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THE REAL THING: In the early Sixties, when Lawrence Feldman started squirreling away directional pieces from his family’s Fior retail assortment each season, most people considered these treasures anything but. For in those days, “costume jewelry was called junk jewelry. Now people understand it’s an essential part of the applied arts in the fashion field,” the collector commented at the opening of “Luxury for Fashion.”
The exhibition at the Berlin Kunstbibliothek features almost 300 pieces of costume jewelry from 1950 to 1990 from the Fior Collection.
The Feldman family’s London-based jewelry business dates to 1892 with a first shop selling precious jewelry. In 1932, Feldman’s father, Sonny, decided to focus instead on costume jewelry and fashion accessories in a new store that thrived until the onset of World War II. He rebuilt the business after returning from active duty, opening an imposing Fior store in 1950 designed by Berlin émigré and Bauhaus-trained architect Werner Heumann.
Located in Burlington Gardens, it was an instant success, serving British and European royalty as well as film stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly. The only costume jeweler to be granted a royal warrant, Fior also catered to the area’s shop girls, offering little items at 10 pounds alongside elaborate creations from the genre’s leading international producers.
These include Feldman’s “Big Five” — Marcel Boucher, Ciner, Mazer Jomaz, Panetta and Polcini from New York — as well as Providence, R.I.’s Trifari and Coro, and England’s Attwood & Sawyer, Alpha and Mitchel Maer, who produced Christian Dior’s jewelry collections from 1954 to 1956. Henkel & Gross in Pforzheim, Germany, went on to produce Dior jewelry for more than 50 years. (The Fior collection includes 900 Dior jewelry sets, compared to the Dior archive’s 50.) The collection also stars French and Italian haute couture jewelry from Louis Rousselet, Coppola e Toppo and Luciana.
Feldman, who joined the firm in 1959, said some early Fifties pieces his father had set aside were the catalyst for forming this private collection of 3,000 pieces and sets. But the true decisive moment came in 1961 with an exhibition of modern jewelry in London.
“I was looking at sculptures in miniature, which is what I consider all jewelry to be, whether real jewelry or costume,” he said.
From 1962 on, he bought back pieces from Fior each season, guided by the zeitgeist, he said, and what he thought was important rather than choosing his personal favorites.
The manufacturers were all family-owned companies that produced in their own studios and production facilities “with a passion equivalent to a Bulgari. These manufacturers were artists,” he declared, noting that much of the jewelry in his collection and on display in Berlin could never be made again. The cabochons used are no longer produced, the product is too labor intensive — not to mention that most of the companies are no longer in business.
Neither is Fior. If video killed the radio star, then blame fashion’s minimalist trend for the demise of the costume jewelry greats.
“Minimalism was a catastrophe for costume jewelry, and real jewelry, too,” he observed. “It wasn’t only because it reduced the style of the jewelry being made, but with small studs, you have to sell thousands, and that was boring, too.
“But in our case, it was the rents,” which increased by 100 percent every five years in Fior’s four London doors. In 2001, the three Feldman brothers and three of their children active in the business closed shop. The family still owns the Fior name, as well as an unparalleled collection of iconic costume jewelry.
— Melissa Drier
“Luxury for Fashion: Fine Costume Jewelry from the Fior Collection London 1950-1990.”
Matthäikirchplatz, 10785 Berlin
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; through Oct. 6
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