Elsa Peretti, model and renowned jewelry designer, dies at 80

Elsa Peretti, a 1960s and 1970s model who became best known as a designer of jewelry, including her “bone cuff” bracelet — one of the most recognizable accessories of the past 50 years — died March 18 at she in Spain village of Sant Martí Vell. She was 80 years old.

His death was announced in a joint statement from his company and the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation. The cause was not disclosed.

When Ms Peretti moved to Barcelona to model in the mid-1960s, her wealthy Italian family cut off all financial support. It became part of an artistic enclave that included surrealist artist Salvador Dalí before moving to New York in 1968.

“I came in with a black eye, from my lover, who didn’t want me to go,” she later recalled to Vanity Fair.

With her tall and elegant appearance, she became a favorite of designers, including Issey Miyake, Charles James and especially Halston, who went by only one name.

“Elsa was different from the other models,” Halston said. “The others were clothes racks – you did them makeup, did their hair, then they put their blue jeans back on. But Elsa had style: she made the dress she wore herself.

While working as a model in New York, Ms Peretti began designing accessories, including belts and a tiny silver vase worn as a pendant on a chain or leather bracelet. (The vase was functional and could hold a small flower.)

Partly inspired by Halston’s minimalist style, she became a designer for Tiffany & Co. in 1974. She also designed a perfume bottle for Halston, featuring a rounded teardrop shape.

Ms. Peretti and Halston became close friends and were often seen together at New York nightclubs in the 1970s, including at Studio 54. During those years, Ms. Peretti admitted to subsisting only on caviar, cocaine , vodka and cigarettes. She was fluent in English, Italian, Spanish and French and often mixed the four in conversation.

Strong-willed and tempestuous, she had a fiery temper that she sometimes turned against Halston, despite their close relationship. He had given her a sable cloak for designing the perfume bottle, but after a particularly heated disagreement, she threw the cloak into a fireplace, where it was immediately consumed by flames. They reconciled before Halston’s death in 1990.

By then, Ms. Peretti was already celebrated for her jewelry designs. Instead of gold, she turned to silver as her primary metal, preferring its absolute clarity and relatively affordable price. She often based her ideas on simple shapes found in nature, such as beans, scorpions and snakes.

Ms. Peretti traveled the world to find qualified jewelry makers and held each item in her hand, testing its contours and weight, as if it were a living thing. One of his first creations was a necklace in the exact shape of a bean, but in silver or gold. She later incorporated the bean motif into countless other items, from cufflinks to handbags.

She designed teardrop-shaped earrings and used intricately woven gold and silver mesh to create a feathery metallic scarf that could be draped or tied. A model necklace, on closer inspection, was a metallic representation of the curved skeleton of a snake.

“Good line and shape are timeless,” Ms. Peretti told The Wall Street Journal last year, adding, “I want my designs to be clear, simple, yet sublime.”

One of his most familiar designs was the “bone cuff”, a wide band of metal worn like a bracelet. It included a noticeable protrusion in the metal, allowing it to fit comfortably over the wrist bone. Ms Peretti got the idea while manipulating bones, which she sometimes stole as a child from underground crypts in Rome.

“Things that are forbidden stay with you forever,” she said.

She also developed the concept of diamonds and pearls “by the meter”, placing them widely on a necklace to keep prices down. One of his most popular designs, the “open heart” necklace, is a heart-shaped silver frame, with a chain through the empty center.

Over the years, Ms. Peretti has maintained strict control over the design and manufacture of her wares, which have come to include tableware, drinking glasses and leather goods.

In 2019, Tiffany estimated that its stores around the world were selling an object designed by Ms Peretti once every minute. Items with his “open heart” design were sold once every three minutes. (Last year, Tiffany was acquired by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton for around $16 billion.)

“The day Elsa Peretti became part of Tiffany & Co. was the day we entered a new era in our history of design innovation,” said company chairman William R. Chaney. in 2001. She “not only created a model of style and elegance that defined contemporary living, she forever changed the way people view jewelry and incorporate good taste into their lives.

In 2012, Ms Peretti announced that she was planning to retire. At the time, his designs accounted for 10% of Tiffany’s annual sales, which were about $3.8 billion. When the company offered to buy her name, designs and intellectual property, she hesitated. Instead, she negotiated a new 20-year contract, in which she retained control of her product line. She received an outright payment of over $47 million, plus an additional $450,000 per year and a 5% royalty on net sales of her designs.

“That was my price for the past,” Ms Peretti told Vanity Fair of the contract, which remains in effect after her death. “That may seem like a lot, but, after taxes, it’s not really, for the work I’ve done.”

Elsa Peretti was born on May 1, 1940 in Florence and grew up in Rome. His father was the founder of an oil company; his mother did not work outside the home.

She was educated in Rome and Switzerland and was a ski instructor and French teacher before moving to Barcelona.

When Ms Peretti was featured in a Newsweek magazine cover story in 1977, her father was ultimately proud of her accomplishments – and died months later. Mrs. Peretti inherited 44.25% of the shares of the company from her father. His older sister, Mila, his only brother, received 55.75%.

Mrs. Peretti sued her sister and brother-in-law, seeking an equal stake in the business. His percentage of the stock was raised to 49 percent by arbitration. Subsequently, Mrs. Peretti demanded that her sister and brother-in-law ransom her. The rift between the sisters never closed. Ms Peretti received hundreds of millions of dollars, which she used to set up a charitable foundation named after her father and herself.

Ms Peretti never married but had many relationships with men, including photographer Helmut Newton. Her longest relationship was with an Italian entrepreneur, Stefano Magini. Their first meeting was a heated argument after he knocked down a door at her house with his truck.

“We were together 23 years,” Ms. Peretti told Vanity Fair in 2014. “Ten was awesome.”

Over the years she has had homes in New York, Barcelona, ​​Rome and Porto Ercole, Italy. Her main residence, however, was in Sant Martí Vell, Spain, a medieval village outside Barcelona, ​​where she bought a house in 1968.

“My early years,” Ms. Peretti told Vanity Fair, “things were still in shambles, a lot of houses had no roofs, and I slept on a bench and washed on the stone floor.”

She restored numerous buildings throughout the city, planted a vineyard, launched a wine label, and remained in close contact with the metalworkers in Barcelona who executed her jewelry designs.

“I didn’t want to become someone,” she said of stepping out of the spotlight. “I wanted to do what I wanted, to work with artisans, with my people. They bring my fantasies to life.

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