Just Too Much

A visit with jewelry collector Barbara Berger.

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Curiously, it was a brush with another famous designer — Karl Lagerfeld — that encouraged Berger to display her collection.

Berger relates the story with relish. Spying Lagerfeld at the Café de Flore during one of her visits to Paris, Berger mustered the courage to introduce herself and tell him about her collection, which includes many landmark Chanel pieces. "I told myself, it’s now or never," she says. Smitten with her instantly, Lagerfeld invited Berger up to Chanel’s Rue Cambon headquarters, where he encouraged her to mount the Paris show.

"She’s exquisite," Lagerfeld says. "She is really charming and her collection is stunning."

Some 700 pieces of Berger’s jewelry will be on display, spanning the Twenties through the late Sixties. While costume jewelry in the U.S. is produced in large quantities, the items produced by French couture houses in those years were often one-of-a-kind pieces. And many of the designers at the time worked for several houses. For example, Roger Scemama made pieces for Dior, Lanvin, Nina Ricci and Jean Patou, among others. "It’s often difficult to attribute who made certain pieces," Berger says. Running concurrently is an exhibition of clothes with impressive ornamentation from the museum’s collection.

Berger, who has shown some of her jewelry in Mexico and received enormous crowds, expects the "Trop" show to be popular in France, too.

"When you go to a museum show, whether it’s Monet or Picasso, it’s wonderful to look at it, but you can never have it," Berger says. "With costume jewelry, you can. Just go to your grandmother’s jewelry box."
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