He entitled his 1996 memoir, “Faking It”, but Kenneth Jay Lane, who died late Wednesday or early Thursday, July 20, 2017 at the age of 85, was the real deal.
-“I like to create jewelry that can be worn at any time of the year, by any woman. Glamour is all year round.”
He made a fortune creating costume jewelry, which he sold to First Ladies (Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush), royal ladies (Princess Margaret, Princess Diana, the Duchess of Windsor), screen ladies (Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo), and society ladies (Babe Paley, Nan Kempner), as well as to the multitude of middle-class ladies who devotedly watched him on QVC and scooped up his wares at department stores and boutiques everywhere. Born in 1932, in Detroit, the son of an automotive parts supplier, Lane died in his sleep in his apartment in a Stanford White-designed mansion on Park Avenue in Manhattan, an Aladdin’s Cave of Orientalist paintings, exotic objects, and treasures.
photo: Kenny Jay Lane & his bride, Nicky Waymouth, photographed by Jonathan Becker on the first night of their honeymoon at The Crillon, Paris 1975.
“With him, a great piece of American glamor is gone—it all goes with him,” said his a longtime friend. In the great tradition of self-made men, Lane’s supreme creation was himself. He got to know the world, and the world got to know him. He was an American most-asked-for. After graduating from Detroit Central High School, Lane enrolled in the University of Michigan, where he studied architecture before he transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design, from which he graduated in 1954. Moving to New York, he toiled briefly in the art department at Vogue, before he started designing footwear for a variety of designers, including Delman, Dior, Bill Blass, Norman Norell, and Arnold Scaasi. A Scaasi show led him into the jewelry business. Charged with designing shoes bejeweled with rhinestones, Lane offered to create matching earrings and bracelets. He launched his first jewelry collection in 1962, and was soon selling to the major department stores and in boutiques, he opened in London, Paris, and elsewhere. Kenny, as all his friends called him, did not invent costume jewelry. But, as Herrera points out, “he made it acceptable . . . as it had been in the 18th century when they wanted everything to glisten in the candlelight.”
photo: Jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane in front of a Kimberly du Ross painting the library of Kate Ford’s house on Lake Worth. Photographed by Joanthan Becker.
Often, Lane’s clients would commission him to design a copy of one of their precious pieces. When Jackie asked him to make a reproduction of the Van Cleef & Arpels Maharani necklace that she had been given by Aristotle Onassis, Lane offered her the choice of paying for the master model (about $1,000) or getting it gratis, if she let him sell copies to the masses. She opted for the latter. Some years after, as The New York Times cited in its obituary, Jackie called him after watching television: “I saw our necklace on Dynasty,” she said. “My designs are all original—original from somewhere”
photo: Lane recreated the brooch-cum-choker and earring set given to Princess Diana by the Queen for her marriage to Prince Charles. His faux replication of the set is still sold on a myriad of resale websites today.
Though he became a favored escort of Pat Buckley, Nan Kempner, and other Uptown ladies whose husbands preferred to stay home or be elsewhere, Kenny bristled when he was referred to as a “walker.” “Walkers are people who have nothing to do,” he told. “I’m a runner.” Anyone who was anyone came to his magical apartment, where he hosted endless lunches and dinners for a rotating cast of royals, international V.I.P.s, intellectuals, and anyone he found interesting. Up until the last, he was an inveterate global traveler, at home anywhere in Europe, Asia, or South America. “Kenny was a combination of a sailor and an Edwardian gentleman if you know what I mean,” said Manhattan grande dame Louise Grunwald. “He was wildly funny, mischievous, incredibly generous, and a true aesthete—very daring in his tastes,” says Diane von Furstenberg.
Lane’s particular passion was for Orientalist paintings, which he double- and sometime triple-hung on the walls of his spectacular drawing room, a 26-foot cube, which, filled with tiger- and leopard-printed carpets and upholstery, seemed like the home of some Bedouin sheikh transplanted to Manhattan. (“I always think of myself as living in a tent,” he joked to Gita Mehta in the November, 1988 Vanity Fair.) In summers, he typically lent a few of his pictures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2007, in anticipation of a bequest of the paintings, the museum dedicated the Kenneth Jay Lane Gallery. “My gallery,” he called it proudly. In June, in celebration of its 10th anniversary, the Met mounted a show of 26 pictures from Lane’s collection, which remains in view through August 8.
“He had an incredible eye,” said Met curator Asher Miller. “These Orientalist scenes of the exotic are in some ways like his jewelry–extravagant and fabulous.”
“Kenny had an encyclopedic knowledge but collected instinctively, passionately,” added art dealer Ian Irving. “A kitsch knick-knack from an Indian bazaar could delight him as much as a priceless 17th century kunstkammer object and he’d have them side by side and chuckle about it, because he had a wonderful sense of humor about everything.”
Legendary designer Kenneth Jay Lane has died at 85 at 2017. The costume jewelry maestro passed away in his sleep in his Manhattan apartment , and leaves behind an undisputed career of accessorizing some of the most famous women in the world.
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