Thursday, March 13, 2008

Catwalk Couture

A grouping of four pair of classic Chanel earrings; ranging from $500.00-$1,300.00.
By Ki Hackney

When he was 16 years old, John Paul Krawiec bought his first piece of vintage designer costume jewelry at a flea market near home in Massachusetts for $20.00. “It was a wide, gold chain bracelet from Chanel. I sold it online and doubled my money,” he says, admitting that he was hooked from then on.

“I was fascinated by the aesthetic of this oversized, runway jewelry and instantly began educating myself about costume jewelry and the designs that major fashion designers produced to accessorize their seasonal shows and photo shoots. The jewelry had to be larger-than-life so it could be seen from the back rows at their shows.” John kept collecting and re-selling his finds at antique shows.

Chanel gold double-chain link cuff bracelet, from 1981; $1,600.00.
Gold cuff with graphic beading detail from Christian Lacroix; $850.00.
Two years ago, when he was 23 years old, John met New Yorker Sandi Berman at an antique show in Brimfield, Mass. At first, Sandi was a customer, but it didn’t take long for the two of them to go into business together. Sandi had spent years focusing on Art Deco furnishings in her store, Skyscraper, at 1040 Lexington Avenue in New York.

At first, the partners displayed this dramatic jewelry in the window of Sandi’s store, which is where I first saw it. Bingo. I had to know about the dramatic pieces I saw each day on my morning walks. In a few months time, the jewelry was no longer in the window. That’s because, in May 2007, John and Sandi were busy moving into the kind of teensy store that only a New Yorker could love.

Called Catwalk Couture, the shop, between 70th and 71st Streets on the east side of Lexington (just past Archivia bookstore, if you’re heading down Lex) barely measures 130 square feet, but, as John says, “it’s just enough room for what we’re doing.”

What do they have in the 7,000-piece collection of this bold costume jewelry from the 1960s through the 1980s? Everything from a pair of gold-tone hoop earrings for $125.00 to a Chanel glass bracelet for up to $9,000.00. They do not keep an archive. If a piece is in the store, they will sell it.

“Sandi sold an Italian sterling silver lariat from the 70s right off her neck, the other day,” says John. While most pieces are signed, some are not. Their unbreakable criteria: each piece must be flawless or we won’t buy it. And each piece must be strong. We pass up the weak ones. But, everything displayed in the store has a little name tag for easy identification.

Do John and Sandi have favorites? Of course. A mutual favorite gem was a 1982 Gianni Versace necklace of coral branches with gold shells that John sold last year. John’s favorite designers are Chanel, Yves St. Laurent, and Christian Lacroix.

Catwalk Couture
993 Lexington Avenue (between 70th/71st Streets)
“My mother loves Chanel,” he adds, “and so every once in a while I give her an interesting chain or necklace.” Sandi is less reluctant to pick a favorite, but her enthusiasm for this style of vintage costume bijoux is boundless.

“For 30 years I was buying Miriam Haskel, Monet and Trifari pieces, some for my store, but now, while I might buy an occasional piece, I want this type. It is like jewelry and art combined. One of the surprises for Sandi was discovering Anne Klein jewels from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. She had no idea it existed until recently. “We have had amazing pieces!” she enthuses.

“You know, “Sandi continues, “Nobody paid any attention to this oversized jewelry when it was being shown. Now, everyone wants to wear it, because over-sized no longer looks so big to us.” While Catwalk customers, including one “looker” from the Museum of Art & Design and another who just brought in five gowns to bejewel for a wedding in the islands, are being drawn into the store by the delicious pieces in the windows. “Our clientele really starts around age 29 or 30 and goes up to 80, so it’s an interesting mix of people,” says John.

What’s next? John and Sandi are zeroing in on another store, and four months ago, they began the process of designing and producing their own jewelry collection. Whether they combine their own over-the-top designs with Catwalk or have two separate stores is still up in the air.
Chanel oversized drop hoop earrings with pearls and colored stones are a one-of-a-kind runway pair; $2,300.00. Fish skeleton necklace of gold electroplate with glass eyes from Anne Klein Couture; $725.00.
Malachite, turquoise and onyx cuff bracelet by Iradj Moini; $2,600.00. Acrylic, brass and rhinestone arm wrap from the early 1980s by Wendy Gell; $1,200.00.
Resin, and pearl horseshoe neckace by Kunio Matsumoto for Trifari; $450.00 Yves St. Laurent floral pendulum brooch, circa 1990; $1,700.00.
Christian Lacroix bracelet of gold electroplated coral branches centered by a coral Lucite ball; $650.00.
A signature Chanel rope necklace of gold, pearls and poured glass beads; $3200.00. An early 80s, limited edition necklace from Yves St. Laurent with round, oval and octagonal charms; $850.00.
Clockwise from above: Isabel Canovas poured glass cluster drop earrings, $850.00; Chanel Lucite bangle with poured glass “stones,” $3,800.00; Yves St. Laurent textured gold Byzantine cross earrings from the early 1980s, $750.00.
Catwalk Couture
993 Lexington Avenue (between 70th/71st Streets)