“Elegance, good taste and luxury never go out of style,” says Kenneth Jay Lane, the man who single-handedly made costume jewelry cool. Sara de Velasco reports on the king of vintage bling.

At a recent wedding party a couple of friends commented on my Kenneth Jay Lane elephant bracelet. The girls in question are super stylish highstreet and designer wearing fashionistas with not much interest in vintage, so I was only too happy to tell them about the American designer and his pieces.

Kenneth Jay Lane was born in the Thirties and studied advertising design at the Rhode Island School of Design in the Fifties. His interest shifted to fashion after a brief period at Vogue’s art department in New York. Lane started collaborating with designers such as Dior and Roger Vivier, designing shoes for their lines and creating fun, frivolous jewellery pieces in his spare time, which anticipated the carefree mood of the Sixties.

Having spotted the gap in the market for beautiful costume jewellery, he put together a collection, working nights and weekends as he was still working as shoe designer to make ends meet. The collection was picked up by Neiman Marcus in Dallas and Bonwit Teller in NYC. The huge success of his pieces and the increased demand convinced Lane to give up shoe design altogether.

The designer’s signature jewellery is anything but subtle and definitely not one to go unnoticed or for those who don’t like the attention. Rich colours, big stones and animal shapes are all constants in his creations. Lane was also a pioneer in the use of cheaper materials such as plastic and one of the first to provide a range of colour options for each design, something that would later become a common tactic in prêt-a-porter and fast fashion.

Controversially, he is also a precursor of today’s widespread practise of appropriating – or copying rather – designs from luxury houses.

Kenneth Jay Lane’s pieces have recently seen a revival in their popularity with mass consumers and celebrities alike. The designer befriended many of his famous clientele such as Elisabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor.
For those interested in vintage fashion, the designer is highly collectable with his Art Deco inspired pieces and the immediately recognisable animal bracelets that give that instant touch of late Sixties glamour.

When hunting for his pieces it is always a bit difficult to differentiate the real designs from good copies (as available in highstreet and online shops) so be aware. Check out Net-a-porter, QVC or Asos for current collections.

4 Responses

  1. Sue

    Do like his jewellery

    Most of his jewellery is signed and you can use the signature to see how old the piece is. The only jewellery not – is the one off pieces made for friends and his very early pieces.
    All the good designers are copied one way or the other. So if there is not signature – then be very wary, if a seller is saying its an unsigned piece of jewellery, it is probably not from KJL.

  2. Jane & Marilyn

    ”Elegance, good taste and luxury never go out of style,” says Kenneth Jay Lane and we couldn’t agree more. You only have to look at the incredible upswell of interest in vintage style of the 40s and 50s to see that people love those glamorous styles. We particularly love the grown up glamour of the 50s when women looked so sophisticated – whatever their size and age.