A glass slipper might be the best-remembered part of Cinderella’s princess transformation, but a tiara is a much more practical, and, as these photographs attest,Vogue-friendly option to add a touch of fairy-tale magic to an ensemble.
“Until the war, luxury was restricted to the ruling class,” Cartier’s Alain Dominique Perrin once explained to Vogue, who in 1962 commissioned Bert Stern to snap smiling screen queen Claudia Cardinale, (middle) “the young Italian actress melting the ice” provided by Van Cleef & Arpels.
Notwithstanding Courtney Love’s passing fascination with smeared lipstick and paste toppers, tiaras—essentially small crowns that are primarily associated with royalty, like Queen Rania of Jordan, who borrowed her sister-in-law’s shining topper for this (top right) 2001 portrait by Mario Testino, and well-heeled members of society, such as Mrs. Sacheverell Sitwell, (top left), described by Vogue as “the decorative wife of the brilliant English writer.”
“What babies really cry for is a mother who looks like a million bucks,” (in this case in Harry Winston diamonds topping a Norman Norell empire number) declared Vogue,tongue-in-cheek, in “What to Spend a Fortune On,” a 1962 story featuring an imaginary protagonist with deep pockets and the belief that “there is nothing very special about saving money; all it takes is money. Spending it is trickier.”
First comes love, then comes marriage . . . and there’s likely to be a diamond somewhere between the two. “For most American girls . . . the engagement ring is a custom that never stales in spite of feminism and sexual politics,” observed Dodie Kazanjian, in “New Rules of Engagement,” from the March 2004 issue, in which she clocked the desire for innovatively designed engagement rings. The diamond-at-proposal practice really galvanized, however, in postwar America, when in 1947, De Beers launched its “A Diamond Is Forever” campaign, with one of the most effective and enduring slogans ever created. Wondering, as Amy Ephron did in Vogue, “who came up with the theory that an engagement ring should equal 15 percent of your fiancé’s annual salary?” Chalk that up to De Beers too. But it’s Harry Winston who gets the credit for the ten-carat oval-cut ring the bride wears here.
“I always think of my jewelry as art, not craft,” Tom Binns, the expat Northern Irishman designer who created the sparkling diamond-like chandelier earrings above right, told Plum Sykes in 2008 when she interviewed him for “A Brilliant Move,” a story in which she argues that jewelry—authentic or costume—is a good investment in periods of escalating clothes prices. Chanel was the first to popularize the mix of fine and “junk” jewelry; in 1999 the house of Dior, then led by John Galliano, who believed that “diamonds should be worn irreverently,” gave the high/low idea its own spin, pairing haute couture with a ransom’s-worth of exotic, oversize bijouterie (above left).
“Nothing exceeds like excess,” noted New York Times writer John Schwartz in a 2002 article about conspicuous consumption. It’s a phrase well-applied to this sparkling million-dollar stiletto sandal—a limousine shoe if there ever was one—made by Jimmy Choo with diamonds and having a total weight of 30K—published in Voguein 1999, the same year, appropriately, that “Bling Bling,” a song by B.G. and members of the Cash Money Players, charted, taking the hip-hop term mainstream. One woman’s bling, though, might be another’s bluff. “It’s the height of understatement . . . wearing your diamonds on your feet, where no one can see them,” was the reaction of one “impeccable blonde socialite” interviewed about the shoe.
In 1963 Vogue suggested The Champagne Diet: “You diet for seven days, but with every meal during those seven days, breakfast included, goes a glass of champagne.” Irving Penn was called in to illustrate this ritzy regime, a beautiful example of his brilliant still lifes. The result: fruits and vegetables . . . a trio of Harry Winston pear-shaped diamonds with a combined total weight of 177.51 carats. “Carats is the nourishing measure we have in mind here,” the article explained.
Moulin Rouge!, Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 award-winning musical film, played on the allure of glittering diamonds and decadent fin-de-siècle Parisian demimondaines, foremost of which was Satine, played by Nicole Kidman, who was outfitted in a necklace of the same name. Made up of 1,308 diamonds totaling 134 carats, it was commissioned by Luhrmann from Australian jeweler Stefano Canturi, and earned a spot in Guinness World Records as the most valuable piece of jewelry made for a movie.
“The importance of jewelry,” said Elizabeth Taylor, “is emotional and psychological. Nobody ever owns anything this beautiful. . . . We are only the guardians.” The magnificent jewels of the actress and major collector sold at Christie’s in 2011 and realized $156,756,576, making history as the most profitable jewelry auction ever. (Proceeds went to the Elizabeth Taylor Trust and the actress’ AIDS foundation.)
Never afraid to shine, the amethyst-eyed Taylor went all-out for the Rothschild’s 1971 elaborate Proust-themed ball at the Château de Ferrières near Paris, to which she wore diamonds—accessorized with a Valentino dress. “Everyone observes is observed, is watching, is part of the spectacle,” wrote Vogue, describing the event with its heady mix of “the famous, the film world, the oldest titles, the most beautiful young, the talents, the personalities”—none of which could have been more head-turning than Mrs. Burton. Only one man—if he’s to be believed—remained immune to Taylor’s “mint’s worth” of sparkle: “I ignored all those jewels,” said Cecil Beaton, who snapped the portrait, above. “The only thing I concentrated on was her contours.”
Proof that Napoleon was incapable of small gestures: this 234-stone necklace the able leader commissioned as a gift for his wife Marie-Louise in 1811 to celebrate the birth of their son, Franz, the “King of Rome,” who was popularly known as L’Aiglon, “the eaglet.” Irving Penn photographed it on this apropos prop for a 1961 shoot.
Marie-Louise took the necklace home to Austria when her husband was exiled, and it remained in the family until 1948. (Not counting a botched attempt to sell it in the twenties involving imposters, court cases, and imprisoned aristocrats.) In 1960 Harry Winston acquired the historic jewel (which had been sold, legitimately, 12 years earlier). Soon after, Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress, bought the necklace and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution.
Given to extremes, Marilyn Monroe is remembered sartorially for wearing nothing but Chanel No 5 to bed and for putting on the Ritz at night (avoir du chien, as the French would have it). That’s how Annie Leibovitz captured Michelle Williams as Monroe: all diamonds and décolleté: a winning combination, it seems for both actresses, as Williams walked away with a Golden Globe for her performance in My Week with Marilyn.
text by Laird Borrelli-Persson ; source vogue.com