In the 1920s, American women were enthralled by the sophisticated designs that emerged from Europe. Europe, and in particular Paris, France, was the epicenter of all that represented fashion. Consumers were hungry for the latest styles both in clothing and jewelry. It was a time when American fashion industries, including jewelry manufacturers, all bustled to be the first to bring the designs back home to the American public. Women’s stores in New York were quick to advertise their new wares to feature the designs sponsored by, Patou, Chanel, Premet, and Schiaparelli.
The Madame of Fashion Visit American Coco Chanel
Chanel made her first visit to the American shores in March, 1931. Her travels were to take her from New York, America’s fashion center, to the spotlight of Hollywood to produce fashion designs for a Samuel Goldwyn motion picture. The offer was unmistakeably seductive for any person—a sum of one million dollars a year to come to Hollywood twice yearly to create fashions designs for his films. The cast of celebrity stars who were to benefit from Chanel’s keen fashion insights included Ina Claire, Gloria Swanson and Norma Talmage. But surprisingly, her intention was not to promote the elegant style of Coco Chanel with movie stars draped in silk satin evening gowns, her intention was to design clothes that fit the scene and the personality of each actress. She came to the states, without sketches, pins, or even a pair of scissors. “She was here to work on an idea and not a costume.”*
At her first reception, she entered in the style and fashion that she had come to be known: jersey, pearls and a bedazzling cuff of multi-color semi-precious stones. True to her European aesthetic, she was charming and bold, and contrary to today’s daytime jewelry fashion, she felt one should wear plenty of jewelry for daytime, and very little for formal evening wear.
Ms. Chanel never strayed from speaking her mind, and was full of opinions she shared with the eager media audience who wrote down her every word—some which she is now quite famous for saying.
• She did not think any one group set the fashion, neither was fashion confined to any one class.
• She believed, “Fashion is for the rich, the poor, the young, the old—it is universally adopted, or it is not fashion.”
• “Real chic means being well-dressed, but not conspicuously dress.”
As progressive as MME Chanel was in the twenties, she displayed a bit of conservatism when she addressed the recent state of fashion in 1931. Surprisingly, she detested fashion “revolutions” and preferred the gradual evolution of design, further commenting that the recent state of skirts (lengths) were too high.
Unfortunately Hollywood would not prove to be Chanel’s muse, nor she that for the actresses. Her designs did not stand up to the glamorous desires of the Hollywood’s film stars.
As we ponder the brilliance of this iconic fashion designer, do you think the 40-year-old Chanel would have bristled if she knew her brand would be promoting mini-skirts down the runways more than 70 years later? What would she think of the fashion today associated with her name? Would she have considered it evolutionary or revolutionary? Could it really stand up to her own words defining “chic?”
Early Jewelry Design Styles of Chanel
• 1928: Colored Jewelry: Diamond-like 45 inch amethyst-colored crystal necklace set in sterling silver.
• 1928: Silver-tone metals chains surmounted with large square-shaped stones in aquamarine, topaz, crystal, and emerald. (Bracelet and choker)
• 1928: Silver-tone metal, “Nailhead” crystal jewelry in “Lelong blue,” “Patou rose emerald and topaz.”
• 1931: Jewelry with matching bag clasps made of galalith in shade of white, light pink and light blue.
*Note: Costume was a common term to refer to a particular outfit or garment.
Or Chanel Visits Hollywood
This article tells the story of Coco Chanel and her first visit to America.
By Melinda Lewis -September 17, 2014
Find Melinda on Google+
“The Gloria Swanson Bracelet”
The bracelet featured below is famously known as the “Gloria Swanson Bracelet.” It was made for Gloria Swanson for the film, Sunset Blvd. The bracelet was inspired by two Cartier bracelets that Ms. Swanson had purchased in the 1930s. Like Coco Chanel, who was famously known for wearing her fine jewelry with costume, Ms. Swanson was often seen wearing both her Cartier bracelets paired with her Napier bracelet. The bracelet remained in the Napier line for more than 20 years.
Mystery Surrounding The Mamie Eisenhower Bracelet Solved!
After nearly six decades, the mystery surrounding the Napier Mamie Eisenhower bracelet has finally been revealed. In December 1954, women’s editor Edyth Radom, of The Hartford Currant, wrote an exposé on The Napier Co. Featured in the article was Napier’s most famous bracelet, dubbed by collectors today as the “Mamie Eisenhower” bracelet. In the article, readers were told that only two bracelets existed; one bracelet worn by Mamie Eisenhower, and another kept secure under lock and key by The Napier Co. The caption under the detailed sterling bracelet read, “There will be no others.” This was a myth.
While doing research, Melinda L. Lewis, jewelry historian and author of The Napier Co.: Defining 20th Century American Costume Jewelry (Life By Design Publishing, 2012, www.thenapierbook.com), learned that in 1991, Barbara Bush also became a recipient of the famous bracelet. To find the true story about how many bracelets actually existed, Lewis engaged in over 10 years of research and spoke with over 50 ex-employees, from CEO’s to jewelry designers to plant managers.
“When we are dealing with limited-edition collectibles, we have to be sure the provenance is correct. I had to question the 1950s marketing of this piece.” said Melinda. “In the process, I not only resolved the mystery of the Mamie Eisenhower bracelet, I’ve uncovered lots of common misunderstandings about The Napier Co. and brought to light hundreds of previously unknown facts about the company’s product—especially the jewelry lines.”
It turns out that there were actually 25 bracelets made, which were not destroyed as the original story went. They were distributed … 8 of the 25 are now accounted for, with several lucky collectors yet to find the remaining 17.
Lewis tells the whole story about the bracelet in her 1,000 page book on The Napier Co., which covers the company history decade by decade from the years 1875-2000. With over 4000 images, this visual encyclopedia is the authoritative reference on Napier jewelry, including sixty pages devoted just to findings and trademark history to accurately circa-date the jewelry.
“Forget about what you used to think about Napier. It’s a hidden treasure in the collectibles market of vintage jewelry,” says Lewis. “If you go by name only and believe that Napier produced exclusively modest tailored pieces, you’re going to miss out an opportunity to purchase some phenomenal jewelry.”