Dubbed the "New Queen of Wall Street" by Fortune Magazine, Alexandra Lebenthal is the CEO of Lebenthal & Co, a third generation investment firm by day and one of New York Society's most well dressed women at night. Every time I have ever seen Alexandra at the many charity events we both attend she is always wearing the most beautiful and interesting accessories to complement her lovely and colorful designer gowns. Earlier this year, at the Museum of the City of New York winter ball, I admired the stunning vintage Kenneth Jay Lane earrings Alex was wearing and asked if I could photograph them for this blog. That led to a very gracious invitation to visit her apartment and photograph her entire collection of vintage costume jewelry. For me that's more exciting than an invitation to the White House! Not only do I love jewelry, but I also love looking in people's closets (by invitation only of course), because people express their personalities through their wardrobe choices. I also happen to be obsessed with organizing and I love to see how others arrange their closets. I'm happy to report that Alex has special drawers to organize and protect her collection.
Alexandra wearing vintage Kenneth Jay Lane earrings
Alexandra's collection, including the earrings pictured above, was started with pieces that her mother bought as a young woman in the 1960's and later passed on to Alex. Both Alex and her mom before her, shared a love for large earrings and much of Alexandra's collection is comprised of sparkly, ornate, dangling showstopper earrings that can elevate a nice outfit into a knockout look.
Alexandra modeling a pair of vintage Larry Vrba earrings
My afternoon in Alex's closet was amazing. Her collection of vintage costume jewelry includes some of the finest pieces I have ever seen. What I love about her collection is that it sports a variety of styles, colors and designers and there are smaller collections by specific iconic designers that comprise the bulk of the overall collection. I took almost fifty photos while I was there and I've edited that down to about thirty to post. We pulled items out by designer and I researched and have shared below a little background on the major ones for those readers who are interested in learning about the history of vintage jewelry as well as just appreciating its beauty.
Alex's favorite costume jewelry designer is Larry Vrba. Vrba got his start designing for the legendary Miriam Haskell (see below). For the past thirty years Vrba has been designing his own contemporary Lawrence Vrba collection comprised of large, colorful, theatrical pieces. After seeing Alex's collection I am now a Vrba fan myself and have purchased a pair of his earrings at a vintage shop.
A selection of vintage Larry Vrba earrings and a Vrba necklace
Vibrant yellow vintage Vrba earrings
These pastel vintage Vrba earrings have a Mogul jewel look
Art Deco style vintage Larry Vrba pendant necklace
Alexandra has a variety of vintage Kenneth Jay Lane pieces as well, including earrings, pins, bracelets and even a rare belt. Internationally renowned Kenneth Jay Lane may be best known nowadays for his phenomenally successful mass sales on QVC, but KJL started out as a shoe designer who made jewelry in his spare time and eventually developed that hobby into a business. His costume jewelry has been worn by celebrities and first ladies alike and his vintage pieces are highly collectible.
Alex's vintage KJL collection
Some of the KJL earring collection
Beautiful green vintage KJL earrings look like cabochon emeralds
KJL simulates stones beautifully, an example being these
vintage coral costume earrings
These pretty vintage Kenneth Jay Lane earrings have an Indian maharani style
One of several rare pieces in Alex's collection,
this KJL vintage belt is gorgeous
Some of my favorite pieces are part of Alexandra's vintage Chanel collection. Coco Chanel started designing costume jewelry during the Art Deco period to complement what was then the very modern women's wear that she introduced to the world. In the 1930's Chanel employed the now famous Verdura as the head designer of her costume jewelry department . Coco Chanel favored green and red stones in her creations and she exclusively used Maison Gripoix in Paris as her supplier because of their poured glass stones that have a translucent quality. In reference to costume jewelry Coco Chanel once remarked "Costume jewelry is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful." Her pieces certainly do that and they remain amongst the most sought after jewelry with collectors and fashionistas alike.
Alex's vintage Chanel treasures
A beautiful and unusual piece, this Chanel necklace is
indicative of Coco's penchant for red and green stones
Gorgeous vintage pin also with Chanel's signature red and green stones
Hands down my favorite piece of Alexandra's entire collection is this Chanel necklace below. It is an incredible work of wearable art and very rare and valuable. I have seen many Chanel necklaces, but none quite this stunning. Chanel was known to incorporate foreign cultural influences into her costume jewelry and I think this medallion has an Aztec mandala look to it.
A simply incredible and rare vintage Chanel medallion necklace
A closer look at the breathtaking medallion.
Alex's penchant for earrings is evident in her colorful Thelma Deutsch collection. Deutsch was known for bright colorful brooches and elaborate earrings. Many of her pieces were made from vintage molds from other well known costume jewelry designers which she would re-work and make her own by changing key elements, like the color of the stones.
Alex's multi-colored Thelma Deutch vintage earrings
A sparkly pair of vintage Deutch earrings with opalescent stones
No vintage costume jewelry collection would be complete without at least one piece from the legendary Miriam Haskell. Haskell started out in the 1920's and was a trailblazer in the early days of costume jewelry and was one of very few woman, along with Coco Chanel, who were in the business. In fact, Haskell also sold Chanel's jewelry in one of her own boutiques. Haskell was very popular in Hollywood with movie stars and performers. Joan Crawford was rumored to have had a set of almost all of Haskell's pieces made from the 1920's to the 1960's, and the one and only Zeigfeld outfitted his Follies with Haskell designs.
Alex's Miriam Haskell gold bead necklace
Haskell vintage robin's egg blue pendant from the Lebenthal collection
A closer look at the pendant
This pearl bracelet is a very good example of a vintage Haskell piece
In addition to the mini collections of important vintage designers above, Alexandra has individual pieces from very well known and collectible costume jewelers as part of her overall collection. She also has some unsigned pieces that are interesting and stylish, too.
Alex had these earring made from links of a broken Trifari bracelet. Beautiful, and an ingenious solution to saving a vintage piece!
Fun and colorful vintage Napier bracelet
Pretty vintage floral brooch by Coro
Patriotic red, white & blue unsigned fur clip
An amazing statement piece...an exact copy of this contemporary costume bracelet designed by Rodrigo Otazu, was featured in the movie Sex & the City 2
And, finally, two vintage rings that are likely real semi-precious stones and not costume, round out the Alexandra Lebenthal collection.
This vintage ring was a gift to Alex's mother from an
Italian princepessa she knew in Twin Falls, Idaho
Brazilian quartz ring from H. Stern
I want to thank Alexandra Lebenthal for opening her closet and allowing me to share her beautiful collection with all of my blog readers. It was truly a very rare opportunity to see some phenomenal and important vintage pieces from a wonderful private collection. I'm inspired to continue collecting and researching and I hope my readers have enjoyed this glimpse into vintage costume jewelry history.