Van Cleef & Arpels’ ad on the back cover of the February 2012 issue of Art News is the latest in a sad legacy of the haute couture jewelry design world.  The ad displays an exquisitely crafted platinum and bejeweled “zipper” necklace.  It’s an impressive piece of work, advertised to coincide with the publication’s theme of “Where Fashion Meets Art”.


Where fashion meets art these days seems to result in a lot of stolen concepts. We have noticed a growing trend in couture jewelry over the last several years to co-op designs and concepts developed in the art jewelry and DIY arena.  This is driven by luxury goods manufacturers’ need to be seen as fashion forward. But we have also noticed a strong trend of alternative materials, pioneered by art jewelry designers, being adopted by fashion jewelry houses as a way to appear cutting edge and keep their profit margins.

If this trend were confined to the use of a material it would be fair game, but frequently it extends to the designs as well. 


The Van Cleef & Arpels Zip necklace is squarely taken from a design concept that was created in the art jewelry world several years ago and demonstrates just how creatively bankrupt this venerable old firm is. The necklace is a dazzling piece of craftsmanship, no doubt. And yes, Van Cleef & Arpels, anything a DIY crafter can do, you can do better – except create an original idea in the first place.


The Zip necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels is a gaudy example of yet another couture trend. Namely, taking street fashion, tarting it up with precious metals and gems, and presenting it with the delusion that it has any authenticity whatsoever.  In this particular instance the original concept is rooted in repurposing a common object with no intrinsic value as ornament. The concept’s authenticity is its creator’s vision to see beyond the utilitarian function of a common zipper and reframe it’s context. Van Cleef & Arpels is clearly attempting to hitch a ride on that authenticity, but by copying the original idea in precious materials they show just how tone-deaf and out of touch with the concept they really are.


We are reminded of a fashion trend popular during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. Women of the time would tie a red cotton cord around their necks to symbolize their solidarity with the revolution. The red cord was a symbol and reminder for all who saw it that the guillotine awaited all who opposed the revolution – mainly the aristocracy.

In a panic and desperate to show that they were “with the people”, many upper class women began wearing a red cord too.  But befitting their station, many of them bejeweled their red cords, in effect accentuating the class separation and economic disparity that sparked the revolution in the first place.  In the end this turned out to be the biggest fashion faux pas of all time.


Van Cleef & Arpels can clearly bring prodigious craftsmanship to the table. Matching that with authentic design creativity would go a long way towards re-establishing the house as a place where “fashion meets art”.   

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Comment by Tom McCarthy on February 23, 2012 at 2:54pm


Woops, in my Feb. 17th post I incorrectly identified the Chanel collection designer I envied as Victoire de Castellane.  The pieces I refered to were designed by the late Ibu Poilane.

Comment by Jim Binnion on February 23, 2012 at 2:54pm

Tom, I agree that in the workshop and commercial publishing environment one would be hard pressed to sell an article or workshop with design as the topic. My reference to business being an anathema is in the college arena. There the focus is all design and art with little or no real world survival skills being taught.  But I agree that it is easy to get into the us vs them mindset.

Comment by Tom McCarthy on February 23, 2012 at 1:53pm

Hariette commented that this discussion had spiderwebbed in multiple directions.  She is right.  It began with a critique of a design and evolved into needs for entrepreneurial skills and new markets. What I see tying it all together is that all of the posts are dealing with “the outside.”  Designers outside of our field are taking advantage of us.  We need to get into markets outside of the usual venues.  Outside everything is either better or doing bad things to us.

I was the one who brought up the art/craft division because it shared the same themes of those on the outside, artists, were getting more reward and the crafts were just as good.

It seems to me it is time to critique our own and look inside.  Jim mentioned how he found business issues unwelcome in arts education.  Well, design might be a close second.  Anytime I’ve offered a class with “design” somewhere in the title, it has tanked.

Students only want to pay for technique classes and technique drives their design.

Let’s look at the literature of our field.  It’s dominated by “How-to.”  Craft books tend to be cookbooks. At one point, I proposed “why-to” articles to either “Art Jeweler” magazine or “Jewelry Artist”.  They were interested as long as there was a project, i.e. a recipe, included.

I’m not faulting the publishers, they have done market research and found the demand.

Here is where I have to cite Hariette again.  Her post on the need for time to mature as an artist is spot on.  In case you missed it, you can find it here:

Yes business education is important, but, besides the overemphasis of technique, the other dark side of the craft world is the rush to market.  I think this is cultural in part.  The follow up question to “what do you do?” is usually “where do you sell it?”  Then there is also the twisted logic:  Artists have galleries.  I am an artist.  Therefore to be acknowledged as an artist, I must have a gallery.

This discussion itself is a good example of inside/outside.  It takes place in a forum designed for insiders.  The examples are stated with the assumption that we all see clearly the problems.  Inside is only getting more fractured as people congregate in real and virtual communities that agree with common precepts. So it is harder to evangelize the Outside as they are only hearing from their own inside.

I think we can only attend to our work and those we can immediately influence.  My caveat though is to embrace the outside.  Rather than worry what it is taking from us, find out what we can learn from it.Part of the conclusion to the Ornament article on Joanna Gollberg is, “She pays much more attention to how women really wear jewelry and appreciates good design regardless of its source or price. “Now that the door is open for me, it has been so much more exciting and fun to look at jewelry and accept it for being cool.” “  I like that.

Comment by Jim Binnion on February 20, 2012 at 8:50pm

Since it appears Harriete has removed her comment (or at least I can no longer see it) I don't see how I can comment on it at this point other than to say that I responded to it in that fashion because of how it came across to me.

The only other thing I will say  is I have had and continue to have a great deal of respect for Harriete both for her art work and  her work on the Professional Development seminars.

Comment by 2Roses on February 20, 2012 at 8:12pm

Jim, I didn't get that from what Harriete was saying, and in fact, I think this is one of the persistent mythologies that we would all like to see evaporate into the mist. The original premise of this discussion was that many of us don't put much effort into marketing our work and create opportunities for others to cash in on the designs we as individual designers create.  You are not in this category. We look to you as a leader by virtue of how you run your studio. You have found a niche, you market your products, and you work in a collaborative studio environment to achieve your goals. And you've been doing it that way for quite a while, so we get the distinct impression its workin' ok.

We're all grappling with how to make a living doing what we love. Frankly if the customer wants art we'll sell them art, if they want craft we'll sell them craft, and if all they want is a bracelet, well, we have several to choose from right here.

Comment by Harriete Estel Berman on February 20, 2012 at 7:31pm

I did not anything of the kind.

Comment by Jim Binnion on February 20, 2012 at 7:17pm

Is this where we jump off into the ART vs craft war  Harriete ?  Are the only people who count the ones who would rather starve than stoop to selling something other than ART to those truly enlightened souls that buy for museums or those few hundred collectors that shop at the possibly half dozen or less galleries that truly deserve that name in the US? Because you have been rather dismissive of a large number of people with a true love for jewelry / metal arts.

Comment by 2Roses on February 20, 2012 at 5:14pm

Harriete, we're probably not as far apart in our thinking on museums and galleries as you might believe. We are not advocating that anyone turn their backs on galleries and museums. We are merely suggesting that  we consider expanding the means that we use to market our products.

People often take a discussion to polarizing ends - its one way or the other. This is not the case here. We can, and should sell our work through whatever channel is appropriate. You offer your work in high end galleries, on Etsy and in museums. So do we, and we will continue to do so. They have been good sales venues for us.. But that by no means is the end of it. We continue to seek out any and all opportunities to sell our work and get it in front of potential buyers. Sometimes those opportunities are conventional, like a store or show. Sometimes they are highly unconventional like a non-art event. The point is - we'll try it, we're open to it.  When we say "get out of the galleries and museums", we're saying that they are not the ONLY place you can sell your  work. On that we clearly agree.

We also agree with Tom on the Joanna Gollberg's recent article in Ornament. It was refreshingly direct and devoid of any artifice or pretensions to "art". Sometimes a bracelet is just a bracelet and that is all someone wants to buy. Are we any less noble for our ability to  make a well crafted beautiful bracelet?

Comment by Tom McCarthy on February 20, 2012 at 3:40pm

There is a really great article on Joanna Gollberg's response to some of these concerns in Ornament Magazine.

In it, she talks about focusing on being a designer jeweler rather than an art jeweler.  It's a thoughtful piece by Ashley Callahan.

Comment by Jim Binnion on February 18, 2012 at 12:06pm

Brigitte, That is  more along the lines of what I think is needed. A few classes in the curriculum devoted to business and entrepreneurship.  An MBA is a marvelous education and for some may be the way to go but I don't see it as being needed by the vast majority of artists. But being made aware of how one goes about making a living as a studio craft artist and being taught the basics of business over the course of two to three classes would be a tremendous help.

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