Monday, May 19, 2008

A Passion for Pins

By Ki Hackney

A crescent moon of graduated diamonds. How I remember that pin of my mother’s. She wore it on a suit, a coat, and even as the anchor for a scarf that sat on her shoulder. To me, as a child, it was a little piece of heaven. And, at 91, she still wears it once in awhile.

What is it about brooches that is so compelling, so fascinating, such a personal statement. In first book, called BROOCHES: Timeless Adornment (Rizzoli), which has just been released, Lori Ettlinger Gross provides all the answers. From their functional beginnings when Neolithic men carved little pins to hold the animal skins together that kept them warm to the Greeks and the Romans -- who used fibulae to hold their cloaks and togas and began decorating these early safety pins with gemstones, particularly amber, to add personal and distinguishing touches -- the brooch began to move from a practical pin to a jeweled brooch.
Gross points out that in medieval times, the circular ring brooch, that actually looked like a flattened ring of gold set with gemstones, was most often used to close the neckline of a dress. Henry VIII, known for his penchant for jewels, wouldn’t have seemed properly dressed without his hat badges and aglets. “By the 18th and 19th centuries, brooches were not only extremely decorative, they were very fashionable,” says Gross, One style, known as the Sévigné or ribbon bow brooch, was named after the Marquise de Sévigné, who served in the court of Louis XIV. And it would be impossible not to “think about all the richly jeweled stomachers or bodice ornaments, particularly those worn by the legendary patrons of the first haute couturier, British-born Parisian, Charles Frederick Worth gowns.

Author Gross spent two and one-half years, not only writing the book and “making sure that it came out the way I had envisioned it,” but combing the U.S. from coast to coast for brooches that “people would see in the everyday lives, as well as the special pieces that most would never get a chance to see, such as the extraordinary enameled “Shooting Stars” orchid brooch by David C. Freda. Or the 1940s clips by Paul Flato. I almost fell on the floor when I saw them.
They are in a private collection, and people would never get to see them. And there are people out there, such as James de Givenchy for Taffin doing extraordinary pieces and a lace pin, circa 1900, with it’s magnificent enamel work.” Look through the book once and your eyes will feast on magnificent jewels from Cartier, René Lalique, Suzanne Belperron, Van Cleef & Arpels, Verdura, Mauboussin France, Oscar Heyman & Brothers, Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co, Rene Boivin, Sterle, and many more, from collections and sources that Gross carefully acknowledges.

You might also pause to enjoy some of the playful gems from a Victorian umbrella in ivory and gold to a sly red enamel fox and James de Givenchy’s deer head with antlers, a collection of Masao Yamada’s three-dimensional Origami pins opposite Karen Paust’s blossoms crafted from the tiniest glass beads.
Every chapter holds a feast for the eyes whether the pins are floating on the page, carefully photographed against fabric backgrounds, adding character to specific clothes, or decorating the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Every time you pick up Brooches: Timeless Adornment, there is a new treat to behold. The book, with original photography provided by David Behl, offers a renewed understanding and appreciation for the very personal nature of a pin.

P.S. Gross’s own interest was peaked as a child by both of her grandmothers and their very personal tastes in jewelry, including pins. She has her own eclectic collection, a few of which open the Introduction to the book, on a jean jacket, along with a few pins that belong to Rizzoli’s Executive Director of Public Relations, Pam Sommers.