Saturday, August 9, 2014

Kenneth Jay Lane - The Fabulous Faker

Kenneth Jay Lane - The Fabulous Faker 

By Pamela Lappin, owner of MadgesHatbox & Madge @Home

It’s not often you find a designer hawking his jewelry on QVC while at the same time his pieces are in the jewelry department at Neiman Marcus, but then there has never been a designer quite like Kenneth Jay Lane (KJL). Famous (or infamous) for copying the styles of both fine and costume jewelry makers from Bulgari to Hattie Carnegie, his tony clients could afford the real thing, but often preferred to wear KJL’s fabulous fakes. He even titled his autobiography “Faking It”.   
Autobiography originally published in 1998

Born in 1930 in Detroit, KJL studied architecture at the University of Michigan then attended Rhode Island School of Design where he graduated in 1954.  He moved to New York City shortly after graduation and quickly got a job as a layout assistant in Vogue’s art department.  Within a year he was hired by Delman Shoes, one of the oldest designer footwear brands in the United States, as an assistant designer. Within a year he was on the move again, over to Christian Dior, also manufactured by Delman, to work as an assistant to Roger Vivier.  As his reputation grew KJL also created shoe designs for Bill Blass, Norman Norell and Arnold Scaasi; all the while creating jewelry on the side. In fact it was Scaasi who prompted KJL to switch to jewelry design full time when he requested earrings to match the buttons on a pair of shoes.

After a very short stint with Hattie Carnegie, KJL started his own company in 1963 and his jewelry was an immediate hit.  Of course having early clients such as Jacqueline Kennedy and Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, certainly helped launch his name in the jewelry biz.  

His first cover for Vogue in May 1965 featured Veruschka in a pair of stunning oversized
Veruschka in the earrings that changed the world
earrings made of lightweight plastic, a real innovation at the time.   The photo set off a large earrings craze that epitomized late 1960s and early 70s 

Soon KJL was providing custom accessories for most of the smart set of that era, including CZ Guest, Brook Astor, Babe Paley and of course the aforementioned Kennedy and the Duchess.  In fact, his most iconic piece is the three-strand faux pearl necklace custom-made for Jackie Kennedy.  The set sold at Sotheby’s after her death for $215,000 and a copy was made for Barbara Bush to wear to her husband’s presidential inauguration in 1989.

Jackie, John-John and those pearls

KJL was one of the first fashion designers to offer high quality costume jewelry in several price points, a move other designers soon followed.  Amazingly, his lower priced lines for Avon and QVC never tainted the popularity of his higher quality pieces.  

KJL jewelry cannot be easily categorized since he worked in every style imaginable from classic pearls to ethic tribal pieces, figurals and over-the-top rococo and baroque designs.  
Treasures of the Duchess Tassel Necklace 
from MadgesHatbox
He even introduced a 'Treasures of the Duchess' collection based on pieces he originally created for the Duchess of Windsor.

KJL Classic Three-strand Pearls from SoCalJewelBox

Vintage jewelry collectors can always find a KJL piece to fit their style whether they prefer demure or over-the–top outrageous.  Every piece is marked and pieces are fairly easy to date based upon that mark.    So if you see a piece of jewelry that is marketed as unsigned KJL, beware.  It’s not genuine.

  Here’s a quick primer on marks: 

1960's - K.J.L. with dots or KENNETH © LANE, with a big ©
1970's - KJL without dots or KENNETH © LANE, with very small ©
1980's - K.J.L.© with dots, K.J.L.® with dots or KENNETH©LANE, ©
1990s – today KENNETH©LANE with © on the same line as LANE. 
2000 -  today ©KJL Thailand or ©KJL China
QVC - 1991 – 2000 - ©KJL no dots 
Avon –
1980's - 2004 signed K.J.L. for Avon 
2001 – to now KJL no dots

You can find this and more information on KJL marks in this excellent guide.

Fabulous KJL frog figural brooch from Vintage Vogue Treasure

Lucite & gold tone metal Asian Warrior Necklace from Madges Hatbox

 Panther Collection Black Jet Torsade Necklace and Door Knocker Earrings from Vintage Meet Modern

Now in his 80s Kenneth Jay Lane is still designing beautiful jewelry as well as reissuing some of his classic pieces.  He has received a Coty Award, a Neiman Marcus Fashion award and was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame. 

Every well-dressed woman should have at least one piece of KJL in her collection.  I know I do.

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