Kenny Lane

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We got the impression that famed jewelry designer Kenny Lane didn’t particularly enjoy being interviewed by us—but then, when we said we were done, he seemed to want to go on, so we’re not sure. He was wittily defensive for the most part, with only occasional glimpses of the warmth and charm for which he is known. He is obviously a very good businessman and his home has style with a capital ‘S’. His drawing room is just fantastic, artfully crammed with intriguing pieces, lots of books and inviting sofas. We believe him when he says he likes to spend a lot of time alone, despite his sociable alter ego. Is it possible that he is shy? Or was he just rather bored? We don’t suppose we’ll ever quite know.

So you said that you were busy this week. When you’re busy, what are you busy doing?

What am I busy doing? I’m busy working, I’m busy having lunch with friends, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I work. I run a business.

There’s a lot of humor in your jewelry, not something that one always associates with jewelry.

Well my jewelry isn’t a status symbol because I design for the world! I mean I’ve done QVC for 16 years.

What’s that like? Do you enjoy it?

I don’t mind. It’s no worse than talking to you.

The oversized banquette is partially covered with a pair of antique Suzani textiles from Turkey that are waiting to be transformed into pillows.
A favorite painting stands in the corner of the drawing room next to a pair of Aboriginal statues from India.
An extraordinary Regency specimen table was purchased at auction.
Kenny is particularly fond of this small painting of a pig by friend, Robin Hambro, tucked into a bookcase shelf.

What does that mean? This isn’t like television. We talk back.

Well on QVC I have a host or hostess so we do a little chatting.

It’s kind of soothing watching QVC.

I’m glad you’re soothed.

I don’t do anything on QVC that I don’t like. It reaches a huge part of the population … I wouldn’t be on if I didn’t sell $400,000 or $500,000 an hour at least.

That figure is mind-boggling.

Maybe your mind, not mine.

A view of the drawing room.
A portrait of Kenny by Mati Klarwein sits atop an 18th century Boule desk from Christie’s. The sculptures are by New Orleans artist William Ludwig.
Reflections of the drawing room from a wall mirror inset between the oversized front windows.
More views of the oversized drawing room, which, not unlike Kenny, has layers and layers of style.

This is an extraordinary room. What do you think of this spare, linear style you see everywhere?

I think it’s a little bit boring. I think they like sitting in dentist’s offices or airline lounges because it all looks like an airline lounge … a lot of people have no curiosity …

Do you think people are less curious now than they were, say, 50 years ago?

No, I think more people try to have, and it can be rather boring, ‘good taste’.

All of this [in the room] is evidence of a very lived life …

I’ve had a lived life … a lived-in life! This body has been lived in.

Do you have a sense that people don’t want to show that anymore? Could you shed some light on that?

[just sort of groans and shrugs]

… Okay. Well, another thing I wanted to ask you was that whenever there are archeological finds of one kind or another, there is always jewelry.

Yup, yup.

It’s like the impulse for adornment is as old as we are. I wonder why is that?

I’m not a psychiatrist.

Well have a go.

Well men always like to please women. Women like to please men too—some women. Some are very good at it. A caveman took a shell and maybe it had a hole in it or maybe he put a hole in it and he put it on a piece of a tail of a donkey or a dinosaur or something and gave it to the cavewoman. She put it around her neck—the first jewel.

But jewelry in the past has more often been used to raise the status of men.

Of course. Particularly in India. I mean in India the maharajahs had more jewelry than their wives.

Betty, a papier maché doll from Mexico, sits atop a stack of books, blocking a collage of Kenny.
Sculptures from Africa stand guard over the array of antiques and artwork on display in the drawing room.
A French tapestry-covered Bergère chair sits next to Betty the doll.
Italian Empire stools covered in the reverse side of a brocade fabric. The rug is a Turkish Kilim.
Murano glass coral surrounds a bronze sculpture of Hermaphrodite. The gilt wood mirror is George III.
Bits and pieces of French silk cover a round table in the corner of the drawing room.
Looking over a French specimen table towards busts of Mars and Athena standing on the original marble mantelpiece.

Do you think it’s a pity that men in our society don’t bejewel themselves in that way?

Well I don’t think it goes very well with the clothes men wear.

What do you think of bling? That’s where men wear jewelry, hip hop culture.

I don’t think of it very often. It perhaps suits the personalities of the hip hop stars.

What did your house look like when you were growing up?

What did it look like. My mother liked flowered chintz. [chuckles]

Were you happy?

Was I happy? I was happy in my house. Yup. I came to New York when I was 15 with my mother. We stayed at the Waldorf and went to the theater every day, twice on a Wednesday and had four meals a day, that’s including breakfast and supper after the theater and dinner before the theater at all good restaurants.

Was she glamorous, your mother?

She was the first woman marshal of the United States.

Did she live to see your success?

Yup. In my book ‘Faking It’, which you might have seen, I dedicated it to her and I said that when I told my mother I was going to be making jewelry she said, ‘Kenneth, please don’t tell anyone.’

She was proud of you though?

Eventually. I mean when I got a Rolls Royce, a huge 1954 Rolls in 1959 she thought it was appalling that I had gotten a Rolls …  and it had license plates that were KJL, before you could easily do that. It came through Senator Javits’ office thank you. And after she was driven around New York in it and people would stare and all that, she rather liked it. When I sold it … she was furious that I’d sold ‘our car’.

Another view of the drawing room.
A bit of Orientalia from Kenny’s large collection of fine art.
In front of the bookcases a pair of Italian Empire, Sphinx chairs flank an early 20th century Swedish table.

Just a peek at a corner filled with part of Kenny’s large collection of Orientalia. [He plans to bequeath much of his collection to the Met ‘when he changes zipcodes’]

A cigarette or two a day to keep the stress away.
A marble coffee table top, custom made in India rests on a Jansen base. A silver Samovar was purchased on one of many trips to Turkey.

So are you a show-off?


But you had those KJL number plates.

I wanted to be able to find my car.

Have you always lived alone?

Well I was married for a moment.

Do you get lonely?


How much time do you like to spend alone?

As much as possible.

A 19th century marble sculpture by Danish artist, Thorvaldson, stands in the corner of the dining area. In the window is a bronze sculpture of Narcissus from France.
The wall behind the staircase is lined with colorful prints and vibrant oil paintings.
A faux burl wood staircase leads to the library and bedroom wing of the apartment. A dining area with Regency and William IV table and chairs was carved out of the main foyer.
Looking through the foyer into the main drawing room.

Were you nervous when you went with your first few pieces to a store to try to get them sold?

No. Why be nervous?

Because we fear rejection.

I don’t fear rejection. I’d love to be rejected! It’s never happened. [we laugh]

I don’t believe you.

Well you’re sitting here and talking to me and calling me a liar!

Everyone suffers in some way! Disappointment, rejection …

Toothache bothers me. I don’t expect anything so anything wonderful that happens is a lovely surprise.

So you’re really an optimist.

I’m a pragmatist.

Is your favorite animal a tiger? [There are paintings of tigers all around the room]

Not as a pet. My favorite animal as a pet is a unicorn.

Ah. And where is your unicorn?

My unicorn is very shy.

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