Friday, November 24, 2017

No Holds Barred: Bowing to the God of Bling

Ali MacGraw and KJL’s new President, Chris Sheppard, in KJL’s showroom.
by Blair Sabol

The day before I left for NYC, Harvey Weinstein had just arrived at my local rehab for his sex addiction (it now seems so long ago with so many accusations of men exposing themselves — and a whole lot more — in hotel bathrobes). Up until then, it was just our "normal" world in the Biblical throes of epic plagues — we had Houston floods, Napa fires, and Florida wind and rains ... and then came the toads (Weinstein, Rose, Toback, Franken, Moore).
So, by the time I got to NYC, it was all so ugly. I needed to look at some kind of beauty or creativity immediately to reboot my life. When I walked upper Madison Avenue one morning I saw mostly homeless people asleep in vestibules of empty storefronts. Then I noticed a guy sleeping in a zipped up actual body bag in front of Lanvin. What a message!

Two days later there was a wonderful street exhibition from some students at the School of Visual Arts.  For 3 days they had dresses and coats in display cases all along Madison Ave — it was called “One of a Kind Luxury.” Using Slinkys, teabags, Styrofoam popcorn, and ear buds (you name it), these students showed more creativity than any of the brand name stores on the street from Celine to Ralph. Madison Avenue suddenly became a real runway to true imagination and I felt hopeful!
School of Visual Arts student display of Polaroids & Teabags on exhibit on Madison Avenue ...
Earplugs and Peanuts ...
Slinky and Cans ...
But honestly — clothes, shoes or handbags never lifted me out of my doldrums — it had to be jewelry!  Admittedly, I am a jewelry junkie — always was, always will be.  Something about “bling that sings” to me, especially now that I am over 70.

Before I left for NYC, I received the new Verdura catalogue in the mail, which is always an event!  The title is “Breaking Away: the Quest for Color.”  It is chock full of the most exotic new designs based on Fulco di Verdura’s original 1920-1930 creations (don’t look at the prices).  Wonderful cuffs and earrings inspired by France’s celebration of Southeast Asia and the African colonies, and the Byzantine era.  This is about history! Along with his iconic Maltese cross cuffs, there is the Ravenna Cuff and the New Byzantine Ear Clips in geometric color combinations in limited production. It made me want to see the collection in person, and inspired me to get on the plane to NYC!
Verdura Catalogue — Breaking Away: The Quest for Color
Also before I left I got an announcement from glitter jeweler/star Tarina Tarantino (granted she is Los Angeles, not NYC, but still noteworthy) saying she was re-doing a lot of her iconic sparkle line.  Her hottest items are her glitter sunglasses and spider rings and earrings.  I know the latter sounds creepy, but trust me — the black crystal cat-eye frames with the “black diamond” spidered earlobes truly WORKS!

Tarina does all color combinations and she is far less money than Bergdorf’s Linda Fargo’s 4th floor “Closet” of similar spangled eyewear and accessories at ridiculously skyrocket prices. Besides, Tarina was truly first on the scene with glitter and still does it the best. (tarinatarantino.com)
Tarina Tarantino Sparkle Factory Billie Black frames ($142) and Iconic Crystal Spider Earrings ($58).
Wearing my Tarina Tarantino Sparkle Factory Sophia Montana frames (embellished with hundreds of hand set Swarovski crystals), $140.
So, needless to say, I was yearning for the bling! Around the corner from my hotel was the infamous Milan Pomellato boutique — known for their gorgeous BIG colored stones in simple settings.  The store window was a showstopper with Day-Glo colored gems and a statement saying, “Color for Every Emotion — a kaleidoscope repertoire to represent every shade of love.”  Who knows what the hell that even means, but the window display was impressive (people were lined up observing it all.) 

While catalogues and emails and storefronts are all seductive, they are only “teasers.”  I needed to experience baubles, bangles and beads up close and personal to get the down and dirty of sex, politics and plagues out of my mind. 
Popular Pomellato store window.
Pomellato's “Celebration of Color."
Two months ago, an Instagram picture appeared on designer Roxanne Assoulin’s page of some colorful tile jewelry.  It was so “refreshingly basic” and exciting I ran to her website.  In ten minutes I bought seven tiled elastic bracelets (her most popular feature) and a great pearl necklace (you have to wear it to love it — black tiles in between pearls) and a pair of silly giant colorful crystal earrings.  I have never ordered anything like that before and I had never heard of her (though I knew about Assoulin publishing and Roxanne’s daughter-in-law designer Rosie Assoulin).  Now I am inducted into the importance of Instagram for many designers as a major outlet for sales over brick and mortar or even big name websites.
The Insta post that "sold me."
I received Roxanne’s creations beautifully wrapped in the mail a week later and I was amazed.  I actually kept all of them (and I am a BIG online returner). Assoulin made the cut for me! I tried contacting her “Team RA” to see if I could come to her showroom while I was in NYC and perhaps meet her.  They wrote me back that I could definitely visit the showroom, but Roxanne would be “unavailable for interviews since we are all working hard on the brand” (whatever that meant?) I was still up for shopping so a showroom visit was fine by me.

When I tried to find out about Roxanne — her online bio simply stated “blah, blah, blah.”  Immediately I loved her for that!
I later discovered she had been a successful jewelry designer for Mark Jacobs (his infamous grunge collection) and J. Crew and Banana Republic.  She was already the “darling” of many online social media bloggers.  My fear was that “in person” her simple designs would resemble “surfer jewelry” or even a lot of the tired yoga mala wrap bracelets or Survivor TV show puka shell necklaces that some “downtown dudes” are still wearing.  “Island chic” is okay for some people, but it is not a classic for me.  Luckily, Roxanne Assoulin is way above all that!

I grabbed pal Ali MacGraw who was in town promoting her own successful line of tribal clothing and accessories (www.ibumovement.com) and we decided to lift our spirits with an afternoon of jewelry treasure hunting. 

We arrived at Assoulin’s showroom/studio and surprise surprise ... Roxanne was there in person and more than available! Two and a half hours later I ended up buying almost a quarter of her entire line (Ali did some damage too).
Ali MacGraw meeting Roxanne Assoulin.
Though Assoulin is popular with Millennials, the 63-year-old has created a “stacking system” that appeals to every age, gender and race! With her many colored tiles and metalics, her showroom reeks of fun and games.  “For me it was always about fun and color — there is nothing precious or complicated about my stuff.  I want you to smile and create your own combinations of necklaces and bracelets.”

Her studio really does invite you to “make your own” design, with her “idea” walls of posted photos, sayings and young design assistants (Team RA!) all inspired to get you inspired.  It felt like a party!  At times it resembled a very chic candy store or a Build-a-Bear or maybe a “make-a-plate” craft store.  But don’t get me wrong, it was so much more! Even her youngest son (she has three sons) 31-year-old Lee stopped by (he has his own tech business in the same building) to check out the scene.
Roxanne with Ali and Brand Manager Jaclyn Keramese in discussion.
Roxanne and her team (Team RA).
Roxanne and her youngest son Lee.
The Dynamic Duo.
Roxanne and me in a photo styled by Ali MacGraw.
“I just want people to be able to wear an “uncomplicated indulgence” everyday ... I feel my designs are kind of democratic in that I provide the color and the style and you get to mix and match whatever you feel.  Everyone should be involved in what they wear.  I’m also a big believer in ‘kindness’ of late — so I want that feeling of freedom and acceptance in whatever you choose to wear.”

Clearly Assoulin is beyond Fashion — she is just plain “Celebration”: Unique in these times of ugly clothes and self-involved didactic designers.
Roxanne Assoulin’s storyboard and creations in her showroom.
Assoulin’s inspiration board.
Displays of Assoulin’s Tile “Candies."
Assoulin’s “Celebration."
Assoulin's tie-on bracelets.
This fall, Assoulin staged a “make your own bracelet” party for editors and influencers and they all came and designed their own “Spectrum” creations. The party sold out their inventory and was a huge success. Now the public will be invited to sign up on a limited basis of dates. (Check RoxanneAssoulin.com)

While we were there, Roxanne invited Ali to make her own “Spectrum” bracelet.  I still needed Roxanne to put together six of mine.  She does it the best!

Our “accessory rehab” choices were put together in great simple brown bags of striped tissue wrapped creations.  Personally I went in way over my head!  (Warning: Assoulin is not cheap. Single bracelets are $75, a set of three is $210 and chokers are $120). But let me say — there is “heft” to the enamel tiles and colors — the double elastic allows the tiles to lay flat AND NOT PINCH your wrist.  At times, I feel like I am wearing a Mondrian or an Yves, or Klein on my arm.  Whatever — her stuff is contagious and you end up “MUST OWNING” at least three. Stacking rules!
Assoulin’s bracelet design boards.
Ali MacGraw’s personal bracelet design .
The creative process.
Ali wearing black and white Assoulin choker and bracelet.
My personal choices from Assoulin’s collection.
From Roxanne’s shiny new white and brick showroom, Ali and I raced over to Kenneth Jay Lane’s headquarters to say hello to my pal and new President (Lane died at 85 in April) Chris Sheppard.  KJL is a casbah of classic jewel encrusted rings, animal bracelets, cuffs and cabocha earrings — you name it — it is all hanging there.

Ali in KJL silver disc earrings with KJL’s new President, Chris Sheppard.
Duke Fulco di Verdura with Kenneth Jay Lane.
Sheppard has been with KJL for 25 years and is now running the show with his own great sense of humor (not unlike Kenny himself) and charm.  “All I want to do is maintain the brand’s DNA and stay true to who we are, and if anything go back to the roots of things like our “Neptune” theme and resurrect some oldies but goodies.”

And Wow ... is he ever right!  I remember asking Kenny if he would sell his company at his death, and he responded with “Oh, Honey, I am taking my stuff with me to my grave — no selling — just let it keep on keeping on.” Chris Sheppard will do just that.

Designer Tony Burch is currently offering a small “tribute to KJL” collection of his pins and earrings but it really isn’t “all that.”  If you want KJL — YOU GO TO KJL! “After all, everyone from Rihanna to Gaga to Barbara Bush still wears KJL.

“We are the ‘niche” for important costume jewelry,” says Sheppard. Not to mention every hooker I’ve ever seen still seems to be wearing the KJL giant Chanel pearl necklace.

Again ... if you want to “Go Big” — you go Kenny!

Even Ali was overwhelmed by the amount of KJL inventory and she worked with Lane years ago as a stylist.  Her personal picks were a pair of understated pave earrings, a giant feather pin and the “Verdura rip-off” cuff in black and blue (Verdura and Kenny were good friends).

As Ali says, “KJL is unbeatable — he just has that whole costume world covered and done. He is IT and Unbeatable.” 
KJL Neptune necklaces and classic line of Crab Rings.
KJL’s Neptune Collection.
Very popular KJL Neptune pin.
KJL’s latest gold disc collection.
KJL’s famous chandelier earrings.
Iconic KJL Serpent Bracelet.
KJL’s latest Tropical beaded earrings.
KJL’s biggest seller — Rose Necklace.
Ali MacGraw’s choice of KJL cuff and feather pin.
We left Chris and sales assistant Yvette Lewis with more bags of “hood ornaments” and we were high on bling — and that was the point! From visiting the sublime (KJL) to the refreshingly simple (Roxanne Assoulin) my world felt suddenly different and better.  Was I being superficial?  Shallow?  Self-indulgent?  You bet, and who cares?!?!
Sporting some of my new Assoulin bracelets.
My Assoulin paired with my KJL.
Ali left a gift at my hotel, a $14 jewel encrusted junk brooch she got before she left from some New Mexican hobby shop. I put it on my hotel altar with my new KJL encrusted bomb earrings.  Even the maid was in awe and “took a knee” at the sight of all that flash.  In the end, who doesn’t bow to the god of bling?
My Hotel “Altar”: Day of the Dead decoration, KJL earrings and $14 Hobby Lobby (a gift from Ali).