Book review

Books: Fashion Jewellery:
Made In Italy

By Deanna Farneti Cera, 392 pp., hardcover, illus., publ. by the Antique Collectors Club, Woodbridge, UK, 2013. US$85.00
This hefty tome’s frontispiece, a nearly foot-long image of an early 1970s Gianfranco Ferré silvery metal brooch hand-fashioned in the shape of Italy, alerts readers that they are in for a wild ride.

Written by Deanna Farneti Cera, a curator for international jewellery exhibits and formerly of the Municipal Museum of Modern Art in Bologna, the book chronicles the rise of Italian fashion jewellery from its traditional roots to the most raucous of catwalks.  

Italian fashion jewellery from the first half of the 20th century left little in the way of an artistic footprint, as years of war, a Fascist regime and economic hardship all took their toll. Nonetheless, pieces by Edoardo Saronni from the early part of the century display the ingenuity and craftsmanship that would mark the work of later Italian artisans and artists. After the Second World War, Giuliano Fratti achieved fame using materials that were allowed during Fascist rule such as raffia, wood, berries and nuts.

Despite a pervasive Francophilia among fashionistas, Italian fashion jewellery began to take flight in earnest during the 1950s, with the rise of an industrial bourgeoisie and the birth of organised fashion consortia in Milan, Florence and Rome. Moving beyond their roots in theatre, opera and fine jewellery, Italian designers not only embraced mid-century trends but also forged ahead with bold, inventive designs that stood apart from the staid and two-dimensional.

By the 1970s, “Made in Italy” had become the de rigueur fashion statement, as illustrated by Ugo Correani’s designs for Valentino and the architectural accessories of Gianfranco Ferré, whose celebrated fashion career began with non-precious jewellery. Farneti Cera continues the visually stunning romp through the over-the-top ’80s, the colourful supermodel years of the ’90s, and into the millennium’s rock-inspired catwalks and fashion show happenings. 

The author offers a few pages of introductory text on each era, followed by a barrage of captivating images of the pieces themselves and as worn by fashion models. Some pieces are shown in advertisements or featured on magazine covers of the time. A few sketches, images from private collections and photographs from fashion house archives round out the book’s colourful, eye-popping appeal.

The text cites many cultural and historical touchstones that help to set the tone for the period, which helps explain the artistic expressions that flowed from these trends. Readers may not be aware of the fear of terrorism that loomed over Italy during the 1970s and 1980s. Some of these passages make for difficult reading in a book focused on beauty and art, yet such events help frame the brazen fashion fringe, typified by Moschino, that emerged once those fears had been exorcised.

Towards the end of the book, Farneti Cera devotes 17 pages to profiles of the jewellery manufacturers whose works graced the preceding pages. These individuals and houses are listed alphabetically, which may strike some readers as being at odds with the book’s chronological focus. The narrative sometimes lacks the flow to deliver such an engaging subject.  Readers may find it easier to navigate some of the book’s occasionally impenetrable and stilted text by referring back to these manufacturers’ profiles as they peruse the images of their works, instead of waiting to reach the back pages.

The book concludes with two “Will They Be Famous?” sections—one with the work of up-and-coming artists, and the other comprising their biographies. The author uses these pages to express her own wish lists for these and future artists, with a reasoned proposal for a craftsman/artist cooperative to help aspiring talents overcome some of the difficulties associated with the business side of their art. Farneti Cera also bemoans the dearth of jewellery galleries or museums in Italy that serve to engage and educate the public about the rich history of ornamentation. 

In piecing together this treasure trove of signature Italian style, the book brings readers closer to understanding the appeal and artistry of jewellery making beyond that which is traditionally associated with fine jewellery. Here, fashion jewellery reigns as contextual art. Jewellery designers, illustrators, manufacturers, historians and curators will enjoy this book, as will readers who long for an Italian holiday or those who are merely intrigued by fashion’s sublime and at times allegorical roots. 

Dr Matilde Parente owns Libertine, a fine jewellery salon at the Renaissance Esmeralda in Indian Wells, California.