“Touch my pearls,” Grandma told me, “and I will be by your side.” I still summon her that way. Jewelry can be that talisman. It recalls husbands, lovers, mothers, fathers; marks weddings, birthdays, graduations, the birth of a child. It can even be the currency war refugees sell to survive.
For Victoria Lampley Berens it was a way to heal after cancer took her mother, Joanne Lampley Metcalf. It was also a way to keep Joanne’s name alive. Berens’ Godmother, Courtney Kennedy, dubbed Joanne Stacks, after the records she spun as a famous deejay. After she died, Victoria threw herself into her mother’s jewelry collection — and obsession — co-founding the STAX Advisory, a full service jewelry company with Laurel Pantin.
Now, Berens, who grew up between London and Palm Beach, had returned to one of those hometowns to curate an all-women’s jewelry show at Sotheby’s Palm Beach gallery, presented by STAX Advisory. It benefitted Mother Lovers, the charity her friends started to address the maternal health crisis in America.
Victoria had gathered many of Joanne’s favorite English women designers, showcasing Palm Beach style with statement pieces of bright gems. “My mom was a painter,” Berens told us. “Color spoke to her. And Palm Beach is the tropics: sensual, vibrant, floral wall paper, ocean motifs. It feels like you’re in a technicolor movie.”
The designers, many of whom created one-of-a-kind pieces for the show, included: Alice Cicolini, Daniela Villegas, Loren Nicole, Marlo Laz, Matturi, MING, Charlotte Chesnais, RENNA, Guita M, Nina Runsdorf, Lydia Courteille, Almasika, Anabela Chan, Sherman Field, Christina Alexiou, Carolina Bucci & Prounis.
We attended one of their private cocktail parties, filled with the kind of young, beautiful next gen ladies giving the town new vitality while perpetuating its style and good works.
Joanne’s style? “My mother looked like Claudia Cardinale, with long black hair,” Victoria remembers. “For day, she paired a motorcycle jacket and jeans with an Hermes bag, Cutler and Gross sunglasses and a great watch. She was obsessed with the color of its strap. At night she was a screen siren, with Ann Dexter Jones big gold chains, English heritage jewelry, and Manolos. Her signature piece was the Tiffany rose gold friendship bracelet.”
She never took it off. Nor does Victoria take off the matching bracelet — or the Elizabeth Gage ring — her mother gave her. Like Grandma’s pearls, they are tangible reminders of spiritual connection.
“Growing up in Brooklyn, my mother would look at the women with shopping bags that said ‘London/New York/Palm Beach/Beverly Hills,’” Victoria continued. “She dreamed of a life that would take her to all these places. Ultimately it did. That’s what this show is about: bringing women designers from all the places mom glorified, and I loved, to this Palm Beach homecoming moment.”
Joanne’s Brooklyn home was clearly a style incubator. Her father sold scarves in the Garment District. His two other daughters are fashion doyenne Fern Mallis, who created New York Fashion Week, and award-winning Harvard and I.M. Pei-trained architect Stephanie Mallis McKinnell. Victoria’s older sister, Brooke Lampley, is Sotheby’s Chairman, Worldwide Head of Art Sales, Global Fine Art. Her younger sister, Alexandra Metcalf, is an emerging international artist.
There was even a link that night to one of the most iconic women jewelry designers ever, Elsa Peretti. French actress Rebecca Dayan, who played her in the Halston mini-series, flew in from LA with her Mother Lovers co-founder Paula James-Martines (nee Goldstein — whose documentary on this health crisis, Born Free, will be released this year) and Board members Sara Ojjeh, of the Ojjeh Family Fund, Claire Olshan of DADA Daily, and Josephine Kalisman. Sotheby’s Sr VP David Rothchild lent support on site.
Jewelry also connects Rebecca to her mom. “For as long as I can remember,” Dayan told us, “my mother has worn seven gold hoop bracelets, one for every day of the week. Their jingle is still her sound. She gave two to my sister, two to me and made one into a different piece for my brother, to have her with us forever. When I wear them, that’s what I feel.”
She also has a piece to connect her to the designer. The Halston director gave her the Peretti heart box and beam lighter, one at the beginning and the other at the end of filming. “Like the women in this show, she was a jewelry designer who paved her own way,” Dayan remarked, “a role model for other women designers, artists and creators, to stay true to their art and never compromise.” Participating in Paula’s documentary inspired Rebecca to co-found Mother Lovers.
“The United States is the only developed country that has a rising maternal mortality rate,” Board member Ojjeh, a trained doula, told the room. “Our generation is 50% more likely to die from childbirth than our mother’s generation was … 60% of those birth deaths are preventable.”
It made me realize: three of the six women I knew who gave birth recently almost died. Beyonce, Serena Williams and Amy Schumer also almost didn’t make it through their deliveries. No wonder Ojjeh called the mothers in the room, “among the lucky ones that survived.”
A few days later, the celebration of classic Palm Beach style continued, via another woman artist. Susan Cushing threw an “Art Show in the Hedgerow” for her new work, in a “Secret Garden.” Cushing’s scenes of beautiful people luxuriating by water, manicured lawns and hedges channel Slim Aaron’s world of beauty in repose, with nods to Alex Katz and David Hockney.
“Wear ’70s Palm Beach Chic,” Susan had written in the invitation: “Lilly, Caftans, Color Encouraged.” Walking through a gate we were in a scene out of her paintings. Ladies in bright prints punctuated green areas of sub-tropical vegetation and tightly trimmed grass framed by hardscape elements. The 1920s Palm Beach sprawling home behind us and a blue pool completed the picture. Susan’s paintings circled the soiree.
As I entered, “Stormy” by the Classics IV was playing from Susan’s retro play list. “Bring back that sunny day,” we hummed along. Exactly what Susan was doing. A Florida cool front (read 65 degree morning) had made this one of the last perfect days before summer descends into heat and humidity and many here ascend North.
“No one’s life is without challenges,” Susan told us. “The shadows in my paintings reflect that. But, I think it’s important to surround ourselves with positive people and happy thoughts. I put that life philosophy into my work.”
“What Susan paints she expects me to bring to life,” helpful hubby Hunter Cushing likes to quip.
These grounds brought it to life. They were completely redone from the typical tropical, floral estate to embody this sea of calm by Fernando Wong and Tim Johnson of Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design. After the current owners bought it in 2010, they had this vision, inspired by a garden in Provence designed by former Hermes designer Nicole de Vésian.
They created their own Emerald City. As my sister-in-law Karen Fryd says, “Palm Beach is Disneyland for grown-ups.” It is, indeed, a great ride through a Magical Kingdom.
Photographs by Erica Dunhill & Karla Korn (Mother Lovers); Annie Watt (Cushing).