‘Fab­u­lous fake’ made faux jew­elry chic among elite

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY BRID­GET REED MORAWSKI brid­getreed.morawski@wash­post.com

Ken­neth Jay Lane, the king of cos­tume jew­elry who rev­o­lu­tion­ized the fash­ion in­dus­try in the 1960s with his real­is­tic repli­ca­tions of price­less gems, died July 20 at his home in Man­hat­tan. He was 85.

The cause of death was a heart at­tack, said Chris Shep­pard, the ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of Ken­neth Jay Lane Inc.

A de­signer who pre­ferred the term in­ven­tor, Mr. Lane charmed the fash­ion elite and the Amer­i­can mid­dle class alike with his in­ex­pen­sive, near car­bon copies of costlier cre­ations. By 1975, his com­pany had 2,000 stores world­wide.

His de­voted fol­low­ing of movie stars, po­lit­i­cal spouses and mem­bers of Euro­pean royal fam­i­lies made him one of the most well­con­nected men in New York City.

The Duchess of Wind­sor was buried in a Ken­neth Jay Lane faux emer­ald snake bracelet, per her re­quest. El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor re­port­edly called KJL, as Mr. Lane was af­fec­tion­ately nick­named, from Len­ingrad to cus­tom or­der re­pro­duc­tions of di­a­mond jew­elry she al­ready owned. For­mer first lady Jac­que­line Kennedy Onas­sis was also a cus­tomer.

Even Mick Jag­ger of the Rolling Stones was “buy­ing up belly chains by the bushel” from the de­signer for his con­certs, Peo­ple mag­a­zine re­ported in 1975.

Mr. Lane fa­vored the flashy and whim­si­cal, pair­ing leather with tweed, al­li­ga­tor and co­bra skin with pavé di­a­monds. He sold be­daz­zled flamin­gos and dia­manté Mal­tese crosses along­side yards of faux pearls.

The un­apolo­get­i­cally gaudy, ec­cen­tric pieces quickly be­came Mr. Lane’s call­ing card. He would re­fer to them as “faque” (fake) and as “junque” (junk), prob­a­bly in the posh, non­cha­lant in­flec­tion he was known for that con­cealed his Detroit up­bring­ing.

Mr. Lane’s up­per-crust clients and av­er­age Amer­i­can con­sumers alike shared their en­thu­si­asm for his jew­elry. Plas­tic, rhine­stones, glass and other man­u­fac­tured ma­te­ri­als were used in his col­lec­tions.

“They were very good, flam­boy­ant styles,” said Va­lerie Steele, the di­rec­tor and chief cu­ra­tor of the Mu­seum at the Fash­ion In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in New York. “They were af­ford­able, yet they were such well-done pieces that they at­tracted higher-end clien­tele.”

Many of Mr. Lane’s pieces were ob­vi­ous copies of de­signs by Cartier, Van Cleef & Ar­pels and other ritzy jewel­ers. In his hands, they were ren­o­vated to a more mod­ern, less del­i­cate, yet nev­er­the­less strik­ing shape. He once joked that he de­signed with a pho­to­copier, Scotch tape and a pair of scis­sors.

Yet he oc­ca­sion­ally drew in­spi­ra­tion from else­where, such as his far-flung va­ca­tions. A trip to Peru later man­i­fested it­self in the form of “vaguely Inca-in­spired” masks that he later sold, in 1967, for $260, or about $1,900 in to­day’s dol­lars.

His com­pany pulled in prof­its from the bou­tiques, but Mr. Lane’s monthly QVC ap­pear­ances at one point could reel in $300,000 an hour. He once sold out of 300 samu­rai sword watch pins in four min­utes. The de­signer part­nered with the home shop­ping chan­nel for more than 20 years.

The “fab­u­lous fake,” as he play­fully re­ferred to him­self, also worked at times with gen­uine gems, a side­line project that was nev­er­the­less a lu­cra­tive ad­di­tion to his port­fo­lio. Mr. Lane signed a con­tract with a whole­sale jeweler in 1967 to de­velop a line of gold jew­elry with pre­cious and semi­precious stones, priced at $50 to $500.

“I’ve been de­sign­ing for se­cure ladies,” he told the New York Times in 1967. “Now I’ll be de­sign­ing for in­se­cure peo­ple who need some­thing real.”

Mr. Lane’s do­mes­tic de­sign taste was ex­pect­edly ec­cen­tric.

He once lived in the Mur­ray Hill neigh­bor­hood of Man­hat­tan, in an or­nately dec­o­rated res­i­dence that the Times once de­scribed as an “ex­tremely taste­ful ver­sion of the Austin Pow­ers era.”

Rare books lined the walls. His mas­ter bath­room was com­pletely lined in mir­rors. The home was stuffed with me­mento mori, among them skulls carved out of ivory and al­abaster as well as a 16-inch-tall bronze skele­ton. The din­ing room was lined with fab­ric, mak­ing it ap­pear like a Be­douin tent.

Mr. Lane was born in Detroit on April 22, 1932. He grad­u­ated from the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign in 1954 and got a job in Vogue mag­a­zine’s art de­part­ment. Within a few years, he was de­sign­ing shoes for Chris­tian Dior.

Early in his de­sign ca­reer, he was known for work­ing 18-hour days. To save money on ad­min­is­tra­tive costs, he would file his own in­voices and pack­ages, all the while whip­ping up new de­signs.

“I was un­der­staffed and un­der­fi­nanced be­cause I didn’t want out­side help,” Mr. Lane told The Wash­ing­ton Post in 1967. “I’d go to din­ner par­ties and come back and work the rest of the night in my black tie.”

At 40, he mar­ried Ni­cola Wey­mouth, an English­woman al­most two decades his ju­nior, known for her bright red hair and friend­ships with art world gi­ants like Andy Warhol, who once made her the sub­ject of a por­trait.

The mar­riage ended in di­vorce within two years, with Wey­mouth leav­ing to Eng­land af­ter a “civ­i­lized” di­vorce party thrown in their honor. They re­port­edly re­mained on good terms, with Mr. Lane say­ing that his ex-wife was sim­ply an “un­ex­portable English­woman [who] couldn’t keep a horse and gar­den in New York.”


Ken­neth Jay Lane’s cos­tume jew­elry was pop­u­lar with both the rich and the mid­dle class.

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