Wednesday 20 November 2019
From Downton to Gatsby, Jewellery and Fashion
1890 to 1929.
Mr Andrew Prince
Summary by Derek Latham:-
The presenter of our November talk, Andrew Prince, is a renowned designer and producer of modern jewellery, counting amongst his clientele TV and film stars as well as other wealthy and prominent figures in society. He is also the designer of jewellery for the Downton Abbey film and TV series, as well as “The Young Victoria” TV series, among other successes. In contrast to his own career however his talk on November 20th covered fascinating aspects of jewellery and fashion in the late 19th century and first two decades of the 20th.
The theme throughout was the link between the fashion of the day and the jewellery that accompanied it. Andrew showed how the style of jewellery changed as female fashion abandoned the straight-laced customs of the “corset” era of the late 1800s and early 1900s when jewellery was equally formal, and the “freedom era”, when a less formal, looser dress fashion began to emerge. In fact he equated the emergence of the pejorative term “loose woman” with the growing demand for clothes of that style. Andrew showed images of stylish dresses where the back and shoulders were bare, rather than the earlier style where the emphasis was on the arms and legs. And so jewellery design again followed the lead of couture fashion. Examples he quoted, and illustrated on the screen, were, the work of George Fouquet, the Parisian jewellery designer whose work was largely geometric in shape, and other designers of the art nouveau era, when jewellery began to follow the shape of the then modern machinery (even the V8 car engine), and straight lines and angles, rather than round shapes and curves, were the keynotes of “modern” jewellery design.
With the development of cinema, and the hero (or rather, in this case, heroine) worship of the screen idols came the development of jewellery to match the fashion styles of the stars. Andrew focussed on Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Rosalind Russell and Rita Haywood, and showed on the screen how the jewellery matched the persona and costumes of the stars. For instance Joan Crawford had wide shoulders, so the jewellery designed for her by the designer known as Adrian was large and expansive. In one film Norma Shearer wore a necklace so enormous it could have been a belt. Andrew touched on the keen rivalry between the stars. European and American designers of jewellery and clothes fashion he mentioned included Schiaparelli, Paul Pouret and René Boivin. The American designer Paul Flato, working in the 1920s and 1930s, designed for Greta Garbo and Rita Haywood, as well as for Joan Crawford. Chanel also produced for the cinema industry. In most cases, of course, the jewels has to be returned after filming! The growing popularity of cinema fostered the development of costume jewellery. Soon after the release of a film the “girl in the street” could wear a copy of what she had seen, not made of diamonds and gold, but of coloured stones and cheap metal, but a huge and lucrative market had been born.
Of course there were other role models outside the cinema that the ordinary person was aware of. Royalty and other eminent women were in the news and their very expensive tiaras and necklaces were copied. Moving somewhat beyond the time remit in the title of his talk Andrew was not over-enthusiastic about the designs favoured by the Duchess of Windsor. “Unusual” he dubbed them. An interesting aside was that following the Windsor debacle King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were not at first universally popular and perhaps to change the mood the royal family quietly reverted to the more formal style off the 1860s.
All in all a very interesting and informative morning.