Elsa Peretti. Going beyond the horizon

Elsa Peretti, a master of the modern jewelry design and an author of the emblematic Tiffany jewelry, has passed away on the eve of spring. Her designs, looking into the future, revolutionized fashion and became an icon of her time, as strong and enduring as the woman who designed them.

Elsa Peretti. Photographed by Duane Michals, Vogue, December 1974. Via Vogue

Elsa Peretti was born in one of the richest Italian families and was surrounded by luxury and prosperity from her childhood. She attended prestigious schools, studied interior design and worked for an architecture firm in Milan. She did not need money and could rest on her laurels all her life. But rebellion flowed through her veins, a desire for her own success led her to distant and unusual horizons. Claiming her absolute freedom, Elsa cut the umbilical cord that tied her to her family. She left a comfort and guarantees and left alone for Spain full of dreams and ambitions.

Elsa started modeling in Barcelona. Her choice was not accepted by her family: conservative parents stopped speaking to her for years. The stately Italian woman was noticed by the surrealist Salvador Dali, who introduced her to his artists circle. It was there where she was captured by the sensual irrational “deformed” architecture of Antoni Gaudí. These were her years of passion for sculpture in its most plastic and impressive forms.

Salvador Dali and Elsa photographed by Oriol Maspons, August 1966.

Although Elsa never liked modeling, it actually paid the bills. Barcelona was feeling a little small. So on a cold February day in 1968 she landed in New York and her career took off for new heights. She won the hearts of famous stylists, developed an eccentric circle of acquintance as Andy Warhol and John Lennon, became the muse of Roy Halston, one of the most famous fashion designer who rose to international fame in the 1970s. Helmut Newton, with whom Elsa had an affair, immortalized her in a black and white shot: Elsa in a Playboy bunny costume amongst the towering skyscrapers that characterise the American Dream. Sensual and provocative, it became one of the iconic shots of those years.

Elsa lived in a world of glamor, between extremes, alcohol and cocaine abuse. She loved fluidity and energy of dance, becoming a regular at nightclubs, from Le Jardin to Max’s Kansas City and Studio 54.

Elsa Peretti for Tiffany gold Mesh bra and Diamonds-by-the-Yard necklaces. Halston’s Fall fashion show in 1975. Photo via Instagram @sculpting_in_time

Elsa Peretti & Halston. March 15, 1977.

She approached jewelry design in 1969. Peretti designed a pendant for the Giorgio di Sant’Angelo fashion show. In 1971 Elsa began designing jewelry also for the Halston collections and a year later started selling her jewelry at Bloomingdales. In 1974 Peretti signed a contract with the American house Tiffany & Co.

Her design for the brand broke with the tradition, going beyond the horizon of the common jewelry ideas and heralding a completely new aesthetic. The jewelry was organic, sculptural, modern. The smoothness of independent forms repeat, do not copy, the outlines of nature, claiming to a timeless, eternal existence. Elsa was convinced that elegance and simplicity were related and mutually reinforcing like silver and diamonds. The designer democratized the jewelry without giving up quality or character. Possessing extraordinary intuition and feeling of her epoch, her designs became bestsellers and do not lose their relevance today.

Elsa Peretti® Bone cuff advertisement shot by photographer Hiro. Courtesy of Tiffany and Co

Tiffany & Co. founded the Elsa Peretti department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in 2001 the Institute earned her an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree, her jewelry is a part of influential museums collections. And I wonder, if there is other things to strive for, other horizons to conquer?

For the last years she has lived in her home in Spain, devoting her time to charity. In 2000 she founded the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation in memory of her father, with whom the designer reconciled shortly before his death. Elsa has sponsored and supported projects ranging from wildlife conservation and human rights to health and education in 68 countries.

The bottle pendant

 

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