Buying costume jewelry has been a popular way for people to own their own beautiful piece of fashion jewelry since its debut in the XVIII century. Often resembling fine, high end pieces worn by the famous and powerful, the use of inexpensive glass, semi-precious stones and metals led to pieces being produced at a more affordable price. One of the world’s foremost fashion jewelers and master of costume jewelry was the very gifted and innovative Kenneth Jay Lane.
From humble beginnings in Detroit, the son of an automotive parts supplier, Lane graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1954 and moved to New York to become a member of the Vogue art department.
In the late 50’s he was hired by the Christian Dior branch in New York and worked in the footwear design industry. Whilst he was training under French fashion designer Roger Vivier, designing and producing ‘bejeweled’ footwear, he was helped to become acquainted with powerful figures in the jewelry and fashion world of the time.
Fine Jewelry-Like Looking Pieces at a Fraction of The Cost
He came across jewelry quite by accident. Hired to design bejeweled shoes for a Scaasi show, some with rhinestone toes and heels, he suggested that he also create matching earrings and bracelets, Mr. Scaasi agreed. Lane then bought plastic bangles from a cheap ‘one dime’ store and had the workers in the shoe factory cover them with rhinestones. His experience in shoe design led him to be inspired to play around with ideas for making jewelry. It led to his distinctive bracelet coverings using shoe skins such as cobra, lizard and alligator. He was a master of combining old craft with modern materials and technology.
He launched his own costume brand and jewelry collection in 1963 and not long after his company was bought by fashion entrepreneur Hattie Carnegie. Less than a year later he moved into his own studio apartment on East 38th Street in Manhattan. He had an amazing ability to breathe life into more modern materials such as glass, resin and plated metals.
From here, his hard work and talent combined with good luck brought both financial success and recognition to the designer, selling to private customers. Within a few years, he was selling to most of the Fifth Avenue stores. Lane’s name was frequently seen in fashion magazines and society columns. He became the recipient of many awards such as the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award, Tobé Coburn award, the Harper's Bazaar International award and Swarovski award. Famously, his pieces were bought by socialites, celebrities and royals such as the Duchess of Windsor and this brought him unexpected attention. His popularity across the ocean led to his London and Paris boutiques opening.
His ‘Fabulous Fakes’, replicas of high end jewelry, were sought after by a list of clients such as Nancy Reagan, Jacqueline Kennedy, Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Greta Garbo in the past and more recently pop celebrities such as Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Nicole Richie.
Many of his customers chose to buy replicas, crafted using less expensive materials such as semi-precious metals, glass, resin, faux pearls and gems, keeping their original pieces in safes. The plated metals prevented tarnishing or dullness making Kenneth Jay Lane’s vintage costume jewelry still very popular today after nearly 60 years.