It is easy to be a little star struck by a master jeweler who created Coco Chanel’s original Maltese cuffs or designed Greta Garbo’s signature 1939 curb link watch bracelet. This is exactly how I felt when I entered the exhibition, which celebrates the75th Anniversary of Verdura: The Power of Style: Verdura at 75, (open to the public from October 14 through December 23 at 745 Fifth Avenue adjacent to the Verdura Gallery).
The exhibit has been curated by Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera, longtime friends of Verdura, and their daughter Patricia Lansing. In addition to being the first-ever retrospective of master jeweler Duke Fulco di Verdura’s work, it features pieces that have never before been on public.
Over 300 jewels are showcased, including pieces from the private collections of Sofia Coppola, Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Taylor Bradford as well as a gold, platinum and diamond “Feather Headdress” tiara designed for Betsey Cushing Whitney to wear at the Court of St. James in 1957 to reflect her American heritage. Also included are 1940s and 1950s ledger books chronicling the manufacture and sale of original pieces to such luminaries as the Duke of Windsor, William Paley, Vincent Astor and Samuel Goldwyn.
Being both a jewelry and a film buff, it was a treat to see brooches from two of my favorite movies, Joan Fontaine’s own “Winged” style, which she wore in the Alfred Hitchcock film “Suspicion” and the pin that George Cukor commissioned for Katherine Hepburn to wear in “Holiday”. I also was inspired to view the original wrapped “Sash” Heart brooch that Tyrone Power commissioned for his wife Annabella for Christmas, 1941, which was never before on public display.
These are just a few of the luminaries that Fulco Vedura listed among his clients, a list that read like a whose who of the famed and those fortunate enough to have owned and had the extremely pleasure of wearing his pieces. The exhibit also includes a running video of the films his jewelry and decorative items are featured, including “Delovely” based on Cole Porter’s life. Ashley Judd (playing Porter’s wife) wears the jewelry and Kevin Kline as Porter opens the cigarette cases that “The Duke” gave his good friend Porter, in real life, before the open of each Broadway show.
Ward Landrigan, Verdura’s chairman and CEO who purchased the company in 1984 six years after the duke’s death, stated, “We designed the exhibition to give visitors a sense of surprise and wonder –a feeling of discovering Fulco for the very first time. Verdura’s work was all about contrast, so while the work is whimsically classical, the environment we present him in is decidedly modern.”
Whether designing for Chanel in the 1920s, creating the perfect gift for Cole Porter and glamorous Hollywood stars in the 1930s, or opening a bespoke atelier led in New York in the 1940s, where he established himself as a private ‘upstairs’ jeweler for his notable friends and clients, European and American society, his legend lives on in all the people he touched and in the pieces that have inspired the company to continue his designs and attract a new generation of collectors.