanied by the flirtatious motto Su beaute m'attire. The chained heart device is uncommon, yet there exists a prototype for Verdura's design: Sir Edward Burne-Jones's published rendering of a pendant which Fulco, a voracious reader, might have come across. In several of the Pre-Raphaelite artist's compositions, winged and flaming hearts denote spiritual elevation as well as carnal passion.

Other jewels, influenced by the extravagant historical modes revived in Paris during the Twenties and Thirties, proved too quirky for Verdura's new mainstream American clientele. In one earclips design, a row of six tiny gold hoops seems to perforate the lobe, thanks to a concealed clasp an imitation of the multi-pierced style originating the Bronze Age which has today returned to favor. "Polished gold earmuffs," adapted from a Louis XIV sunray motif, were worn looped over the ears. In some earrings, patterned after late nineteenth-century Italian and German models, an arrow or a cloth of gold appears to be drawn through the lobe.

A gold rope bracelet and a victory knot brooch en suite, set with diamonds and sapphires, made for the White House wedding of Harry Hopkins and Louise Gill Macy in 1942.
Knotting emerged as one of the most distinctive motifs in Verdura's jewelry at this time. He studied the ornamental designs of Darer and Holbein, Verrocchio's bronze grille in the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence, and above all the complex knotted patterns with which Leonardo da Vinci bedecked his trompe-l'oeil frescoed bower in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan. Verdura's knots, however, were based more often on utilitarian than decorative examples. Ropework had intrigued him since boyhood, when a stroll along the Palermo harbor afforded opportunities to observe fishermen repair their nets and to learn new nautical knots. Reference books on all forms of weaving, from Navajo baskets to Chinese macramé, crowded Verdura's office shelves. The volume he consulted most frequently was the exhaustive Encyclopedia of Knots and Fancy Rope Work by R. Graumont and J. Hensel (1939) which, according to one reviewer, "roped and hog-tied everything that was ever known about tying knots, on land and sea.

An oak leaf brooch of multi-colored zircons, 194os
Verdura used knotting to enrich his standard designs. Sapphire and ruby Maltese crosses were bound with gold knots of heraldic origin. The polished yellow gold feelers of ray-style brooches were ensnared in the triple loops of diamond-encrusted platinum Bugler's Braids. Salmon-pink shells were caught in gold nets. Gold lattice was wrapped around cases covered in delicate white or crimson kidskin. Other items were entirely crafted in gold rope. The gold cord versions of Verdura’s curb-link chain bracelets were often embellished with diamond clusters, watches or dangling charms; worn in pairs, they could also be joined to form 'a necklace. Broad mesh collars, sometimes strewn with topazes, were intended for stylish daywear, offsetting the upward sweep of a turban or chignon. Compacts were molded to resemble miniature lidded work-baskets, or rustic wicker trays brimming with tourmalines and turquoises. Knotted gold cufflinks were copied after the silk passementerie cufflinks produced by the Parisian chemisier Charvet in 1904. Knotted triple-strand brooches followed specifications from Virgil's Eclogues: to please the gods, love knots must be uneven in number.

Verdura's drawing of a bangle terminating in two gold pave diamond-capped acorns, and the finished piece.
The Victory Knot brooch, actually a triple Carrick bend, became Verdura's most widely sold jewel ever thanks to unofficial White House endorsement. Fulco had been on the presidential guest list ever since the eldest Cushing sister, Betsey, married to Franklin D. Roosevelt's son James, had started to relieve the First Lady of tiresome hostessing duties. Even after Betsey's divorce in 1940, Fulco's wit guaranteed him continued attendance at White House events: FDR craved amusement. Another habitué was Louise Gill Macy, a former Paris editor of Harper's Bazaar now working for the Red Cross, who was involved with Harry L. Hopkins, the President's closest confidant.
The feathered gold cigarette case made for Cole Porter to celebrate his score for the 1942 movie Something to Shout About.
 When the Victory Knot brooch was launched in the spring of 1942, it was priced at S45, with part of the proceeds going to Navy Relief. The demand soared for entire parures when it was disclosed that Macy, "the country's most famous Nurse's Aide," was engaged to marry Hopkins in an East Room wedding  and that she would be wearing "a complete matching 'jewel trousseau' designed on the theme of the victory knot." The 28 July edition of the New York World-Telegram, printed on the day of the ceremony, explained that "the several pieces of the set some of which are wedding presents are made of precious stones and triple strands of gold rope adapted by the jeweler Verdura from a manual of sailor knots. Even the buttons on the wedding gown will be mounted with dainty gold ropes. Among the items of the 'jewel trousseau' are Mrs. Macy's engagement ring a lariat of gold rope around a dome of diamonds and 'victory knot' earclips, a large butterfly with flexible wings of gold rope and a body of diamonds, and two bracelets. The wedding ring will be a single twist of gold rope." All the magazines carried spreads of Mrs. Hopkins modeling the Victory Knots, which proved as becoming on tailored suits as on her blue wedding gown.

The gold twine butterfly was a particularly ingenious invention: the instinctive gesture of pinching, then releasing the two wings activated its hidden catch. Filigree was widely used during the war years, to stretch available gold as far as possible. Fulco coiled smooth tendrils of gold wire around two cabochons to form a wide-eyed owl brooch for Minnie Astor. As the companion of the goddess of wisdom, the owl was an appropriate badge for the book-loving woman whom Verdura nicknamed Minerva. He also made skeleton leaves, gold veins gleaming with diamond dew or ruby sap.
Verdura's 'Night and Day' cufflinks, designed for Cole Porter in 1941.

In Verdura jewelry, North American flora acquires a distinctly Old World gloss. Brushed gold crossover bangles with tourmaline acorn terminals set in pave diamond caps hark back to pennanular Greek bracelets of the classical era. Golden bough brooches with pendant sapphire acorns are in the tradition of the tremblant oak sprays that were as popular in Victorian England as they had been in rococo France. Verdura paid homage to native species such as the tobacco plant, devising a gentleman's gold cigarette holder shaped like a loosely furled leaf. He was especially entranced by the fiery palette of the New England autumn, so unlike the colors of the Mediterranean. One day an Indian dealer came to the showroom and emptied a sack filled with variegated zircons onto Alfano's desk: "There were hundreds of stones, wrapped in tissue paper like candies." Verdura used them to make huge oak and maple leaf brooches, measuring up to six inches in length. He massed red, green and amber jargoons amidst the gold tracery of the mounts, highlighted with yellow sapphires and cinnamon-colored hessonites, to achieve the translucent effect of stained glass.

The Pleiades brooch that Verdura first sketched in 1940. The jewel consisted of seven cabochon sapphires weighing 54 carats and diamonds, 1945.
Many of Verdura's elongated frondy designs are almost indistinguishable from his feather jewels. For the soprano Lily Pons, he crafted a claspless diamond and platinum necklace in the form of a single flexible ostrich plume that curled loosely around the neck. This elegant sautoir, deriving from the question-mark necklaces introduced by Boucheron and Debut in the 188os, also reflects the glamor of Kleaty's 'drippy' style. A pair of gold brooches one with two, the other with three plumes, tied with diamond bows seem to wave gaily in the breeze. Verdura revived the single wing brooch, an adaptation of the insignia of the Order of St Michael which had been modish in Paris during the early Thirties. A diamond and platinum winged brooch with a pear-shaped pearl pendant has two pinions raised heavenward, as if beating in flight.

A lapel watch in a winged frame is a punning reminder that Time Flies. Engraved plumage covers the entire surface of the extraordinary i8-carat gold case Fulco made to celebrate the release of Cole Porter's movie Something to Shout About in February 1942. The exquisite texture rivals that of feather-patterned objects by eighteenth-century goldsmiths as well as by Faberge.

Verdura's next Porter box was for the first night of Billy Rose's The Seven Lively Arts in December 1944, a revue starring Beatrice Lillie, Bert Lahr and Alicia Markova. Its design is inspired by the religious iconography Fulco knew so well: the flame-shaped surrounds of the seven gems diamond, ruby, emerald, sapphire, topaz, aquamarine, and amethyst are a reference to the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit. The wittiest of Verdura's Porter creations was the 'Night and Day' set of unrnatching spherical cufflinks, inspired by the lyrics of the famous song introduced by Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee (1934):

A gold-and-azure-enameled globe depicts the world, while a dark blue ball twinkling with diamond studs represents the starry firmament. Presented to Cole in 1941, within a year 'Night and Day' were available to Verdura's clientele singly as 'Heaven and Earth' dress buttons.

The 'Tragedy and Comedy' brooch with cabochon emeralds and sapphires, designed in 1941 to - celebrate Clare Boothe Luce's Tony award for her play, The Women.Fulco was increasingly drawn to constellations, although he continued to elaborate on the starburst brooches of his Chanel years. Star clusters had been part of his youth, from the Stellario, the starry crown of Palermo's most venerated Madonna, to a couple of minuscule planets supposedly discovered by a great-great-uncle. Prince Giulio Fabrizio Tomasi di Lampedusa (1815-85), a reputed astronomer, was believed to have named his celestial finds Palma and Lampedusa, after two estates belonging to the family.

The double image may well have been in Fulco's mind when he made buttons and earclips in the form of a gold star casting a shadow over its dark onyx twin. His star-shaped jeweled button clips have big round centers of rose quartz, surrounded by small garnet and gold points. Harper's Bazaar advised that one could "use them in endless ways, to clip on your collar, on the side of a skull cap, on your belt or, if you have a dress with a high plain round neck, pin them one below the other like a row of buttons. We think they're bewitching. If pink is not your colour, you can get them in blue quartz, which is heaven on earth."

A pave diamond antique coin brooch surmounted with gold and ruby plumage; and a Greek coin sunburst brooch with blue and yellow enamel.
The most magnificent of Verdura's constellations is the Pleiades brooch, a group of seven diamond-encrusted sapphire-centered stars. In Greek mythology, the Seven Sisters, daughters of Atlas and Pelion, were -changed first into doves, then into stars to escape the pursuit of the hunter Orion. The Pleiades were known as the 'sailing stars', because their rising in May signaled fair weather to mariners. The design is clearly connected to Flato's Hand of God brooch with seven astrological 'stars' scattered across an open hand: the image, taken from a palmistry manual, has its source in the Book of Revelation, where the Lord is described as holding "in his right hand seven stars." Verdura made several two-brooch variants of the Pleiades versatile clusters of three and four, or two and five stars, enabling each wearer to assemble her own individual constellations. The asymmetrical composition is close in spirit to the lavish ornaments of the late Romantic period: the randomly positioned star hairpins worn by Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Winterhalter's portrait, and the whirling galaxies of Julienne’s Milky Way parure. Though the Pleiades brooch was conceived in 1940, it was not until the end of the war that American taste warmed to its unconventional extravagance.

The cigarette case made for Cole Porter's 1943 Broadway musical, Mexican Hayride.
Brooches pinned in groups of three to a scarf, a jacket pocket or epaulette, a waistband or a hat brim, proved lasting favorites. Verdura's jeweled head clips were a novel variation on the old-fashioned scarab and ladybird pins. There were suites of crowned heads, and musketeers with plumed caps tipped over heart-shaped citrine faces in the manner of eighteenth-century French hat-shaped jewels. However, the unmarked visages also reflect contemporary fashion illustrators' quirk of drawing mannequins with blank faces. A notorious offender was Christian Berard, one of Chanel's intimates, referred to by his exasperated publisher Conde Nast as 'Featureless Freddie'.

The stern and mirthful profiles of tragedy and comedy were the focus of the double mask brooch commissioned in 1941 for Clare Boothe Luce by Jock Whitney, one of Mrs. Luce's many admirers. The pearl-tasseled gold clip, topped with emerald and sapphire cabochons, was intended as a souvenir of a theatrical award she won for her play The Women. The two-faced motif was also a fitting emblem of the female duplicity that was the play's theme; Luce always took credit for being its "leading bitchy character."

A large diamond Maltese cross brooch made for Clare Boothe Luce. A second Maltese cross brooch set with diamonds and emeralds, also made for Mrs. Boothe Luce, both 1942. From the start of the war, numismata were an increasingly recurrent motif in Verdura's work: the medal-like seal of Texas is engraved on the lid of the box Fulco made for Porter in December 1942, to celebrate the opening of something for the Boys, his last Ethel Merman vehicle. Fulco had a preference for coinage, the universal lucky charm: it had been worn as jewelry throughout the Roman Empire, in Europe from the middle Ages into the modern era, in India, China, and Japan as well as various Islamic nations. A client's assorted antique specie from Hungary, Macedonia, Florence, and Venice was mounted in radiant gold frames, to shine on a lapel like a "constellation of suns." Gold dollars adorn curb link bracelets. The case Linda Porter commissioned in 1943 for the premiere of Mexican Hayride has a couple of eighteenth-century Spanish pieces-of-eight scattered across the top; the gold 8-escudos were ingeniously set so that their obverse is visible on the inside of the lid.

Designs resembling decorations were similarly popular. Vogue decreed that "if you could have only one jewel, it might be a decoration, an order, or a jewel that is a modern translation of one." Verdura created a spectacular ribbon-weave Maltese cross for Pola Negri, with baguette-and round-cut diamonds set in widely spaced platinum strips around two half-moon diamonds. Clare Boothe Luce also purchased a Maltese cross brooch, with emerald-cut, round and old-mine diamonds pave set in platinum and surrounded by diamond and gold rays. Some years later, she brought in a diamond and emerald bracelet to be remounted in platinum as a Maltese cross: she had just been received into the Catholic Church, and wore her new faith "like a badge of pride." "Pinned to a ribbon like an old swimming team medal," a diamond sunburst by Verdura reminiscent of his creations for Chanel was the only adornment Vogue recommended for the 'Spectacularly Simple Look', exemplified by Valentina's black dress and brown jerkin. The Russian-born couturthre, Garbo's favorite, was an eccentric given to portentous non-sequiturs like "Children are for suburbs, mink is for football."

A ribbon weave brooch, consisting of six interwoven pave diamond ribbons with two half-moon diamonds in the center, made for Ma Negri, c.1947.
Mainbocher was another stylist whose gowns were often enhanced by Verdura jewelry, in fashion shoots as well as in real life. Born in Chicago, Main Rousseau Bocher had studied fine arts and music in the United States before joining French Vogue as an illustrator and editor. Launched by a syndicate of Parisian socialites in 1929, he was credited with the invention of the strapless evening dress. His classy minimalism appealed to actresses like Irene Dunne, Constance Bennett anti Loretta Young; Mrs. Simpson chose him to design her famous Wallis blue wedding outfit. Mainbocher believed that "even the simplest dress must not look timid."

The understatement of Valentina and Mainbocher provided the ideal canvas for Verdura's chromatic fancies: draped bibs of pearls, amethyst or emerald beads hitched up at one side with a thick gold cable; 'effective' brooches with huge pink tourmalines nestling among cabochon emeralds, or yellow and blue sapphires; big, bold, feminine rings with tender green peridots framing a pink sapphire; emeralds and pink tourmalines floating in pink gold; aquamarines and sapphires like changeful blue seas.

One chronicler summed up the situation: "From where I sit, it would seem that the smartest women buy their bombazines from
Mainbocher their sparklers from Verdura. Jessica at Bergdorf s is their oracle for bonnets and Syrie Maugham is called in to decorate their fiats." Despite the personal acceptance, financial stability, and professional recognition that finally came Fulco's way, the war years were somber. He was engulfed by what one friend diagnosed as "the black nexus of Sicilian gloom," for what little news reached him from home was not reassuring. Maria Felice's husband, Tom Lequio, was leading the Italian troops in North Africa. His mother Carolina's safety was also at risk, since Palermo's Fascist Party had established headquarters next door, making Via Montevergine a prime target for both partisans and the Allies. Fulco had troubles of his own in the United States: after Italy followed Germany into war, American firms owned by Axis nationals were being shut down. FBI agents came to inspect Verdura's premises and confiscated his radio, fearful that he might be receiving coded messages over the airwaves. Alfano commiserated: "The Duke wasn't able to work without his lit Ile radio next to him, with classical music playing all the time." To avoid further government attention, Mann was promoted to President and Verdura demoted to Vice-President.
A necklace of cabochon sapphires diamonds, suspending a large baroque pearl
Fulco made light of his status as an alien under surveillance, and was cheered by visits from old British friends such as Diana and Duff Cooper on a lecture tour of the United States. Major Peter Coats, who after the war became a renowned gardener and published books on gardening, praised him as "an ally, and one of the most brilliant, if acerbic talkers I know." He was a regular at the outdoor concerts held to benefit the USO by the composer Prince George Chavchavadze and his wife, the former Elizabeth Ridgeway, at their New Jersey estate; as a souvenir, Fulco gave the Princess a little box decorated with a miniature of their columned music kiosk. Not entirely in jest, Winston Churchill proposed parachuting him into Sicily behind enemy lines as an agent provocateur, to prepare the way for Operation Husky. Fulco developed a repertoire of absurd accounts of being tailed in broad daylight. Once while strolling clown Fifth Avenue, he realized with a sense of panic that in order to allay his minders' suspicions, he must instantly "do something pure." As St Patrick's loomed providentially into sight, the appropriate gesture of piety suggested itself. Fulco entered the church, approached the font, dipped his hand in the holy water then proceeded absentmindedly to splash it behind his car.

Writer – Thames & Hudson



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