Monday, 18 February 2013

Verdura Jewelry in USA

 Verdura's popular shell gold cigarette case; it was also made as a compact.
"THERE WAS NO PAST FOR ME HERE," was Fulco's first, euphoric reaction to the New World when he arrived there in the autumn of 1934: "I didn't have to say 'My God, Venice isn't what it used to be!" Yet Hollywood proved little more than a dream factory for most of the gorgeous young hopefuls attempting to break into the burgeoning film industry. As the French writer Blaise Cendrars observed at the time, "there's not one in a thousand who will make a name for himself on the screen." A mock price list drawn up by Nunnally Johnson gave a daunting idea of the interest newcomers might hope to elicit. The scriptwriter's "fees" ranged from $20,000 for attending amateur shows of unpublished material, to S100 for meeting "new faces (male)." The charge for "new faces (female)" was a token Si waived in the event of an encounter behind closed doors.

Natalie Paley's career, though short-lived, held the most promise of stardom. Her performance in Folies Bergere led to a role in Sylvia Scarlett, alongside Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. But after one more film with L'Herbier, she drifted out of the camera's range, returning to the set only in 1948 to advise Alexander Korda on tsarist manners and mores in Anna Karenina. Never professionally driven or desperate to impress, Nick)' de Gunzburg was even less fortunate. On a brief visit, Horst found him "just being his elegant, ironical, imperturbable, sympathetic self, vaguely pursuing the success that many of his friends believed should have been his, but never really came his way in the New World." One of his most memorable stage appearances was in a drawing-room comedy; acting with his back to the audience, his interpretation was so understated as to be utterly inaudible.

Fulco was discovering that, while the White Russian aristocracy enjoyed some cinematic prestige, the studios attached no value financial or otherwise to a Sicilian, albeit of noble birth. At the time, prejudice against immigrants from Italy in general, and Southern Italy in particular, was running high. An honorary Frenchman by virtue of his Paris connections, Fulco as the Duc de Verdura joined the expatriate boheme at the Garden of Allah on Sunset Boulevard, formerly the home of the actress Alla Nazimova. Converted into a hotel, it represented "a small corner of France" for residents such as Marcel Achard and Annabelle. Although Fulco did not lack for American friends notably Tallulah Bank head and Anita Loos-California began to seem desperately remote from his former existence: no theaters, no cafes, no teeming street life. After months of waiting, Fulco's expectation of designing "clothes and things" for the movies evaporated: "Nothing happened, absolutely nothing."

A black and gold cigarette case made for William S. Paley and bearing his monogram, c. 1955 Verdura's fame as a jeweler had not yet reached the West Coast, where socially insecure actors and impresarios preferred the reassurance of an instantly recognizable Cartier or Van Cleef hallmark.

There was no option but retreat to New York, where Fulco's international fashion experience counted as a marketable commodity. Diana Vreeland, who was one of Chanel's most stylish clients, introduced him to Paul Flato. A personable Texan just a year younger than Fulco, Flato had dropped out of Columbia University to go into the jewelry business in 1928; he was already famous for ice-cube solitaires and 'letter' jewels that spelled out a name, date, or droll message. 

Flaw's flair for self-promotion was sensational, even for the United States. He had debutantes model his collections in exclusive shows held at the Ritz-Carlton, he invited customers to bring in their pets to be portrayed in jewelry, he wrote his own flamboyant advertising copy. One typically compelling vignette read: "It is indeed gratifying to have your dearest friend or fondest enemy rush up, exclaiming, 'Darling! Where did you get that perfectly marvelous, amazing new clip?' And it is even more gratifying to be able to answer, 'Oh, my dear, it's one of Paul Flato's new designs!' The only thing Flaw did not do was render his own pieces. "I don't know how to draw a line," he explained with aplomb. "I am a creator of jewels and guide my designers."

The team working under Flaw's supervision at I East 57th Street was second to none. Chief designer Adolph Kleaty's forte was `drippy' jewelry, shop talk for elaborate diamond and platinum pieces. George Headley, who had trained at the New York Art Students League as well as the Ecole des Beaux-arts in Paris, specialized in gold jewels and objects. 

He later married Barbara Whitney, whose mother Gertrude had founded the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In 1968 the couple established their own Headley-Whitney Museum in Lexington, Kentucky, as a showcase for their art and jewelry collections. 

A woven gold and leather cigarette case, and a case with a map of South America, engraved in two-color gold, commemorating a journey taken by Mr. and Mrs. William S. Paley (later Dorothy Hirshon) in 1940. A couple of celebrity designers were responsible for the fanciful trinkets Flato called 'whimsies'. 'Fat' or 'puffy' hearts set with colored stones were the signature of the Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers, who worked closely with Headley before she developed into an accomplished jeweler in her own right. Her pieces, reflecting the opulence of pre-Columbian artefacts, are now on display in the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, New Mexico. Josephine Forrestal, the wife of FDR's future Secretary of the Navy, was known for 'wiggly clips', tremblant floral sprays. She also had a hand in introducing the curb chain to Flato's repertory: he copied in gold a flat-linked silver bracelet she had picked up as a souvenir during a trip to Europe.

It was Kleaty who gave Fulco his first real instruction in rendering, and soon his vaporous draughtsmanship a la franoise acquired a keener edge. A number of his sketches, some initialed F.V., have survived among the drawings in Flato's albums. Fulco's ideas appeared "very modern" to Plato, who admired above all his cigarette and vanity cases; both men shared a penchant for highly defined, sculptural forms and a willingness to seek inspiration in unexpected quarters.

At the end of 1935, despite the congeniality of Flato's entourage, Fulco was contemplating a return to rue Cambon. After Iribe's sudden death that September, Chanel appealed to Fulco to help continue her jewelry line. 

By the following spring, back in Paris, he had obliged her with one of his most durably popular designs: a pair of bombe enamel bracelets decorated with gold Maltese crosses set with bright cabochons. Bettina Ballard remembered being bedazzled by these novel creations during an Easter trip south with the couturiere. Predictably, just a year later, the boutique version was being billed on both sides of the Atlantic as the accessory of choice for every outfit from rough woolen cardigans and flannel trousers to crimson silk dinner suits to black lace evening gowns. Touting the "massive white lacquer bracelets studded with colored stones" in September 1937, Harper's Bazaar wrote approvingly of a look in which "not a stone, not a setting not a color match. So the effect is that of a gypsies' tinsels, wild, profligate, unrestrained. No combination is too fantastic."

A suite of pink tourmaline and golden sapphire brooch and earrings designed by Verdura in 1942 and featured in a Salvador Dali surrealist landscape.Verdura's sources were eclectic. Paired bracelets had been fashionable at various times; during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the effect of scalloped gold cuffs was achieved with tapering manchettes. Inspiration also came from the Twenties fad for wide ivory hoops worn several to each arm, launched by the social eccentric Nancy Cunard. Gold-studded ivory pennanular bangles by Boivin were all the rage at the time of the 1931 Colonial Exhibition. Verdura's hinged originals featured translucent white enamel over a warm gold base. This subtle effect was borrowed from the work of the goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger (1664-1731), which he had admired at the Dresden Grane Gewolbe (Green Vaults). 

In subsequent variants of the cufflets, stones were collet-set in straight rows or arranged in floral and star patterns on a dark ground. Less expensive boutique reproductions were crafted in tinted bakelite with simulated rubies, emeralds, and diamonds in gilt or gray metal settings.

Chanel loved her bracelets they turn up in sketches by Berard and Cocteau, in portrait photographs by Beaton, Horst, and Man Ray, and in countless candid snapshots for years thereafter. Despite this coup, Fulco was not tempted to linger in France. In May 1936, a coalition of Radicals, Socialists and Communists had come to power, and the political climate was deteriorating: there was unrest not only among automotive and construction workers, but also employees in the luxury industries. 

That summer Abbe Mugnier, the astute confessor to the beau monde, recorded worriedly in his diary: "Continuation of the strikes, some dying down, others starting up Anxiety. The red flag is shown here and there. The new legislators are making haste. All this does not smell good."

The front and back of the articulated amoeba brooch with 57 carats of rubies
Prospects were rosier in the United States. Fulco saw that there might be an opportunity to build up a transatlantic business, as Arnold Ostertag had done, by catering to the seasonal clientele in Florida, Cannes, Deauville and Biarritz, while keeping footholds in Paris, Los Angeles and New York. Verdura's name and talent had begun to circulate not merely in a circle of intimates, but in the fashion world at large. Although he was freelancing, the magazines were quick to credit "a new clip with a sense of humor, a rearing sea-horse studded with topazes, nice for the red-headed" as "Verdura for Flato." Reminiscent of the hybrid hippocamp depicted in Renaissance jewels, it is one of the many marine motifs that were to constitute a dominant theme in Verdura's art.

Verdura's next piece his first major American commission was to become "the most talked of bauble" in New York, according to Vogue. On 29 October 1936, Cole Porter's musical Red, Hot and Blue opened at the Alvin Theater, with Ethel Merman belting out "It's De-Lovely," and Bob Hope in his Broadway debut. It was Linda's custom to mark a premiere by giving Cole an inscribed cigarette case; in this instance, it was a gold box by Cartier. But Cole trumped her with a masterpiece by Verdura: a square platinum case with a detachable round and baguette diamond starburst that could be worn separately as a brooch. Paved with faceted rubies and sapphires, the ground is scattered with small diamond stars; inlaid gold stars adorn the sides and bottom. 

Its general design and color scheme are reminiscent of a Chanel box of the same period, probably also by Verdura, set with rubies and white and blue sapphires. However, the starburst in high relief on the Porter case is an imaginative improvement over the flat, rectilinear motif on the French piece. Flato considered the box to be Verdura's best ever, and priced it at $1o,000, with half the profit going to Fulco. This spectacular object, always on show in the Porter flat at the Waldorf-Astoria, embodied emphatically, yet effortlessly, the big-time glamor and romance of the era.

A hammered gold and colored stone cigarette case with an applied painting by Dali, Daddy Long Legs of the Evening Hope!, on the lid, 1940. In jewelry, big was becoming increasingly synonymous with beautiful. Although a few critics like The New Yorker's complained about brooches "as wide as two axe handles" and pieces that Mae West would find "downright vulgar," most fashion journalists were adamant: "We've said it before, but we say it again (it's one of those great verities that bear repeating), nothing strikes such a false note in this day and age as dinky, small-fry jewels. A wan string of molecule pearls, insignificant clips and bracelets they count for precious little now. The Real Thing is enormous, entertaining ornamental, personal and witty flora and fauna immortalized sea-lions, nails, thistles, toadstools, grapes, roses, chrysanthemums. The road to glitter in 1937 is paved with huge and humorous jewels." A diamond and sapphire bracelet in the shape of a sailor's bowknot, by the Duc de Verdura at Paul Flato's for Mrs. William Ladd, was designated by Vogue as just such a fabulous Real Thing.

Flato's jewelry was irresistibly attractive to show people: not only did it look rich, it photographed magnificently, even from a distance. No wonder Flato achieved more screen credits than any other jeweler before the demise of his firm in 1942 when, despite protestations of innocence, he was sentenced to two years in Sing for pawning customers' gems. By 1938 Flato's movie clientele claimed so much of his attention that he opened a shop in Los Angeles. Located on Sunset Boulevard, this architectural marvel was a blend of "Egyptian monumentality, Babylonian splendor and Greek subtlety of balance." 

The vernissage was hosted by Constance Collier, Flato's august Hollywood 'sponsor', whose first film had been D. W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916) and who had recently appeared in Stage Door with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. Fulco was on hand to greet guests from the Old World including l'Italienne, Chanel's hated rival Schiaparelli. Flato jewels, with their madcap brand of sophistication, complemented her bizarre, Surrealist fashions. Among Schiap's purchases was a cactus brooch by 'Verdura his flippant response to the cloying Flower Style in favor during the late Thirties.

A fashion shot from Mum & Country (February 1943) portraying Mrs. Desmond FitzGerald wearing an urn brooch containing a miniature painting by Verdura.Sicilian themes abound in Verdura's work at this time. A peridot and yellow diamond brooch is shaped like a pomegranate, bursting with cabochon ruby seeds. Once a pagan fertility symbol, the fruit came to symbolize the Resurrection in Christian iconography; as a heraldic element, it has been incorporated into various papal and royal crests. To Fulco it was above all the attribute of Persephone who, according to legend, was picking flowers in a Sicilian meadow when Pluto abducted her to the underworld and fatally tempted her with a pomegranate.

 Another design featured a single, lustrous amethyst carved in the form of an eggplant, an island delicacy. The idea for a set of three diamond and ruby brooches modeled after fragments of a rococo cornice struck Fulco on his most recent trip to Palermo, when he was caught in a hail of plaster from the decrepit ceilings of Palazzo Verdura. Joan Crawford bought the piece, and was frequently photographed with its three segments clustered at her neckline. The prickly pear was Verdura's most emblematic motif, to which he returned repeatedly over the years. "I am more Sicilian than a prickly pear," was his standard justification for any un-Anglo-Saxon outburst.

Hollywood was more hospitable than it had been three years earlier, and a hi-coastal career began to look feasible. On extended visits to California, Fulco would stay with Cole, who was often in residence while composing film scores, or with the actor Richard Cromwell. Best known for his roles in Four Feathers and Gunga Din, Cromwell was a kindred spirit with an artistic bent who executed murals for Colleen Moore and sculpted decorative masks for Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. Still, Los Angeles could not compare with New York, a city in the thrall of "a new, colorful, prodigal, social army, the ranks of which are made up of rich, carefree and quite often idle people. Apparently the votaries of the new cult prefer to go to bed at dawn, to dance with the endurance of dervishes at night clubs; to dine well and drink late in cafés. They have been heralded as restless and haunted spirits who, three times a day, wave at one another in an ecstasy of amazed recognition, first at the Colony, then at 21 and finally, after midnight, at El Morocco."

Cafe Society's swelling European contingent now included many of Fulco's friends, to whom the world of fashion offered a living, or at the very least, an excuse to travel. The resourceful Grand Duchess Marie was active as a milliner and a magazine writer. Nicky found his calling as an editor with Harper's Bazaar. Shed at last of Lelong, Natalie settled in Connecticut with a new husband, John C. Wilson, who was Noel Coward's producer. She made frequent trips into Manhattan to assist a fellow exile from Paris, the American dressmaker Mainbocher. Another welcome visitor was Gabriella di Robilant, now a sportswear stylist in Rome, who convinced Fulco to accompany her on a literary pilgrimage through the Old South. "We had just read the American bestseller Gone with the Wind and we wanted to travel through Scarlett O'Hara territory. We were like kids on holiday and pretended to be the characters in the novel in our old car which was constantly breaking down." Their final destination, Palm Beach, was a letdown, with its mature moneyed elite basking in a papier-mâché decor.

A 30-carat aquamarine diamond ray brooch designed by Verdura for Mrs. Henry Fonda, Christmas 1940 American society regarded Fulco with puzzled fascination: one doyenne characterized him as a "sparkling monkey." He did not fit the average profile of the extra man about town. His mordant wit and bookishness were as unsettling as his bouts of gloom and childish delight in rude jokes. Yet he was a superb raconteur, and played his Sicilian origin for all its exotic worth.

In a long article for Harper's Bazaar part nostalgic memoir, part erudite travelogue he brought to life "the strange people of many lands in strange crafts attracted alike to this fatal Calypso, Phoenicians, Greeks, proud Romans in their galleys, Arabs with their canny sciences, blond Norsemen with their new courage, French, Spanish, all came this way, some seeking fortune or a crown, some with full, some with empty hands, some by force, some by right they all came to conquer, but were conquered in the end by the power of this red soil." 

Myth faded into history in Fulco's evocation of Ulysses slaying the Cyclops, Dionysius the Tyrant, Archimedes, and his hero Frederick II, the German Emperor who "in his heart I remained I always  King of Sicily." Plunging headlong from the sublime to the ridiculous, Fulco would denounce the plight of a tubercular cousin whose family too miserly to book him into a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps sent him to recover his health on the top floor of their palazzo. Or he would poke fun at the obscure but emblematic Palermitan social climber nicknamed Toujours an abbreviation of his mother's dismissive phrase: “Toujours present, nil-anent presentable, jamais presente."

Fulco happened to be in Hollywood on 13 March 1938, when news of the Austrian Anschluss was broadcast. A young English friend of Cole's, Michael Pearman (who much later opened a popular restaurant-bar in New York called Michael's Pub), quizzed him about his plans. "But darling, I'm an officer!" Fulco exclaimed brightly. He had demonstrated his patriotism in combat, and his faith in the monarchy was bolstered by fondness for the Crown Prince, Umberto. Like many Italians of his class, he was confident the House of Savoy would neutralize Mussolini's worst excesses, and hoped that Fascism might provide some defence against Communism. But ambivalence soon gave way to disillusion: Fulco elected to stay on, and to consolidate his professional status in the United States.

Nicky de Gunzburg, Mrs. Alistair Mackintosh, Nin Ryan, and Fulco (with arm outstretched) at Palm Beach in 1935. Pearman, who had a contact at Lord & Taylor in New York, convinced the store to commission a new logo from Verdura. Fulco's proposal, involving a ducal coronet hovering over a pair of scissors needle and thread, was rejected as irreverent. Helena Rubinstein was approached unsuccessfully to engage Fulco to produce prototypes for compacts, vanities and lipstick cases; ironically, a decade later, she was manufacturing flagrant copies of Verdura originals.

When Cole, together with other investors, offered to back Fulco in his own jewelry business to the tune of $2o, 000, he was eager to accept. Although he had been designing jewelry for some ten years, going into trade remained a momentous decision. Perhaps his only predecessor as an aristocratic `art craftsman' was Bijou d'art, the Serbian Prince Bojidar Karageorgevic, who made a name for himself at the turn of the century in the employ of the Art Nouveau master jeweler Lalique. But, as Verdura would have been quick to point out, their backgrounds were hardly comparable: a century earlier, the founding fathers of the Southern Slav dynasty had been herding pigs in the Balkans.

Fulco found a peerless business partner in the person of Joseph Byrd Mann, who had acquired as Flato's head salesman all the management skills that Fulco lacked. It was Joe Mann who discovered an unbeatable location for Verdura the premises Cartier had occupied thirty years earlier at 712 Fifth Avenue, its facade a copy of the French Naval Ministry in the Place de la Concorde. It was Mann who recruited the craftsmen who realized Verdura's designs. The Valiant and Dauvergne atelier was entrusted with the execution of gold and colored gem jewelry. Diamond and gold earclips and rings were assigned to Hugo Huber. Naturalistic floral and foliate designs were the specialty of the Schuler workshop, with its secret methods for casting leaf-shaped jewels from impressions of real plants.

A sapphire and diamond Maltese cross brooch, designed 1950.Another top member of Flato's sales staff, Joseph Alfano, was lured away a few months later. Of Sicilian ancestry, Alfano venerated 'The Duke' and was responsible over the years for preserving a vast quantity of Fulco's sketches that would otherwise have been destroyed relentlessly ripping pages from his sketchbooks, sweeping scraps off the floor, retrieving crumpled sheets from wastepaper baskets.

 The Verdura showroom was inaugurated on I September 1939 ironically only a few weeks before Chanel was forced to close her maison. The atmosphere was that of an old-fashioned European jeweler's salon luxurious, but discreet. The spacious seven-room office was furnished with Louis XVI antiques; tall arched mirrors punctuated the oak-paneled walls; heavy red velvet draperies hung at the windows. Although the ambience was traditional, Verdura's style was revolutionary. Most jewelers were attempting to craft elegant 'white jewelry', substituting palladium for platinum, already in short supply due to the war in Europe. 

Unfortunately, 'the youngest of the precious metals' was labor-intensive, requiring plating to mask its grayish tinge. Verdura chose instead to enhance the versatility of gold, devising finishes and settings that made it suitable for both day and evening wear. He combined diamonds and gold, preferring the soft radiance of old rose-cut stones to the sparkle of the newer sharp cuts kite, hexagon, square, lozenge and bullet. One reporter observed: "Verdura is mad about the idea of putting gold on diamonds instead of diamonds on gold, and also uses a great deal of hammered gold dipped in oxide to give an antique look."

A pair of cocholong cuff bracelets inset with gold, colored stone and diamond Maltese crosses.
From the start, Verdura's range was impressive. There were multi-purpose pieces, of which the most stunning was a diamond-encrusted bracelet with a detachable bowknot that could serve as a brooch. His lavish bow jewels hark back to the curvaceous baroque ornaments known as sevignes However, his fluid, asymmetrical designs display an unmistakable couture quality; from Chanel he had learned that what can't be seen matters just as much as what can. Verdura bowknots are finished to an extravagant degree of perfection: precious stones are not only scattered over the surface of the ribbon, but also hidden deep within its folds, where they remain invisible to wearer and viewer alike. Verdura never tired of bowknots: they embellish earrings, brooches, necklace clasps and finger rings. A diminutive version captured the fancy of The Junior League Magazine: "dull satin gold bowknots lined with glimpses of tiny diamonds, that look new pinned to the cuffs of your gloves."

One of the truly remarkable pieces in Verdura's inaugural collection was a necklace "of breathtaking grandeur," formed of outstretched diamond eagle wings encircling the throat. Many wing jewels, referred to as Mercury or Valkyrie wings, derive from representations of the messenger of the gods, or from Wagnerian theater costume. An earlier source is the Egyptian winged globe, which in the late 1800s had inspired designs by the London firms of Carlo and Arthur Giuliano and Child & Child, both associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In Paris, wing tiaras were produced by Fouquet and Debut 8c Coulon just before the turn of the century, and until 1935 by Cartier. As the number of occasions to wear important parures dwindled, the wing motif migrated to smaller, less formal pieces hatpins, brooches and earrings. Interestingly, the Chanel Spring 1934 jewelry collection one of Fulco's last had included a suite of gold wing earclips and paired wing brooches to be placed at the center of the neckline, creating the impression of a jeweled collar.

Verdura's design for a cigarette case that was presented at the premiere of Cole Porter's 1936 show Red Hot and Blue. (The diamond ray motif in the center detaches to be worn as a brooch.)  In a second Verdura wing jewel, a substantial pear-shaped aquamarine is caught between two diamond-edged gold wings. The brooch differs from the usual pattern in that the wings do not spread, but lie close to the stone not unlike the coats-of-arms framed by fluffy white wings painted on the ceilings at Villa Niscemi. Another brooch had a topaz wreathed in dull gold leaves glistening with round solitaires. Oriental rubies, emeralds, and sapphires were already becoming scarce, but Verdura mounted semi-precious stones with the same care and refinement he devoted to precious gems. 

His American clientele responded enthusiastically. In the United States, jewelry never had the same investment value it had acquired over the ages in Europe, where easily transportable wealth was essential in times of strife or revolution. Furthermore, pioneering designs by Tiffany had contributed to making native sapphires, garnets and moonstones acceptable in fine jewelry. Awareness of the aura and peculiar beauty of semi-precious stones was on the rise, thanks also to such publications as Magical Jewels of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Joan Evans, and to the conspicuous example of Edith Sitwell. This improbable, anachronistic fashion icon was widely photographed, bristling with h gigantic aquamarine rings at least two to a finger and plastered with vast brooches of semi-precious stones. 

A Vogue advertisement for a Verdura dolphin clip, and a clip of similar design made with pink tourmalines, diamonds and a baroque pearl. Bottom: a black opal, pearl and diamond Naiad clip.
In her 1939 article "On precious stones and metals," she recommended mixing precious and semi-precious stones to revive the rich, variegated palette of ancient jewelry. Verdura massed cabochon amethysts and emeralds to form plump violet posies. Inspired as much by the bunch of silk violets that Granmama used to tuck into her waistband as by the Parma violets that were a Napoleonic talisman these gold stemmed nosegays were soon recognized as one of Verdura's signature designs. Later variants of this old-fashioned boutonniere were delicately highlighted with yellow diamond hearts, or white diamond dew.

The lapel pin was the ideal accent for the strict suits and tailored dresses then in vogue. According to Harper's Bazaar "every woman's fancy pops out in gold or enamel or precious stones upon the lapel of her suit Humour, history, sentiment are flaunted in the buttonhole like a heart on a sleeve." Brooches, always the jeweler's greatest challenge, were a Verdura forte. His "nonsense trinkets and magnificence’s" captivated the fashion experts. There were dressy versions of the Maltese cross, paved with sapphires, rubies and diamonds; romantic trophies in the Victorian manner, such as a quiverful of arrows with a dangling red tourmaline heart. 

A jolly snowman pin came equipped with two tiny interchangeable hats one pristine, the other squashed. A six-inch-long flexible gold kite studded with cabochons and trailing seed pearl tassels, qualified as the ultimate 'conversation piece'. Sometimes Verdura introduced a cleft topical touch, such as a red-striped parasol clip with ruby tassels, copied after the canopy of the Ethiopian Negus, Haile Selassie.

Nature was an endless source of inspiration for Verdura. These drawings depict a pomegranate brooch of rubies and peridots, and an eggplant brooch comprising a large cabochon amethyst with small faceted rubies and diamonds. A certain interest in Renaissance-style baroque pearl jewelry was emerging. It was revealed in Harper's Bazaar that "jewelers 'were scouring the rivers of China and Australia and the upper waters of the Mississippi for these pearls, and collectors [were] buying up all the old pieces." The article was illustrated with pictures of two pieces Fulco knew well: the sixteenth-century mermaid pendant belonging to Mimi Pecci Blunt and Baba de Faucigny-Lucinge's jeweled knight in gold armor. The American public was uncomfortable with such ornate, foreign-looking confections: most of Verdura's early pieces featuring baroque pearls did not attract buyers or press coverage until the late 194os. 

Even in Europe, baroque pearls had always been something of an acquired taste. At a time when they were highly prized, Benevento Cellini still warned his Medici patrons against purchasing any such misshapen "fish bones," for "they are not round, neither are they all of a size, and some of them are old." However, Josephine Forrestal, Fulco's former Flato colleague, was enchanted with Verdura's "wonderful Renaissance baroque pearl surrounded with jewels" that represented a putto astride a sea-monster. And newlywed Minnie Astor, one of the three Cushing sisters from Boston who were to become Fulco's dearest American friends, chose a crowned dolphin brooch, its body sheathed in diamond scales.

Verdura's jaunty pebble jewels, launched in the autumn of 1940, were exactly in tune with the times, resembling "beautiful polished pebbles, fished from the bottom of the sea and caught in a net of gold." He transformed a hoard of antique Chinese buttons, made of polished sea-green aquamarines, bubbly pink tourmalines, and other colorful stones, into pins, cufflinks and earclips, all wrapped in gold wire, singly or in bunches. He also used them as lids for minuscule, irregularly shaped gold pillboxes. "Flawed but perfect," Vogue pronounced; "Any jewel that Verdura touches becomes a more interesting jewel."

Verdura's drawing for a blue chalcedony, diamond and ruby bleeding heart brooch designed for Joan Crawford in 1940.
Verdura offered a remount service, almost unheard-of in America, but widespread in Europe, where the practice of resetting outmoded family jewels was commonplace. One magazine urged readers with "a few old rings and some rose diamonds hanging around" to have Verdura make them into "something lovely and dramatic" that would not be duplicated. The lightning style, one of Verdura's most imaginative inventions, originated as a remount. The image of a jagged diamond thunderbolt sundering an amethyst was devised for a client who insisted on finding some way of saving a broken stone to which she attached enormous sentimental value.

The blaze of publicity around Red, Hot and Blue made Verdura cigarette cases instant collectors' items. Fulco never carried one himself, insisting that "there's nothing better than a pack of Camels, with no weight." A particularly desirable model was an immaculate, totally
impractical box of bleached white pigskin covered in gold mesh. Personalized cases ranked as the supreme status symbol. The outline of the doors of the Abbey of St Alban's was engraved on the lid of a box for an Anglophile history buff. 

William S. Paley, the buccaneering president of CBS, commissioned a case decorated with a map of South America to commemorate his 1940 whirlwind tour of eighteen countries, during which he established the Cadena de las Americas broadcasting network. Souvenir boxes celebrating significant trips had been made popular by the Windsors during their courtship. In the mid-Thirties, Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward exchanged gem-set gold cases marked with the enameled routes of their scandalous prenuptial Mediterranean cruise. There were also earlier examples, such as the yellow, white, and red gold cigarette case by Faberge bearing a map of the Nile Valley, with sites picked out in diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.

Joan Crawford wearing Verdura's ruby and diamond three part cornice brooch. Fulco designed five Porter boxes in quick succession. On 16 October 1939, the opening night of The Man Who Came to Dinner, Cole received his first Verdura cigarette case, in recognition of the song he contributed to the George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart play. The slim rectangular silver box is decorated with black enamel caricatures of the authors and the two leads, Monty Woolley and John Hoyt. The inscription reads: "For Cole Porter, because we think you're wonderful Moss and George." On 6 December, it was Linda's turn to give Cole a Verdura box, in honor of the premiere of Du Barry Was a Lady, another vehicle for Ethel Merman. Cole was never disappointed by Linda's presentation cases, because in the planning stages she would confer at length with his mother and friends, before submitting her final selection for his approval: "Coley passes upon the design, but the finish is always a surprise to him." 

Fulco described the two-tone yellow and pink gold Du Barry case: "On one side I had the fleur-de-lys very stately, then on the other side I had a lady's hat with little ribbons flying, and all the fleurs-de-lys sort of bee-bopping all over the place." The next box, marking the February release of the movie Broadway Melody of 1940, with a cast headed by Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell, and a score by Porter, had a scrolly calligraphic inscription Cole Porter Composer enameled on the lid; the movie's title was similarly inscribed on the bottom. 

Greta Garbo wearing her Verdura watch bracelet, 1941.For the Panama Hattie case (commemorating another Ethel Merman show), presented to Cole on 30 October, Fulco reproduced the fine weave of his own Panama hat. The elegant box he created a year later for Columbia Pictures' You'll Never Get Rich, starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, was to become a Verdura classic; though rectangular, it was always called the Shell Case because its wavy ridges suggested the surface striations of a clamshell.

With the exception of Ronald, the albino rabbit who posed for a 1940 fashion shoot with a smoky Madeira topaz bracelet on his head and a gold leaf between his paws, Verdura jewels were now being modeled by celebrities of the first magnitude. Mrs. Harrison Williams (later Mona Bismarck), described by Beaton as a "rock crystal goddess" with eyes like "pools of magic" had a passion for his aquamarine gems. Mrs. Fairfax Potter, a blue-blooded taste-maker descended from Thomas Jefferson and Francis Scott Key, was photographed lost in admiration before Verdura's unpolished stones. 

The roster of his Hollywood clients included Vivien Leigh, Norma Shearer, Irene Selznick, Marlene Dietrich, Samuel Goldwyn and Orson Welles. Verdura created the jewels Katharine Hepburn wore in The Philadelphia Story (1940). Yet he was never tempted to open a boutique on the West Coast. He had learned his lesson: "The movie people like to wear things that come from New York."

A maple leaf brooch in yellow diamonds and multicolored enamel
Fulco had become a Manhattanite. When in 1941 he finally moved into a brownstone walk-up at 421 Park Avenue, over the Rosary Flower Shop on the corner of East 53rd Street, the event was considered newsworthy by The New York Times. Monroe Wheeler, in charge of publications at the Museum of Modern Art, was a fellow tenant, and the Cushing girls kept a pied-a-terre nearby. To the interior decorator Billy Baldwin, Fulco's flat appeared "very European, wonderfully comfortable and obviously the residence of a person of intelligence and wide interests. 

He used books everywhere books on architecture and decoration, history, music, anything he liked they were the heart of the place." Fulco would generally lunch at the Vesuvio on 48th Street, where they knew how to cook Mediterranean dishes like calamari. In the evenings, he organized small dinner parties with the help of Lillian, a "handsome and elegant black lady with a wide range of famous acquaintances, a rare fund of entertaining gossip and an air of almost formidable personal distinction." She was on first-name terms with all Fulco's friends; when she announced "Barbara called," she didn't need to add Hutton.

A maple leaf brooch in tourmalines and zirconsOn 29 October 1941, it was with a frisson of gratification not unmingled with disgust that Fulco heard his name sung at the Imperial Theater by an all-star cast Danny Kaye, Eve Arden, Nanette Fabray and Vivian Vance. The occasion was the opening night of Cole's Let's Face It, and the piece de resistance of the twenty-one songs was "Farming," about celebrities returning to the land. For two decades, Cole had delighted in teasing Fulco: "It's really too bad, there just doesn't seem to be anything that rhymes with your name." In "Farming," however, Cole had at last lined up the elusive syllables:

Sometime after this, Cole and Linda went for a holiday in Mexico, and from there Cole, with his usual comic flair, sent a telegram which read: "Acapulco rhymes with Nicky."

Early in 1941, Fulco was waylaid by a revenant from prewar Paris, Caresse Crosby, founder with her husband Harry of the avant-garde Black Sun Press in Paris. Caresse had published Hemingway, Lawrence, MacLeish and Crane; she was also (or so she claimed) the inventor of the backless brassiere. A blend of fin-de -siècle decadence, erudition and breezy New World naiveté, Caresse had succeeded in impressing even the fastidious Beaumont’s when she first slinked into their salon in a short Vionnet cloth-of-gold evening suit with her black whippet Narcisse Noir "dressed in his best gold necklace and his toenails lacquered gold."

Leaf brooch and matching earclips in multicolored zircons Caresse, now widowed, was living near Fredericksburg, Virginia, in a plantation house designed by Thomas Jefferson. Like all her past houses in and around Paris particularly the celebrated mill at Armenonville Hampton Manor had become a haven for displaced artists and writers. Among these were Gala and Salvador Dali, who elected it as their headquarters upon their arrival in the USA several months earlier. Dali divided his time between working on his autobiography and practicing headline-worthy "enchantments" about the estate that involved tree-borne pianos, floating manikins, rainbow-tinted rabbits and spiders with girls' faces. 

In a series of tableaux vivants enacted for the benefit of a Pathe cameraman and a Lift' photographer, Caresse, Gala and Dail mimed the rigors and delights of Surrealist rustication. One picture portrays the group huddling around the fireplace in a gracious sitting-room, together with a "purebred Hereford bull which Dail invited in for after-dinner coffee." In another shot, the master himself arranges a politically incorrect black-and-white composition in a wintry landscape, titled Effet de Sept Negres, un Piano Noir et Deux Cochons Noirs sur la Neige.

Verdura's drawing for a bow brooch, and the brooch in gold and diamonds.
With the instinctive opportunism of the best cultural impresarios, Caresse wanted to enlist Verdura in one of her "let's-get-together-and-everyone-make-a-combination-chic-party-and-business-venture-in-honor-of-the-arts" events. Her plan was for Verdura and Dali to design a new jewelry collection together, to be unveiled at Dali's upcoming exhibition. Although at first glance it might have seemed somewhat farfetched to pair Verdura the society jeweler with Dali, famous for excremental themes and obscene religious icons, it was not a totally outlandish proposition. 

After all, as former habitués of the Beaumont and de Noailles salons, the two men were hardly strangers. Dali's supporters included Chanel, who had installed an atelier for the painter on her premises, as well as the Faucigny-Lucinges. As charter members of the Zodiac syndicate, they had been faithfully contributing to Dali`s upkeep since 1933.

Social connections aside, from an artistic viewpoint Verdura and Dali now stood as close as they ever would. After his recent travels in Italy, Dali was in the throes of a conversion to classicism, while Fulco's work had acquired an unmistakably Surrealist flavor. Ring designs often feature the characteristic parted-lips or open-eye bezels. Huge stones are ensnared in wavy tentacular settings resembling sea-anemones' feelers or they may cast stylized flares. Schiaparelli modeled one such soled brooch for Vogue in January 1940, and Mrs. Henry Fonda acquired a spectacular suite consisting of earclips and a brooch set with a rectangular-cut 30 ct aquamarine, surrounded with circular-cut diamond and platinum rays. 

A pair of emerald and diamond bowknot earclipsVerdura's most exciting and bizarre creation of this period clearly mirrors the 'soft constructions' Dali advocated: the fan-shaped Amoeba brooch, with a large central ruby cabochon and three superimposed mobile sections reminiscent of splayed digits, diamond-encrusted and ruby-tipped. Last but not least, being "one hundred percent Sicilian of Spanish descent," Fulco was culturally attuned to the more macabre aspects of the painter's Iberian genius. Caresse's idea intrigued Fulco, and she pressed him to come and discuss the project further with Dail.

Fulco's own report in the guise of a telegraphic missive to Diana Vreeland was printed in Harper's Bazaar together with Dali's garish impression of Oak Grove: a yolky sun dropping to the horizon, little dark stickmen staggering under the weight of the visitor's luggage, a lustrous mound of skulls beneath a gnarled tree. Dali was penning a chapter about his prenatal experiences in the womb when Fulco entered ("nice and warm, thought I"). On a tour of the property, the artist "raved against the lurid sunset: `Merveilleuse truculent--inspiration Frankenstein. La chute de la maison Usher" Unmoved by enthusiastic comparisons to the atelier of Picasso, Fulco remained haughtily diffident: "This I have never seen, but I am told it is of the same squalor, with no ash tray emptied since the Blue Period."

The moment of truth came when dinner al fresco was announced. "Yes, we have a pavilion in the cemetery. It will be wonderful, and after dinner we are going to pick the graves. You will find the most lovely shiny little bones, you could make jewels of them. We must be there in time for the moon.' As one in a dream, I began struggling with my overcoat. I have had few principles, God knows, but one I have had and I stick to, is not picking the bones of the dead. I started for the door, and almost stumbled over a radio trailing a long electric cord. With a wild surmise, I turned to Dali. 'How do you use this in a house with no electricity?' Dali was in paradise."

A pair of pink topaz, aquamarine, and diamond wing brooches designed for Lady (Slim) Keith, c. 1968, and an aquamarine and diamond-wing heart brooch.Executed almost overnight, the Verdura-Dali collection was displayed from 22 April to 15 May at the Julien Levy Gallery in midtown Manhattan which, since its inauguration eight years earlier, had established itself as the premiere American showcase for Surrealist art. Levy's 1941 exhibition programme also promoted such eclectic personalities as Tamara de Lempicka, Joseph Cornell and Eugene Berman.

Described as "Freudian jewels" by The New Yorker, the pieces actually reflect a certain number of Dali's pet conceits. The hammered gold case, with a pearl and opal beetle entranced by the inlaid miniature of a gorgon-headed spider, is related to the composition of Araignee du soil; espoir. The painted statuette of Saint Sebastian affixed to a column of petrified wood is an obvious reference to the famous 1927 poem St Sebastian, or Holy Objectivity, in which Dali defined his "aesthetic of putrefaction"; jagged golden rays rim the figure bristling with arrows, and cabochon ruby blood-drops stud the agate base.

In other pieces, Dali's paintings are visible through faceted semi-precious stones, in the manner of Renaissance relics set under crystal. This unusual device served to enhance the multiple image effect that was a Dali trademark. There was the visage of a Fallen Angel; a Medusa under morganite wreathed with coiling ruby-eyed serpents; an Apollo and Daphne brooch with the god's effigy under pink tourmaline and the nymph's head surmounting the portal-shaped mount perhaps a reference to Apollo as the deity of the Seventh Door.

A pink topaz and diamond-wing brooch C. 1940, designed for Mrs. Henry Fonda. Caresse's venture was destined to remain a one-off media triumph: Verdura did not intend to specialize in precious foils for Dali's "handpainted dream photographs." He did, however, begin to try his hand at miniature painting, applying the meticulous techniques of jewelry rendering to landscapes, interiors and still-life on tiny ivory plaques. Although he did not attempt portraiture, he emulated the brilliant brushwork of his step-grandmother's father-in-law, Jean-Baptiste Isabey. Eventually, the thumbnail capricci began to show up in his jewelry: in one brooch, a pearl-framed medallion is held aloft by a golden angel.

When Dali's visits tapered off, Verdura's staff missed his wildly fluctuating linguistic skills as much as his camp histrionics. Despite a chronic inability to master even conversational English, the artist known as Avida Dollars always managed to clearly enunciate the words: "I have come for my money."

Writer – Thames & Hudson
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Wooden Earrings

Silver Earrings

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