As THE FIFTIES PEAKED, taste and the very concept of style underwent a radical transformation. Almost overnight, diamonds began to look 'tacky' on anyone under 4o at least according to Holly Golightly, the sprightly heroine of Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. As Diana Vreeland remarked at the time to Beaton, it seemed society was no longer relevant: only youth mattered. Fashion magazines gave up publishing full-page color portraits of immaculately groomed society ladies, because "today only personality counts, with very few exceptions unless it is a 'new beauty'." only a couple of years earlier, Carmel Snow at Harper's Bazaar had been rebuked for trying to publish a photograph of Marian Anderson: "We are not an anthropological journal," was the publisher's explanation.
The ostentatious pursuit of elegance was not instantly wiped out, however, least of all in Manhattan, which remained the international arena for conspicuous consumers. But now the question most anxiously debated by the experts was just how much jewelry a woman might tastefully display during the daytime hours. To be worn with "the foot-long handbag, the expert glove, [there was] the focal pin: Verdura's i8-carat gold rope star blinking with seventy diamonds enough jewel for one look, for one wardrobe really." Echoing Chanel, Vogue declared that "anybody could wear jewelry in the evening, there's no trick to that: all you have to do is to own the jewelry, but to wear important jewels in the daytime that's the interesting thing that's what takes the know-how." The ideal choice would always be a Verdura decoration pin, "made with wheeling gold spokes and ribboned very narrowly with diamonds," which the writer described as having been "worn for more years than I care to remember by one smart woman and...copied twice, once in emeralds and in diamonds for another." Or a design inspired by a military order, such as the bombe diamond starburst commissioned by Nicholas Brown to celebrate the publication of his wife's English-language edition of Anatomy of Glory, Henri Lachouque's definitive study of Napoleon's Garde Imperiale.
Verdura's early enthusiasm for semi-precious translucent stones such as amethyst, citrine, tourmaline, and aquamarine had heralded the trend toward informality. Even mundane rose quartz could be transformed into a glamorous Heart brooch, surmounted by a pensive golden cherub, chin cupped in hand after the putti in Raphael's Sistine Madonna. As die unconventional became more acceptable, Verdura launched a "wholly individual new approach" to other less expensive stones, turquoise and coral, once considered appropriate only for ethnic > or dressmaker ornaments verging on costume jewelry. According to the French fashion magazine L'Officiel, a "Renaissance of the turquoise" was in full swing: a stone for all seasons, it enhanced blond as well as brunette complexions. Verdura scrambled turquoise with amethysts and diamonds, devising colorful brooches that could be worn with casual outfits. Dressier pieces include stylized blossom brooches or girandole earrings, formed of large turquoise drops framed in gold rope. Three butterflies, made of rubies, sapphires, and yellow diamonds, flutter above a large turquoise heart studded with diamonds. To Anglo-Saxon eyes, the image is an exquisite Victorian valentine; in Latin cultures, however, the butterfly is a symbol of the immortal soul, although it also suggests flirtatiousness or even inconstancy. One of Verdura's most delightfully feminine concoctions was a short string of large turquoise beads separated by plump blue enamel bowknots lined with diamonds a throwback to the grand painted enamel jewelry of the seventeenth century.
Clare Boothe Luce had Fulco transform a set of ancient Italian coral pieces into stylish souvenirs for her staff at the American Embassy in Rome. Mounted as brooches or hatpins, tiny carved birds and blossoms were encrusted with diamonds and turquoise, cherubs embellished in the manner of camees habillees with earrings and other ornaments. He strung branches of pallid angel-skin coral together to form a naturally lacey, ruff-like collar. For Maria Felice, Fulco designed his most magnificent coral piece, a brooch in the shape of a Medusa head. Diamond eyes glitter in the Gorgon's mask-like visage, crowned with a gold diadem; pearls hang from the twisted locks. The Medusa motif, which Fulco had treated many years earlier with Dali, appears frequently in traditional Sicilian jewelry: in The Leopard, Prince Salina wears a distinctive Medusa cravat stickpin. The powers of the mythological creature, capable of turning her adversaries into stone, were not merely destructive. Legend has it that the blood flowing from the decapitated head of the vanquished Medusa turned seaweed into coral.
Verdura's American clients were starting to feel more comfortable with his exotic bestiary: a new cultural sophistication was in the air, certain receptiveness to foreign-flavored fantasies, such as Giancarlo Menotti's opera The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore, which had its premiere in Washington in 1956. Pieces reminiscent of sixteenth-century pendants in the shape of mythological beasts particularly unicorns and stags, crowned or winged were flaunted as personal emblems by individualists such as Diana Cooper, Clare Luce, and Ailsa Mellon. Amusing novelties also had cachet: green-scaled salamanders glinting with canary diamonds, pearl-bellied mice, and playful kittens. Sportsman Laurence Rockefeller ordered a flying fish brooch, and Betsey Whitney, an avid gardener, wanted a black opal humming-bird, enriched with forty-one diamonds and eighty emeralds.
Verdura continued to be fascinated by flowers as well as fruit and vegetables from his native and adopted lands. The widest range of precious and semi-precious gems was combined to obtain a painterly effect. A pomegranate brooch, crafted in gold and enamel, is made of pave rubies and canary diamonds, as well as zircons and olivenes. The emerald skin of another over-ripe fruit is split open, to reveal diamond rivulets running down the juicy ruby flesh within. Verdura's American black corn brooch has rows of black pearls nestled in a gold husk lined with diamonds. A jack-in-the-pulpit pin is crafted in different shades of gold and trimmed with diamond pith. Floral brooches continued in high demand, notably the invisible-set pansies and violet posies with yellow diamond hearts, glistening with white diamond dew. There were paired sapphire thistle pins, and a reprise of the famous lilac brooch, maturing a cluster of fifteen amethyst hearts with yellow diamond centers, wreathed by forty-three cabochon emerald leaves.
Fulco also created a series of floral objets: flowering plants and sprigs set in carved bases or faceted aquamarine vases brimming with sapphire, ruby, and diamond blooms. For Mrs. Paul Mellon, he designed an espaliered apple tree as well as a tiny strawberry bush, rooted in rough-hewn rock crystal. An enchantingly tangled bouquet of wildflowers daisies, marigolds, poppies, and bluebells was composed for Mrs. Laurence Rockefeller, using yellow, white, and blue diamonds, sapphires and emeralds. For the Baronne Elie de Rothschild, Fulco devised a unique memento with a special luster that was both aristocratic and sentimental. The Baroness had already begun to amass a collection, inspired by her given name Liliane, of elegant, lily-shaped ornaments. Improving upon the mawkish nineteenth-century tradition of mounting baby teeth in jewelry, Verdura designed a gold spray of lily-of-the valley, with blossoms made of the milk teeth of her three children. The plant was set in a hardstone base carved to resemble a humble terracotta flowerpot. He pleased the Baroness by using the same ruddy porphyry that served for Napoleon's tomb at the Invalids. An inlaid gold crest displays the Rothschild shield and five arrows, with the initials of the Baroness's offspring: N, N and G. To admirers exclaiming "Why, it's just like Faberge!" Fulco would retort: "No, it's just like Verdura." A few years later, the Baroness ordered a lily-of-the-valley brooch with green-enameled gold leaves cradling nine tremblant buds made of pearls ringed with diamonds. "When Fulco finished it," the exacting Baroness noted, "there were many more flowers too many, actually so I made him prune a few."
Hardstone had always fascinated Rile°, and over the next several years he inaugurated a new range of magnificent objets de vertu that would not look out of place in an Italian Renaissance palace or the rococo salons of a French chateau. These were "objects of no functional use whatever, existing only for the pleasure of the eye," as Verdura explained in one catalogue; "things one would like to touch, things that could bring into a room an intimate message of beauty; a feeble echo of the magnificence that once was." Fulco responded to the challenge of three-dimensional design by developing an even more finely nuanced palette in which translucent gems were offset by opaque stones. "It has been of great interest and pleasure to me, after so many years of thinking in terms of jewels, to broaden my view, and also look towards the pietra dura and make diamonds, rubies and emeralds merge with porphyry, malachite and lapis lazuli." Roman sculpture of the late Imperial era inspired the polychrome bust of a Caesar; there was also a pair of porphyry obelisks embellished with topaz suns. Antique Blue John vases are wrapped with golden vines laden with pearls. A rose quartz dog rests upon a gilt-tasseled malachite cushion; a gold-crested rock crystal heron grips a tiny fish in its beak. Verdura's colorful menagerie runs the gamut from a coral tortoise and an amethyst and obsidian hedgehog to a dusky socialite rhinoceros with fierce ruby eyes.
Fulco revived yet another lost genre: paesini, or little landscapes. "I have endeavoured to bring back to life the almost forgotten art of painting on calcareous lime tablets, trying to follow the shapes suggested by the designs of the stone." When sliced thin, stones like moss agate, milky chalcedony, red carnelian, striped jasper and specular selenite can appear to contain miniature landscapes. Until the Enlightenment, they were believed to be supernaturally formed representations of the natural world. Paesini were often retouched by such masters as Antonio Carracci clotting horizons with tiny figures and monuments, underscoring dramatic cliff lines, highlighting storm-tossed seas. There was a surge of curiosity about these strange, dream-like images when Surrealist Andre Breton devoted an essay to les Pierre imaginees. in 1957. The following year, Fulco exhibited a series of paesini at the Arthur Jeffress Gallery in London. An aesthete who divided his life between a London home decorated in Charles X style and a Venetian palazzo where the servants wore yellow silk liveries, Jeffress liked neo-Romantics such as the Russian scenographer Eugene Berman and Cecil Beaton, whose schoolmate he had been. Fulco's show was a success. The clay after the opening, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, sent Fulco a letter: "Each time I turned around to gaze at your fascinating exhibition last night, I found that someone would beat me to it in selecting the one I wanted. I was dizzy with frustration and making too slow a choice." He finally placed an order for a Venetian scene as a birthday gift for his wife Mary Lee. He added: "It is always so wonderful to have friends who grow in value through the years. It is even nicer to have those friends enjoy great gifts and it is even more agreeable livhen those gifted friends blossom out into still another avenue of talent, which is widely recognized by their contemporaries." Diana Cooper started to refer to her old friend teasingly as "the Sicilian Duke who made good."
Fulco was the embodiment of the "international nomad," a term coined by his friend, the social arbiter Lanfranco Rasponi, for "the new breed of fast-moving, socially-minded wanderers." In England, Fulco was astonished when, at a party, Clarissa Eden thanked him for supporting her husband the Prime Minister: "My God, if they care about the opinion of a bloody little Italian like me, things must be bad." In Paris, whenever he was overcome by an urge to "feel like a Viking, "Two Worlds, launched in 1958 by Gian-Carlo Menotti. Like Fulco, the Italian-born composer had found his professional niche in the United States, but yearned to bring New and Old World cultures closer together. This annual summer event aimed to present the best classical and avant-garde in art, theater, dance, and music from around the world in Spoleto, a diminutive Umbrian hill-town. Time`s Italian correspondent, Eric Amfitheatrof, relished the sense of "enormous class mixed with the quicksilver inventive casualness of a happening. Though the festival's hard-pressed organizers were often in a state of panic, the atmosphere around them was pleasingly indolent. International society would meet at the piazza during the day and gather at night after the last performance at Menotti's or at Countess Spalding's palazzo for midnight suppers that lasted into the wee hours." Countess Consuelo Crespi remembers the women at these soirees indulging in a little game of one-upwomanship in which Verdura compacts were indispensable accessories. "At one end of the table, a lady would set it off by pulling out her poudrier, and within minutes another lady, at the other end of the table, would pull out hers." These proved to be the next best aid to coquetry since the invention of the fan. French fashion experts rejoiced: "One can brandish it, handle it, play with it, open it, place it on the table but one cannot treat it with indifference. The precious cases give us a new countenance in the evening. The woman whose delicate hands are burdened with this bauble adopts a fragile attitude, she demands protection of a man. At the same time and this is the essence of flirtatiousness she knows herself to be strong, since she has all she needs in hand. In a world without certainties, she is assured of all beauty's munitions." Countess Crespi took pleasure in handling her own compact which, "with aquamarine and gold piping all around, felt very substantial, yet extremely sensuous." Men could play at this game too: "the gentlemen all had their cigarette boxes, which they laid down nonchalantly at their places." Verdura cases ranged from elegant and discreet models engraved with leaf and feather patterns, or enameled in black and tied with diamond-set bowknots to more fanciful creations. One gold box has polished hematite studs that shine like Paris cobblestones under the rain.
From the start, Fulco established himself as one of Spoleto's more flamboyant habitués, immortalized as Fulke Greville in Alberto Arbasino's Proustian roman a clef, Fratelli d Italia. Still dark-haired except for a single shock of gray, Fulco resembled a "lively, aged Anglo-Sicilian youth, whom everyone treats as if he were very young." Arbasino was host in his villa to Domietta Hercolani, the same woman whom Fulco had cast as winter in his entrée at the Beistegui Ball. Fulco, who shared the villa, organized impromptu tango competitions and relentlessly promoted a picturesque, bohemian ambience. Bustling about in a Sulka Indian print robe tied with a curtain cord, whiskey glass firmly in hand, he decorated a 'Beaton corner' with an Etruscan krater surrounded by wicker furniture to evoke Brighton (or "to be frank, Bath!"). This was followed by other corners devoted to Tennessee Williams, to Lyda Borelli, to Queen Marghsrita, and "Let's not forget Giuseppe!" to Lampedusa with a symbolic leopard skin tossed over an unsprung sofa.
When it was published in 1958, The Leopard was recognized as a masterpiece and hailed as Italy's first international bestseller. Its disenchanted vision of the compromises forced by the Unification of Italy "everything must change, in order for everything to remain the same" was considered an indirect indictment of the entire political class. Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo publicly condemned Lampedusa's novel as one of the three factors contributing to the dishonor of Sicily the other two being the Mafia and the social activist Danilo Dolci. Initially, Fulco was hurt and outraged at his cousin's portrayal of Granmama as a vulgar parvenue whose father's stinking moneybags had bought her way into the aristocracy. It was not long before less fastidious relatives were claiming for themselves the prestige of descent from the original Prince of Salina. Eventually, it transpired that the author had based Salina on himself, and the clashing Tancredi on his adopted son, the musicologist Gioacchino Lanza Tommasi. Fulco came to accept that Lampedusa's work, while grounded in historical reality, was an extraordinary feat of literary imagination.
Within three years, production was under way of a film based on The Leopard, a nostalgic and lavish epic that is often described as the Italian equivalent of Gone with the Wind. The cast featured Burt Lancaster as Prince Salina, Claudia Cardinale as the gorgeous Angelica, and Alain Delon as Tancredi. The real star, however, was director Luchino Visconti, a friend of Fulco's since the late Twenties when they had both been protégés of Chanel. The young Milanese nobleman had spent several years in Paris vacillating between a job in textile design and A career in the nascent film industry. Uncompromising in his quest for absolute historical authenticity, Visconti always insisted on shooting on location: now, he traveled to Palermo with an army of 150 builders, 120 make-up men, hairdressers and seamstresses, twenty electricians, fifteen florists, and ten cooks, plus an assortment of friends with their pets. Visconti needed the comfort and reassurance of a tribal entourage, which embraced not only actors and other professional associates, but especially glamorous young people blessed with beauty, breeding and taste on this, as on many other occasions, exemplified by Domietta Fulco, who shared Visconti's rapturous vision of times past, was recruited to advise on Sicilian arcana, from court etiquette and Bourbon genealogy to how the aristocracy danced the quadrille.
Fulco had not been in Sicily since his mother's death on 2 February 1961 at the age of 91. Departing Casa Verdura after the funeral, Fulco had vowed never to return and thrown his keys down the courtyard well in despair and disgust. But now he was back, ransacking the ancestral treasure house for antique portraits, furniture, and bibelots to make Visconti's real sets even more real. Much filming took place in the Mirror Gallery of Palazzo Gangi, which Fulco had described for the readers of Harper's Bazaar in 1937: "a long room entirely covered with mirrors in fantastic rococo gold frames, and then a ceiling which opens into a central cupola surrounded by minor irregular ones. From these bulb-like cavities, lazy Olympians reclining on clouds look down through immense Venetian chandeliers into the gold world below. The floor is made of tile with a single enormous pattern.., representing a leopard hunt in a wood. It gives the impression of a strange, shiny tapestry." When not providing props and background material, he served up hilarious stories of turn-of-the-century Palermo. Scriptwriter Enrico Medioli nicknamed Fulco Tusitala the title the Samoans gave Robert Louis Stevenson meaning 'teller of tales'. He remembers Fulco at one particularly effervescent dinner, interrupting a stream of bon mots to goad a sluggish waiter: "After all, we are not here to amuse ourselves!" In the final ballroom scene of The Leopard, Visconti paid tribute to Fulco by introducing a namesake character perhaps his great-grandfather.
When he returned to New York, Fulco moved to a brownstone house at 17 East 82nd Street. He added to his two-room apartment another one on the same floor, thus creating modest enfilade that nonetheless exuded palazzo-style luxury. The most imposing feature in the decor was a vast seventeenth-century portrait of Antonia Eguidyuz del Darco by the Spanish painter Juan Amigo; on other walls, floor-to-ceiling bookcases alternated with clusters of Old Master drawings and engravings. Palm trees and gilt Baroque figures loomed over an array Of Louis XVI, Empire and Second Empire furniture. A curious two-sided sofa was upholstered in blue-and-yellow striped upholstery, copied after Delacroix's 1833 oil sketch of the Comte de Mornay's study.
It was well known that Fulco's passion for his native country went deep, and that he was sentimental about the beauties and wonders of Italy. Tom Parr recalls that one evening when he and Fulco were sitting after dinner in the New York apartment, there was a knock at the door. Claus Virch, who was then Curator of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, told them they must come immediately to the Museum, which was one block away, and see something extraordinary. They hurried along, entered through a back door and back passages until they came to a balcony. There below, hanging on a wall, was the Mona Lisa, spotlit and guarded by two Marines in full-dress uniform. The picture had just arrived, brought by Claus from the Louvre in Paris for an exhibition of Italian works of art that was held at the Met. For anyone this would have been a moving sight, but for someone who loved his country so intensely it was indeed extraordinary.
Fulco's American lifestyle was as various and unpredictable as his European existence. On one night he might accompany Visconti and Cardinale, with Jean Seberg and Warren Beatty, to the New York premiere of The Leopard at the Plaza Theater. On another, he could be seen queuing democratically for a special exhibition at the Metropolitan. Among his eclectic list of American friends, there were many people from the theater. Most of them he met during his friendship with Cole Porter. The Lunts, Alfred and Lynn Fontanne, were among this group, known lovingly as the Olympians by another of its members, who was an intimate friend of Fulco's, Madeleine Sherwood, the widow of Robert Sherwood. Then there was the actress Hope Williams, who had appeared in Anything Goes and whom Fulco adored and saw frequently, and Anita Loos, a great favorite of his, with whom he lunched regularly on Wednesdays. Thursday dinner was reserved for Cole, by now a virtual recluse as a result of his riding accident in 1937 and the subsequent amputation of one of these legs.
He enjoyed weekends at William and Babe Paley's country house, Kiluna Farms. Babe's sister, Minnie Cushing Astor and her new husband, James Whitney Fosburgh, convinced that Fulco needed looking after, would invite him to their house in Katonah, New York, for bouts of heavy drinking in fine company: Leonard Bernstein, Irene Selznick, the Lunts, John Richardson, Princess Margaret, Kitty Carlisle Hart.... Fulco continually told the rapturous newlyweds that "when happiness is that nakedly apparent, one puts a fig leaf on it, it becomes cumbersome to the bystander."
A former Second World War pilot, Fosburgh was a painter, art historian and collector who lectured at the Frick Collection for over two decades. Jacqueline Kennedy appointed him to the Fine Arts Committee that succeeded in acquiring 150 American masterpieces for the White House. "The excitement was up all over the country," one of the First Lady's aides recollected: "Everyone was interested and in the next two years there wasn't a painting of first-class quality.., which we didn't get or have offered to us." After a trip to the West Coast in the spring of 1962 with Jackie, Fulco allowed himself to be persuaded to part with one of his precious flea market finds: a folio volume, bound in tooled and gilt red leather, containing the 120 lithographs of the McKinney-Hall History of the Indian Tribes of North America (1837-44). These rare hand-colored plates were done after copies of portraits of Native American chiefs, originally executed by Charles Bird King and other artists C. 1821-30 at the behest of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 'Redskin' motifs creep into Verdura's repertory at this time: for heiress Doris Duke, he produced a lavish brooch paradoxically inspired by the lowly five-cent coin. An irregular Baroque pearl, mounted in gold and platinum, embellished with diamonds and turquoise, was transformed to resemble the thunderbird profile on the reverse of the nickel. Duke was so pleased with the gem that she ordered a duplicate in which the single pearl was replaced by pave diamonds.
A jewel worth owning, according to Vogue, must now possess some "telling personal significance" resulting from a "combination of the jeweler's art and a woman's awareness of it." Verdura's frog brooches had this elusive quality; described as "frankly blockbusting," they captivated the Duchess of Windsor: frogs had always figured largely, though enigmatically, in the Windsors' baby-talk. The first specimens, crafted by Chervin in sapphire and emerald cabochons, were soon followed by a frosty brilliant-set variety. Verdura's competitors were quick to adopt the unusual motif, which first came into favor during the Renaissance. The young David Webb in particular made a specialty of enameled frog bangles and clips. When Fulco appeared at a show of Webb's work, the young jeweler rushed forward to greet his mentor malgre lui, exclaiming: "I do so admire your work!” to which Fulco responded dryly: "So I've noticed."
Chief among the professional Verdura enthusiasts was the Paris firm of Darde & Cie, who were reproducing his ever-popular shell gems for the Duchess of Windsor. Costume jeweler Kenneth J. Lane fabricated an accessible version of the Verdura look, simply by winding colored metal wire around snail shells, which he then mounted as brooches and cufflinks. Lane made a point, however, of purchasing items for his personal use from Verdura, who always expressed genuine puzzlement. "But why do you even bother?" he would enquire amiably. "While Schlumberger did mind my copying," Lane recalls, "Fulco was just amused." More than anything, this was based on Fulco's fondness for Lane.
Verdura's shell jewelry became increasingly fanciful as he enhanced his palette, often through the use of enamels. A nautilus might be 'lined' with turquoise enamel, echoing the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean, before being wrapped in spiraling strands of gold seaweed. Twin scallop shells were coated a delicate shade of pink, each ridge picked out with diamonds. Lavish three-tier gold and diamond fantasy shell brooches were inspired by a scalloped Baroque furniture motif. A rough Cohogue clam picked up on a beach was set in gold, awash with diamond foam and blue sapphire bubbles. In a witty reprise of an ancient Roman decorative motif, two golden putti are perched like jockeys astride a pair of green and blue snails with ruby-tipped diamond horns. Verdura also revisited the wing motif that had been so popular in the Thirties and Forties, drawing on Biblical and art-historical sources to achieve a novel, more complex pattern. Six blue, red, and violet pinions, edged with diamonds, frame the central stones of earrings and brooches, or the face of a watch. This motif, described in the Book of Isaiah, was the emblem of the seraphim, the first and most zealous rank of heavenly host: "each one had six wings: with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet and with twain he did fly." The airborne angelic figures appear in religious art, from the tenth century onward; Fulco had long been familiar with the brilliant mosaic examples in the Cathedral of Cefal6 in Sicily and in the Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice.
In 1961, the photographer Irving Penn had documented the "look of unruffled neatness, serenity and composure; f the] total personal elegance" of Mainbocher's evening fashions accessorized with jewels by Verdura: a four-strand graduated pearl necklace, a diamond and gold necklace, a black seed pearl torsade bracelet with a foliate clasp of pave diamonds. By the mid-Sixties, Rasponi confirmed that it was still customary "in the chic restaurants, [for] middle-aged women to wear exceedingly dressy feathered hats along with diamond bracelets, pins and rings in the middle of the day. In no other city do women need so many evening clothes. Dinners are often on a large scale and the charity events succeed one another relentlessly..." He offered reassurance that "although the tendency all over the world is for chic wealthy women to wear little jewelry, in New York the opposite is true. Since there are so many dressy parties, women have many chances to show off their jewels and competition still exists between the well-established ladies and those on their way up." In Answered Prayers, Truman Capote described the polished look of a woman lunching at the Cote Basque, "very handsomely set up inside a brown Balenciaga suit with a brooch composed of cinnamon-coloured diamonds fixed to the lapel."
These were the years in which Verdura mounted seven dozen emerald-cut pink topazes in a garland-style parure; another sumptuous set featured nineteen graduated emerald-cut kunzites in a gold foliate setting, scattered with round diamonds. One of his more extravagant collars of color in diamonds and peridots with matching earrings and bracelet was modeled by Sophia Loren, swathed only in floor-length Russian sable. When Capote was planning his epochal 1966 Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel, worried "that the multi-hued sparkle of rubies, sapphires or emeralds might destroy his austere design, he considered adding a stern 'Diamonds Only' to the bottom of the invitations."
At this time, Fulco's miniatures acquire an increasingly coritemplative air. There are serene still-life: a brown crusty loaf of bread on a white linen cloth, a radicchio di Treviso with ruffled, purple leaves, its roots still caked with soil; green laurel against a sharply contrasting orange ground; a batch of London Sunday papers The Observer and The Telegraph tossed onto a green baize-covered table. Even his landscapes and interiors have a subdued, introspective quality: a view of a deserted beach, with folded bleachers and furled umbrellas; a study of an amber-eyed cat stalking a canary in a cage; an illustration of Leopardi's famous poem L'Infinito, inscribed with the famous first verse: Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colic. Fulco took pleasure in devising special mementos for close friends. For Caroline Somerset, whose husband was the future Duke of Beaufort on the death of his cousin, he designed a bookplate around the Beaufort emblem of the portcullis, with a little stone parapet in the foreground on which her embroidery and gardening shears rest: "Scissors are such an important part of my life." Fulco had originally planned to include a sketch of Badminton, but her husband felt such ostentation could be vulgar.
For Marella and Gianni Agnelli, who invited him each year to stay with either Maria Felice or Tom at Villar Perosa, their eighteenth-century house outside Turin, he made a tiny double-face painting. On the recto, a classical veduta shows the loggia of this house overshadowed by the cupola of its nearby church of San Pietro in Vincoli. On the verso, in trompe l'oeil, he painted a fuzzy black-and-white snapshot that appears to be held by tacks; it portrays a penguin which Gianni had famously rescued from certain death as a summer attraction on the Adriatic shore near Rimini.
In 1960, as a Christmas gift for her husband Jock, Betsey Whitney asked Fulco to illustrate the masterpieces in his collection a Van Gogh self-portrait, as well as works by Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Renoir using the same formula. This he did in a small easel painting inspired by art-historical models dating back to the eighteenth century, in which a wealthy connoisseur's pictures are displayed as a mosaic-like composition. On the verso could be seen wooden stretchers, a note from Betsey and a sprig of holly. The next year, on the couple's twentieth wedding anniversary, Whitney gave Betsey a golden tree set in a rose quartz hillock. Its branches are hung with round and oval miniatures framed in sapphires and diamonds, showing all the Whitney homes Greentree on Long Island, the stud farm in Kentucky, the estates in Georgia, on Fisher's Island, and in Saratoga. Betsey would point to one or the other, enquiring sweetly: "Where is that house, darling?"
Verdura's jewelry designs of the Sixties and Seventies display the amazing vitality and inventiveness that often mark an artist's maturity. He introduced a series of abstract shapes, often executed iii unadorned polished gold: x-es, squiggles and wavy lines. These slender, wonderfully supple pieces are crafted in diamond-encrusted white, yellow, or rose gold; inspired by South American voodoo cord bracelets, they offer an understated alternative to the ubiquitous diamond line bracelet. For Baroness Alain de Rothschild, Fulco mounted a flawless diamond in an innovative, prongless setting in which the stone is caught between two curving, pave diamond ribbons. The engagement ring for the young fashion editor Mary McFadden featured a superb to-carat blue diamond in a bold diamond and lapis lazuli turban setting.
Some of Verdura's gems can be taken as metaphors for old age. In his final, highly elaborate version of the pine cone motif, a disintegrating cone reveals the delicate tracery of its inner structure. Perhaps his most eloquent piece is the 1972 furled orange hart's-tongue leaf, accented by a fine diamond vein: the design was taken from a magnified image published in Verdura's own copy of a pioneering study in photography by K. Blossfeldt, Art Forms in Nature (1935).
An offer came from Cartier, interested in forming a stable of celebrity designers such as Tiffany developed with Schlumberger, then Paloma Picasso and Elsa Peretti. Fulco would have total artistic licence and a permanent, prestigious showcase: the Verdura Window on Fifth Avenue. He was flattered, but refused; though times had changed, he felt as unsuited as ever to the corporate environment. As word of his possible retirement spread, collectors rushed to place what they feared might be last orders. For his new fiancée, Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward, Averell Harriman commissioned an unusual engagement ring that could be worn on informal as well as formal occasions. This time the stone was real: a superb emerald cabochon in a massive gold setting inspired by jewels of the Italian Renaissance, startlingly offset by glossy black enamel. Other clients opted for classical Verdura. Mary McFadden, about to embark on a new career as a stylist, commissioned a lion's paw shell brooch dripping with diamonds and sapphires. Another connoisseur purchased a classical Forties-style long-stemmed ruby rose brooch. "The goose is mine," an outdoorsman from Columbus, Ohio, wired Verdura when he received a brochure illustrating an unusual bird brooch. There was a Minnesotan advocate of East-West rapprochement who wanted an enameled Imperial Dragon brooch to mark President Nixon's trip to mainland China. Nicholas Brown was captivated by the rendering for an extravagant Baroque pearl jewel featured on the cover of Verdura's Christmas catalogue a golden putto wearing a pearl turban and emerald sash sitting astride a ruby-eyed dolphin with gold and diamond fins, a pear-shaped diamond pendant hanging from its lip and had it made up as an engagement gift for his future daughter-in-law, Constance Mellon, who was engaged to J. Carter Brown. One last major commission for Paul Mellon marked a return to the Baroque extravagance of the Dinglinger tradition: a grand vermeil dessus-de-table richly enameled to resemble an Oriental carpet, with elephants and camels amid jeweled flowers, palm trees, and fountains.
Fulco was now spending more and more time abroad, cruising with Tom and Cecil Beaton in the Windward Islands, holidaying in Tripoli with Countess Cicogna, vacationing with the Trees at Spetsos, sailing in the eastern Mediterranean with Alain and Marie de Rothschild in their three-masted Greek caique, the Salta.
The Rothschilds liked to sail in the Turkish and Greek waters of the Adriatic, and often began or ended their cruise in the port of Venice. On one such occasion, they decided to go sightseeing with Fulco and chose to explore the old Ghetto district. While there, they came upon what appeared to be a very old synagogue, which was closed. Fulco knocked at the door, and finally a rabbi appeared. Fulco asked whether they could come in and see the synagogue. The rabbi, scrutinizing the three of them, said to Fulco,."You can come in, but I'm afraid your friends cannot." Though Fulco was not at all ashamed of his large nose, it was a marked feature of his face, and this had led the rabbi to make his decision.
He and Tom were regular visitors to the Salzburg music festival, where he feuded happily with his favorite diva, Leontyne Price. They watched the world go by in Venice, staying at Ca' Giustinian as guests of the Brandolinis; however, their favorite vantage point was at the Gritti Hotel, where they could enjoy the spectacle of tourists staggering on and off gondolas.
Fulco was increasingly inconvenienced in his work by the contraction of a nerve in his right hand, due to Dupuytren's disease, which had to be operated. More devastating than this was the road accident in which he was involved. One evening he, Tom, and their friend Emma Yorke were dining with Daisy Fellowes in her Belgrave Square apartment. On leaving the apartment house, Fulco stepped out into the street, and was knocked down by a passing car. Carried back into Daisy's apartment, he noted her evident distress as he bled onto her Aubusson carpet, and could not resist a caustic bon mot (referring to the houseproud character in the novel Rebecca): "Thank you, Mrs. Danvers." Later, when Tom diplomatically shaved five years off his age in response to the ambulance medic's queries, Fulco murmured approvingly: "Thank you, clear boy." As a result of his injuries, he had to spend two months in hospital and another month recuperating. There is no doubt that this contributed to the deterioration of his health.
On his seventy-fourth birthday, it was clear that the party organized in New York by Louise Grunwald at the 21 Club, with Bobby Short at the piano playing Cole Porter, was going to be his farewell to New York. Fulco had by now settled comfortably into a flat above Tom Parr's at 72 Eaton Square, London, surrounded by his collection of eighteenth-century Chinese porcelain animals and the antique Italian porcelain Cole had left him. He could still be coaxed out to attend costume balls. In response to an Oxfordshire invitation to 'dress operatic', he showed up as a prompter, a metal hood over his head and shoulders, his face illuminated by little lights within, and a rich red velour’s curtain falling to his feet. He continued to correspond with Nancy Mitford, who delighted in his politically incorrect jokes: "St Peter to the assembled throng: 'You are about to see God and there are one or two things I want to tell you in the first place she's black." He insisted that the last London salon where decent conversation still flourished was the greengrocer's, Justin de Blank, where the prices were "also very highfalutin: there you meet every morning all the local gentry and exchange lieux communs in the midst of Israeli melons, French asperses and Italian prosciutto." His friends teased him that the only reason he had moved to Britain was that his charlady would call him 'Your Grace'. The real reason, aside from the fact that Tom's work was based in London, was that England had always felt like a second home to Fulco, both socially and culturally. He rejoiced when E. R Benson's Mapp and Lucia books, gently satirizing English country life, were brought back into print. Hearing that the daughter of David Hicks and Pamela Mountbatten had been christened India, he suggested helpfully that the next child might be called "Suburbia, after the father's side." He patronized old Mr. Anthony Cleverley, cobbler by appointment to the great and good, as well as the rich and famous, who paid house calls armed with his fabled 'book of shoes', from which Fulco invariably ordered embroidered black evening slippers with red heels.
Although he would moan, "No virgin island or secluded vale left!” exotic destinations still exerted a powerful attraction. There were trips with Tom to stay with Jimmy Davison and Nicky Haslam in the high desert in Arizona, sailing on the Nile with Caroline Somerset, Marella Agnelli and her sister-in-law Suni, and Barry Sainsbury. They spent one Christmas holiday in Rajputan, India, including a visit to the Ajunta caves, where Fulco was borne aloft in sedan chairs by four bearers. Ever the monarchist, he fulfilled what he considered to be his avuncular obligations by escorting Maria Felice's grandson Alessandro to Cascais in Portugal for a private audience with his old friend Umberto of Savoy whom, on this solemn occasion, he addressed as Maesta.
In 1975, Verdura was prevailed upon to design a silver rose to be donated by his many friends to the Royal Opera House, in memory of Raimund von Hofmannsthal, son of Hugo, who provided the libretto of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. The intention was that this silver rose should be used in perpetuity at every performance of the opera at Covent Garden. Fade° was thrilled for several reasons: it had been "love at first sight" when he was introduced to the opera as a boy at the Vienna Hofoper, and Raimund had been a close friend, as the husband first of Vincent Astor's sister Alice, then of Diana Cooper's niece Lady Elizabeth Paget. The rose was presented to the director of the Covent Garden Opera House, Sir Claus Moser, by Diana's son Lord Norwich at the performance on to December of a production originally staged by Visconti, in which Brigitte Fassbaender sang Octavian and Gwyneth Jones the Feldrnarschallin. The wonderfully naturalistic 25 cm-long blossom was executed in the workshops of Annabel Jones from renderings by Verdura, in the tradition of the rosa aurea, the golden 'rose of virtue', traditionally bestowed by the Pope upon the consorts of monarchs.
Friends of Fulco had for some years been writing memoirs, often thinly disguised as novels, such as Oublier Palermo (Forget Palermo) by Edmonde Charles-Roux, editor-in-chief of French Vogue, about a European discovering the New York fashion world. Closer to home, Gianni Agnelli's sister Susanna (Suni) wrote the autobiographical Vestivamo alla marinara (We Wore Sailor Suits), about her childhood in Turin. Succumbing to the blandishments of the London publisher George Weidenfeld, Fulco devoted more time to recording his youthful memories of Sicily: The title he chose The Happy Summer Days was drawn from a passage in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, quoted on the title page: "...with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of a Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days." Prince Salina's deathbed reflections probably echoed in Fulco's mind: "the significance of a noble family lies entirely in its traditions that are in its vital memories; and he was the last to have any unusual memories, anything different from other families."
When the book was published in 1976 it was well received. Reviewing it for The Spectator, Alastair Forbes suggested Fulco's "utterly enchanting and characteristically humorous account of his own very unusual Sicilian begetting and childhood" could be regarded in the light of a postscript to The Leopard. Fulco translated the book into Italian and it was published a year later by Feltrinelli, the firm that had published Lampedusa's book. Fulco was touched by a letter from Giovanna Pipitone, the wife of the chief gardener at Villa Niscemi, who marveled at how "signor Fulco remembered all the facts down to the least details. Villa Niscemi! Who can forget it? How can one who has lived there so many years forget it? The sick swan, the arrival of the camel..." He dodged questions about a sequel with the disingenuous remark: "Nothing ever happened after I was fifteen years old." There were offers for a sequel, but Fulco didn't want to write "just another name-dropping memoir." He was planning a biographical work, devoted to the tastemakers who had exerted the greatest influence upon him: Cole Porter, Daisy Fellows, "who invented eye contact," Prince Youssoupov, Mimi Pecci Blunt as champion of the avant-garde, and Chanel. The working title, borrowed from Cocteau, was Les Monstres Sacres.
After a year of illhealtim, which he refused to allow interfering with his style of life, Fulco died on 15 August 1978? If he dreaded death, he never showed it, thanks to his faith and the good manners that dictated that he should never bore people. "Frail and stooped, but very valiant," is how Lady Airlie remembered Fulco. "Death is at home in Sicily," was one of his favorite sayings. He scribbled cheerily in the margin of an illustration of the twelfth-century Church of Sant'Orsola on the outskirts of Palermo, where the family vault is located: "The family chapel is here I will be buried in the shadow of this church!" The graveyard seemed to him "a peaceful place full of flowers and birds, where I am sure I will one day feel at home surrounded by relations and friends." He looked forward to sharing a berth with his stillborn brother Garibaldi. Even as he faced imminent death, he executed a wobbly pencil sketch of an eagerly anticipated holiday in Cornwall, with Tom valiantly carrying their two bags and Fulco leaning on his cane, as they proceeded up the drive to the house that John Betjeman had promised to lend them.
In September, Tom carried Fulco's ashes to Sicily. There was a stop in Pisa, where the loyal friends who were staying at the Pecci Blunt estate, Marlia, near Lucca including the daughters of the house and Johnny de Faucigny-Lucinge had gone to meet Tom at the airport and pay their respects to Fulco. As Tom was passing through customs, bearing his precious parcel, he was stopped and asked what the parcel contained. Tom answered in English, "Ashes." Taking this to mean hashish, the officers in high alarm called for carabinieri and police dogs. The melee this caused was fortunately short-lived, as Camilla Pecci Blunt leapt over the barrier and explained.
Fulco would have loved the story of this misunderstanding.
Writer – Thames & Hudson