“I’m a Myth”
My career has been fascinating… to even me. I have not only met, but dined with some of the most famous designers in the nation, dare I say “world?” Very few bridal salon owners would ever get the access to these people, and as a result, I have an intense respect for those that have set the bar for all those to follow behind them.
It will be fun to share with you another one of those “backstage passes” into this world of headlines and hemlines.
The word “vintage” is so very over-used in the bridal industry, followed only by “Old Hollywood.” However, truly I was in the presence of both (but the real meaning of both!) when I stepped back into the showroom of the renowned Kenneth Jay Lane during my recent trip to New York.
For reasons I can’t recall, I was lucky enough to carry his famous costume jewelry in my earliest stores. It was also the hottest line in Saks Fifth Avenue as well. BUT…sort of like the best fried chicken is served in a garage turned café, the source for these treasures was hardly posh or luxe, and yet buyers came in droves.
The showroom was almost a dive. His saleslady, Blanche, was the quintessential New York Jewish matron that never put an ounce of energy into showing me the line in their little tucked away address. She would drop the trays on the counter with a clatter and ask “Is there anything in there you wanna buy?” If the answer was “No, I like some other pieces better,” she said nothing and just slammed the tray back into the drawer and dropped another one back on the counter. This would go on for over an hour sometimes. If I delayed too long, she would throw two or three trays at a time down.
She worked the showroom alone, often just letting the phone ring and ring.
She wrote up the tickets in long hand and shipped the goods in boxes with wadded up newspaper to me. Again, for reasons, I can’t recall, I stopped going back and other jewelry companies got my business. But in the back of my mind…I knew the good stuff was still in that dowdy showroom. I decided to go find it again. I flew in a day early for bridal market, simply to seek out the best again for my brides.
Though the showroom has expanded, the ambiance was similar. The “Thank you for not smoking” signs were on the door and yet it reeked like an ash tray…because…Mr. Lane himself (a chain smoker for years) was there!
I had not seen him in at least 20 years and yet when I walked in, he said, “I know you. Kansas City?” I nearly fell over. There he sat at 84, with cigarette smoke choking up the room, not caring in the least at his political incorrectness. He smoked, chatted, made notes and in general held court. He was on the phone with his assistant making plans for an appearance in London, next month. His staff fluttered around to accommodate us and the showing began. I allowed my assistant buyers to make most of the choices so I could spend some stolen minutes visiting. Just in conversation he mentioned his friendships with Princess Margaret (whose husband, Lord Snowdon, photographed him for the back cover of his book “Faking It”) and his plan to give Nancy Reagan a call after dinner. Can you imagine?!
When I introduced my team to Mr. Lane as “A legend,” he scoffed and said “Legend?! I’m a myth.”
We recalled the Blanche era and he told me she worked for him until she died at 93!
In the showroom were over 3,600 pieces, so “Kid in a candy shop” would be an understatement for me. In his 60 years of creating the fabulous fakes, he has done the pearls worn so famously by Jacqueline Kennedy and Barbara Bush. He had access to all of Elizabeth Taylor’s treasures and with exact measurements has reproduced them exactly. Even in CZ, her 33 carat diamond ring from Richard Burton makes you catch your breath. Additionally, he has all the pieces Harry Winston, Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels has done for the world’s most famous women.
In an industry flooded with the wanna be’s or the self proclaimed experts, it was like a breath of fresh air (NOT literally in this case however!) to be in the company of the Real Deal. For my staff, it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They will soak up the book, “Faking It” with new enthusiasm now that they have met the author. I asked him to sign one for me and I’ll have it at the store for you to peruse as well.
The cool thing about the company is that they are so hip on social media and relevant in their styling. I don’t know how they keep up with all the PR and editorial coverage and still work all the accounts. Though only 16 years from 100, Mr. Lane was totally engaged in every facet of his company. He showed me his personal favorite new piece (of course I bought it) and reminded me that none of his CZ jewelry ever used glue. Set in prongs like genuine stones, this jewelry can be worn for years…and generally is!
We will showcase these pieces as they come in and start to light up the jewelry cases. Come see them soon. The caliber of the jewelry is off the chart and I am so delighted that I decided to renew that relationship both professionally and personally. We will be the only place in Kansas City to buy these remarkable (and affordable) pieces. My loyalty to “the legend/myth” will be in my heart (and in our store) until, like Blanche, I’m 93!