The Four Seasons of Vintage

The Thrill of the Find

Looking for a vintage bag at Antichità Grossi, Naples

Hunting for a vintage bag at Antichità Grossi, Naples

I spent two weeks in early September in Italy, a country to which I traveled with a small suitcase containing three vintage purses. I feel compelled to reveal that after diligently visiting various vintage and consignment shops in Rome and Naples, I came home to Los Angeles with three more purses, a bracelet, a sweater, and a pin. When I travel to a foreign city, I always make time for vintage shopping. It’s not only a great way to explore different neighborhoods but one of the best ways to make new acquaintances with people who live and work in the area. Though vintage is not as hotly pursued in Italy as it is in the United States, you will find small shops with edited and very affordable collections of Italian designer brands, such as Missoni and Valentino. And for a fashion jewelry lover, the most unexpected and thrilling shop I visited was Fabio Piccioni, a bigiotteria in Rome. In addition to boasting an extensive collection of coral jewelry and sparkly tiaras, Fabio’s store is stacked floor to ceiling with all manner of costume jewelry.

Here below are the shops I visited and the treasures I found.

80s Genny navy leather bag, Blue Goose

1980s Genny navy leather bag from Blue Goose

Blue Goose Consignment, Monti Rome

A small corner of Blue Goose Consignment in Monti, Rome

70s Roberta di Camerino velvet purse; Flamingo Vintage

1970s Roberta di Camerino velvet purse from Flamingo Vintage

The friendly owner at Flamingo Vintage, Monti Rome

The friendly owner at Flamingo Vintage in Monti, Rome

Contemplating a vintage Missoni sweater at 31 Vintage Avenue

Contemplating a vintage Missoni sweater at 31 Vintage Avenue

A selection of vintage bags as 31 Vintage Avenue, Rome

A selection of vintage bags and clothing at 31 Vintage Avenue in Campo de’ Fiori, Rome

60s Trifari by Alfred Philippe 'Garden of Eden' enamel bracelet; Fabbio Piccioni, Rome

1960s Trifari by Alfred Philippe ‘Garden of Eden’ bracelet from Fabio Piccioni

Unsigned vintage brooch with multi-colored cabochons

Unsigned vintage brooch with multi-colored cabochons from Fabio Piccioni

Searching for a treasure at Fabio Piccioni in Monti, Rome

Searching for a find at Fabio Piccioni in Monti, Rome

A great selection of dresses and blouses at Nenton Vintage, Naples

A great selection of dresses and blouses at Nenton Vintage, Naples

Roberta di Camerino french calf bag, 1975; Antichità Grossi, Naples

1975 Roberta di Camerino french calf bag from Alex Grossi at Antichità Grossi, Naples

 

 

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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

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Essays and Musings, Personal Style

Severe Deluxe

Greta Garbo, 1941; photo Clarence Sinclair Bull

Greta Garbo, 1955; photo George Hoyningen Huene

Greta Garbo, 1941; photo Clarence Sinclair Bull

Greta Garbo, 1941; photo Clarence Sinclair Bull

For some years now I have kept on my desk a postcard of the actress Greta Garbo. She rests her chin in one hand and her head in the other, as she gazes melancholically into the distance. On one wrist she wears a Verdura curb link bracelet watch, and on the other, the matching bracelet. After becoming well known among the Hollywood set, Verdura, a fine jewelry company, opened its doors in New York City in 1939. Although I appreciate the minimalism and elegance of Garbo’s jewelry, it is not the reason I have been attached to the photograph. One thing in particular attracts me to this image of the star: the impossibility of separating the Verdura bracelets from the woman. I’ve long held the illusion that the bracelets symbolize the wearer. The other afternoon, while doing some research, I discovered that the curb link bracelet watch had been an especial Garbo favorite. When it comes to style, I like constancy. And so it pleases me to know that Garbo wore the same watch during her lifetime, to the exclusion of other designer options.

Fashion today demands a compulsive turnover and an endless quantity. When the urge to go shopping gets the better of me, my favorite thing to search for is vintage fashion jewelry. But I’ve noticed that my appreciation for steadiness places me in an awkward position with the selling community. It brands me as both a good and a bad shopper. Good, in that I’m inclined to spend a bit more money for a piece of jewelry that is of high quality. Bad, because I don’t buy in volume. And although I frequent consignment stores and vintage expos, and look regularly on e-bay for necklaces and bracelets, I come up short with purchases each year. I marvel at this desire to experience the new while sticking with the familiar, and recognize there is an aspect of severity in my enjoyment of repetition, for I’m told it’s necessary to have variety in order to stave off a fashion rut. But I prefer to reach for the same dependable items: that favorite bracelet and necklace and watch.

When does a person consider selling or giving away certain pieces of jewelry? This past summer I spent weeks contemplating the question. Finally I determined, if it is the right piece, there is no expiration date. In recent months, I’ve wondered if my dependence on fashion jewelry has become an obsession. When deliberating over a purchase, I bear in mind how it will age on me. Will my desire for it extend into my advanced years, and will I wear it as convincingly in the future as in the present? It’s true that this sort of calculation drains some of the excitement from shopping, curtailing the deep pleasure derived from finding something you love. If I am obsessed, it is an obsession in which the end results matter most to me. I experience both a comfort and a luxury in putting on the same familiar objects over the years.

Like Garbo, who wore her bracelet watch as a type of amulet, I count on my fashion jewelry for strength. There it is seeing me through day-to-day obligations and trying moments. Once more, it is there to accompany me on the travels and adventures that lie ahead. And in donning again and again the pieces I’ve carefully collected, I’ll feel, as when beholding them for the first time, that spark of love at first sight.

1980s Yves Saint Laurent tortoise pendant necklace

1980s Yves Saint Laurent tortoise pendant necklace

1980s Chanel leather and gold cuff

1980s Chanel leather and gold cuff

Vintage Paco Rabanne cuff

Vintage Paco Rabanne cuff

Chanel turnlock necklace, 1995

Chanel turnlock necklace, 1995

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