Essays and Musings, The Four Seasons of Vintage

A Report in the Spring

Carole Bouquet, 1980s Chanel Advertisement

Carole Bouquet, 1980s Chanel advertisement

I wasn’t really prepared to buy a brooch this week, and it may have been impulsive on my part, as it comes on the heels of having purchased a charm bracelet last month. Though I love fashion jewelry, and regularly wear a necklace, I had never really thought about owning a brooch, or for that matter, a charm bracelet. The truth is I don’t know for how long I have wanted such a bracelet. Possibly since the 1980s, after seeing a Chanel perfume commercial in which Carole Bouquet sports an extravagant charm bracelet with a red suit. My attraction to brooches is recent, a desire born only a few years ago at a dinner party in Los Angeles. After meeting a woman of advanced style who wore a remarkable brooch against her simple black blazer, it suddenly occurred to me how wonderfully sophisticated owning a brooch would make me feel.

The fact that these traditional pieces of jewelry reveal divergent tastes doesn’t trouble me. On the one hand, there is the brooch, regal and glamorous, conjuring images of the Duchess of Windsor, impeccably dressed and groomed. And on the other, there is the charm bracelet, girlish and flirty. The bracelet I acquired last month is a Napier from the 1950s, the heyday of the charm bracelet before it fell out of fashion during the women’s movement. As soon as I saw it I knew it was the most perfect of things: constructed from pearlized Lucite and styrene beads in Easter egg colors that the Napier company called “moonstone pastels.” Completely impractical, a charm bracelet garners smiles as it clinks with each step you take, with each wave of your hand. It clangs brightly, keeping you company when you are home alone or out driving. As for the brooch, I discovered the ideal one on EBAY from a seller in Louisiana. A vintage Oscar de la Renta, it is resplendent with its faux pearls and center crystal.

The Duchess of Windsor's 1940 flamingo brooch by Cartier

The Duchess of Windsor’s 1940 flamingo brooch by Cartier

The Duchess of Windsor and Prince Edward of Wales, 1942

The Duchess of Windsor and Prince Edward of Wales, 1942

Despite having written about fashion jewelry here, I neglected to mention that charm bracelets and brooches are the showboats of any outfit. Both are rich in historical connotation: the brooch dates as early as the Bronze Age when it was used as an indication of ethnicity and class, while from pre-historic times the charm bracelet was worn as an amulet to protect against the evil eye. Today, in an age obsessed with the practicality of the iPhone and the Apple Watch, to wear either a brooch or a charm bracelet is to be reminded of the joy that the quixotic still has the power to shower over us.

I have wondered why it is only now, in my middle years, that I am embracing the brooch and the charm bracelet. The only satisfactory answer I have come up with is that as the world accelerates its championing of all things utilitarian and technological, the more the antiquated and the superfluous – things lacking any real use value – rise in appeal. Vintage objects tell a story, their beauty is not impersonal. Beckoning from beyond, they help us to stay connected to an ever receding past.

Vintage Oscar de la Renta faux pearl and antique gold brooch

Vintage Oscar de la Renta faux pearl and antique gold brooch

1950s Tropicana charm bracelet by Napier

1950s Tropicana charm bracelet by Napier

Standard
Essays and Musings, The Four Seasons of Vintage

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Bergdorf Goodman vintage hatbox

Bergdorf Goodman vintage hatbox

Hermès 2006 Jige clutch with box

2006 Hermès Jige clutch with box

1970s Gucci handbag with original box

1970s Gucci handbag with original box

I see in the news that California is the first state to ban plastic bags in retail stores, but I’m not disappointed. The end of plastic bags is in sight, making way for the underrated box. There’s an expectation when people go clothes shopping that the items they purchased, after having been neatly folded, and sometimes even wrapped in tissue paper, will be placed in a bag; yet few people expect a box for their efforts. Jewelry, of course, usually comes in its own box, but for other items, like gloves, hats, scarves and leather goods, I politely request a box. Once home, I recycle the bags, keeping some of the colorful tissue paper for packaging gifts, or for use as a liner in the many boxes I’ve accumulated. Lately customers are asked if they would like to wear the item out, thus dispensing with the need for any type of bag or a box. Shoppers have their own standards; some believe their new purchase to be so special other people will love it as much as they do. And so they hurry out to the street to experience the thrill of showing it off to the world. Then there are those shoppers, like myself, who want to savor the moment of buying something and look forward to the ritual of wrapping. The ceremoniousness of preparing an item for handing over to the new owner is as important to me as the item itself.

Over time, if you appreciate beautiful things and are at all sentimental, it’s inevitable that you will acquire keepsakes. One day about two months ago, I received a vintage bracelet in the mail. It arrived in its original I.Magnin box from an e-bay seller whose mother had purchased a great deal of fashion jewelry in the 1990s. She never wore the pieces, choosing to catalogue them instead, in their individual boxes. On a road trip three years ago, I bought a Bergdorf Goodman hatbox in Arroyo Grande. My husband and I had decided to drive up the coast with our dog for Labor Day weekend. On the way up Route 101, we stopped in at a large antiques warehouse where I spotted the hatbox. But as I was without a hat to put in the box, I resisted purchasing it. Throughout the long weekend, at the beach and at the vineyards, I kept thinking about the lavender box. On the drive back to Los Angeles, my husband, who knew better, insisted we stop in at the warehouse so that I could make the hatbox mine.

As I stand looking at the many boxes in my closet, I feel sure they are superior to bags. Boxes not only serve a practical purpose, protecting objects from light and dust, they are keepers of history. Each time I pull an item from its box, I can’t help but revisit under what circumstances it made its way into my home. What was the weather like? What city had I been in at the time, and who had I been with? The boxes I’ve obtained recall to me various stages in my life: significant birthdays, my wedding, my diagnosis with cancer, the loss of my hair during chemotherapy, anniversaries. More than anything else, I have come to depend on them as talismans of memory.

Some colorful boxes; Dominique Aurientis cuff, 1993 with I.Magnin box

Some colorful boxes; Dominique Aurientis cuff, 1993 with I.Magnin box

Bergdorf Goodman box for hats worn when I underwent chemotherapy in 2001-2002; Cartier wedding band box

Bergdorf Goodman box for hats worn when I underwent chemotherapy in 2001-2002; Cartier wedding band box

 

 

Standard