Book Review: Fabulous Fakes

Kathy lent me this book, and it was so fabulous that I just had to share.  We love the “real” jewelry that we own, but costume jewelry is so much more wearable!  We think nothing about slapping on a pin or necklace dripping with rhinestones and going shopping; if we owned a diamond necklace it would not see the light of day nearly as often. ( BTW, Kathy DOES own a diamond necklace, can’t remember the last time she wore it! )

Carole Tanenbaum has an enviable collection of costume jewelry which she showcases in her book, Fabulous Fakes:

Fabulous FakesThe book very sensibly has the decades grouped stylistically and  placed into chapters from Victorian/Art Nouveau (1837-1914) to the 21st Century/A Return to Fabulous.

Tanenbaum talks about the newsworthy and technological happenings which, of course, drive lifestyle and fashion, as well as the leading designers of the eras, and how they responded to the happenings and technology.  She also has lots and lots of wonderful examples.  I could have scanned the whole book and saved you the trouble of buying it, but that doesn’t seem fair.  So, I limited myself to a couple of pictures from each chapter–that was extremely difficult!

Of course Queen Victoria dominated the Victorian era:

Bog Oak Victorian and Art Nouveau

Her marriage and then extended period of mourning created whole new areas of jewelry– most notably mourning jewelry made from jet or bog oak.  But there was also lots more going on in Victorian times than just the mourning for Prince Albert.  The revived Egyptian and Renaissance styles were extremely popular, and showed up in costume jewelry.  Then the Arts and Crafts movement started in the 1870s with a whole new aesthetic, followed by Art Nouveau.  Tanenbaum has lovely examples of all of those styles.

The next chapter deals with Art Deco and the prewar years (1920-1935):

Art Deco Bakelite   Art Deco and Pre War

With the ending of WWI, social change swept the western world.  Tanenbaum had this to say about the ’20s:  “For the first time, costume jewelry was influenced by socioeconomic changes in the form of new art movements–Dadaism, Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism, Bauhaus–as well as changes in social mores and by industrial innovations in manufacturing, travel, and communications.”

She included many Bakelite examples which are completely drool-worthy as well as numerous enamel pieces from Czechoslovakia, Germany, and England.

Next up are the Post-Depression and War Years (1936-1949):

Miriam Haskell 1930s

Although things were still difficult in the mid ’30s, incomes started increasing again and people started spending some of their hard-earned cash on luxuries.  One of my favorite designers, Miriam Haskell, started producing her amazing costume jewelry in this era and of course Tanenbaum owns quite a few pieces.  Also, Alfred Phillipe started working for Trifari and produced amazing designs for them, which also appear in the book.

With the war years, metal and fabric were in short supply, but costume jewelry abounded because it “raised morale” at home.

Post-Depression and War YearsJewelry had a patriotic flair and was extremely fashionable.  Trifari introduced their immensely popular Jelly Belly brooches in the ’40s too.  I’m sure the whimsy was much appreciated, and the  polished lucite “bellies” cut down on the metal content:

Jelly Bellies

I would love to own a Jelly Belly!

The Post-Depression and War years plus The Fifties make up the largest portion of the book.  Costume jewelry was an important part of any jewelry collection during this time, and with designers such as Haskell, Phillipe who had worked for Van Cleef and Arpels, Boucher who formerly worked with Cartier, Hobé, Eisenberg, Channel, Schiaparelli, and Dior, who could argue?

The Fifties was perhaps my favorite chapter of the book:

Chanel Glass Necklace

Tanenbaum calls the ’50s, “Optimistic, Opulent, Glamorous” and her collection certainly reflects that tag line.

The Fifties Elsa Schiaparelli   The Fifties

She also details lesser known, to me, designers, runway costume jewelry, and unsigned works.  The ’50s chapter is 55 pages long, and 90% of it is pictures.  Wow!  Women dressed up and had the jewelry to stun everyone at the latest cocktail party.

The next chapter, The Sixties & Seventies, features some old favorites, Trifari, Boucher, Coro, as well as new, Coppola e Toppo and Kenneth Jay Lane:

KLJ Sixties and SeventiesOf course the ‘6os and ’70s were all about rebellion, smashing conventions, sex, the space age, pop art, freedom, and a million other things.  Anything went, and that shows up in the costume jewelry too:

The Sixties and Seventies

Tanenbaum continues to wow with the breadth and depth of her collection and insight.  Somewhere in the book I read that the ’70s were when she became enamored with costume jewelry and started collecting and researching the various makers.  Her knowledge is certainly encyclopedic.

I had to laugh at the tagline of The Eighties and Nineties chapter, “Garish, Minimal, Severe”:

The Eighties and Nineties

At a mere twelve pages long, it and The Twenty-First Century are the shortest chapters in the book.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any interesting pieces.  I like the Butler & Wilson Dragon, although it might take a coat to hold it up.  And Margot deTaxco’s jewelrly is beyond fabulous:

Margot De Taxco

This necklace from Christian Lacroix’s runway show is stunning:

Christian Lacroix necklaceTanenbaum’s take on the current state of fashion design may be pessimistic, but has a certain resonance: “Although there are many talented fashion and jewelry designers, the industry today is so trend-driven and narrowly focused on shareholder profits that styles do not last beyond a season or two.  When one thinks of the collections by Schiaparelli, Channel, and Yves Saint Laurent, so richly informed by the arts, travel, philosophy and great books, it is little wonder that their couture jewels are still among the most collectible and wearable treasures today.”

I’m so glad that there is an index and glossary at the end of the book.  One of my pet peeves about books that catalog numerous trends, designers, or decades is a lack of an index.  I loathe paging back through a 200-plus page book looking for an item of interest.

If you’re interested in costume jewelry, this book should be in your collection.  Carole Tanenbaum is an acknowledged expert in the field and shares many worthwhile insights.

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2 Responses to Book Review: Fabulous Fakes

  1. Great tip! I love, love, love costume jewelry. Especially large rings with paste stones. I’m a fool for them. Does the book cover rings? Jotting down the book title down now. Enjoy the weekend!

    • kathy & deb says:

      We are crazy about costume jewelry, almost more than the real stuff. Not too many rings in the book. But now I’m on a mission looking for rings. Have a great weekend!!

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