I'm excited to introduce a new series, "Designer Spotlight," to the Kimono Dragon blog today. Each month, we'll profile an influential jewelry designer and explore their style and their career. I love learning about the history of my favorite designers and the iconic looks they created, and I hope you find it inspiring too!
If I were to teach a class called Costume Jewelry 101, the first designer I'd cover would be the one and only Kenneth Jay Lane. He elevated costume jewelry to a level that was on par with the fine jewelry. When he broke onto the scene, no one was making high-end costume jewelry. Thanks to his impeccable taste and social connections, he made a lasting impact on the industry. His covetable pieces are still stocked at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and they've even graced the collections of world class museums such as the MET. His vintage pieces are my favorite by far, and they are highly collectable and hold their value. KJL pieces sold at Christie’s auctions have beat pre-auction estimates by thousands of dollars. So let’s talk about his life, his work, and his style.
Kenneth Jay Lane once gave an interview to the Smithsonian. The interviewer asked about his birth and he simply declared, “I was born,” in his grand style. He had a way of speaking that made everything grand. My favorite thing I have learned about him over the years was his tendency to make words sound more French to give them more substance. He was born in Detroit, or “Day-twah” as he would say it. He would also refer to his jewelry as fake and junk in a tongue and cheek manner, but pronounced it “faque” and “junque.”
Kenny Lane, as his friends called him, ran in the best social circles. My favorite story he ever told about his friends comes from his last interview to W Magazine. Lane was very close friends with Tory Burch, and even designed an art deco line of pieces for her brand. What I find most fascinating is that he helped to name her brand. Originally she wanted to keep some privacy and for years called her line Tory by TRB. Apparently one night at Burch’s apartment at the Pierre, he declared that it was silly to use the Tory by TRB name. He told Burch that everyone called her clothes Tory Burch, so she might as well change the name to that. She changed the company’s name the next day.
When I wear a piece of Kenneth Jay Lane costume jewelry, I know that I am in good company. Lane’s pieces have graced the necks and ears of some of the most influential women in the world. His pieces have been seen on First Ladies, including Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Barbara Bush. Jackie wore one of his brooches to JFK’s inauguration and Barbara wore his faux pearls so much that he once said that she would feel headless without them. Royals adored his belts and earrings. Once at a dinner party, Wallace Simpson’s declaration of love for his pieces finally got Lane’s aunt to stop bullying his mother. Celebrities coveted his pieces, like Audrey Hepburn and Liz Taylor. Hepburn chose a pair of KJL earrings, over designers like Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier to wear for her 1987 Blackglama ad. His influence isn’t confined to the past either. Lady Gaga has been seen wearing a multitude of his pieces and I have even spotted them on my favorite shows Younger, and on Sex and the City. It is easy to see why there has always been a demand for his collection.
Original movie poster featuring Audrey Hepburn in a KJL necklace
Photo: Christies Auction House
Lane believed that style isn't about being chic, glamorous, or expensive. It's about creating a splash and standing out from the crowd. He once spoke about Liz Taylor going to a yacht party and how she toed the line of acceptable dress. She showed up in white lace from her dress to her shoes, even her bag had lace. While all the other women wore their basic navy pants and white tops, Liz was the one who caught the eye of every person on that boat. I love the idea of creating a statement with your outfit and accessories. Remember it’s not about following trends but defining your personal style. I try to emulate this every day. I want to make an entrance and stand out whether I am running to the post office or going to meet friends for drinks. Lane once remarked that earrings are a necessity for any woman going out, and I couldn’t agree more. I feel naked without a good pair of earrings.
Lane’s pieces are known for their imaginative motifs (snakes, elephants, fish, flowers) and unexpected color combinations, like coral with amethyst or amber and turquoise. When sourcing pieces for my shop or building my personal collection, it never fails that the pieces I love most are always Kenneth Jay Lane.
Every jewelry collector should have at least one piece of Kenneth Jay Lane vintage costume jewelry. His “faque” pieces pair well with real jewelry and help to enhance your personal style. The best part for me is that the price points can be accessible for everyone. I like to keep my shop stocked with KJL pieces at all price points to ensure everyone can enjoy his faux masterpieces. Here are a few of my favorites:
Always remember as Lane said, “Personal accessorizing depends on a woman’s personality, there are no rules.” So make a statement and stand out. Until next time, STAY GORG!
If you want to learn more about Kenneth Jay Lane, check out: