RIP Elsa Peretti - 1940-2021

Discussion in 'In the News...' started by Benn98, Mar 20, 2021.

  1. Benn98

    Benn98 Well-Known Member

    Aug 6, 2014
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    Via Vogue:

    Jewelry Designer Elsa Peretti Has Died

    March 19, 2021

    Elsa Peretti, the Italian-born jewelry designer who revolutionized the industry with her biomorphic designs inspired by bone fragments and pebbles, has died, age 80.

    Peretti is arguably the most successful female ever to work in the jewelry field. Vogue described her work as “carved, pure—irresistibly touchable—it has been called jewelry as sculpture, sculpture as jewelry, and the most sensuous jewelry in the world.”
    Lois Chiles in a Halston dress with Marvella pearl earrings, and a pearl-and-onyx necklace by Elsa Peretti for Halston.Photographed by Francesco Scavullo, Vogue, March 1974
    The designer began working with Tiffany & Co. in 1974 and over time her pieces came to account for about 10% of the company’s sales. In 2012, Tiffany paid the designer a one-time fee of more than $47 million dollars. A successful business woman, Peretti was also an exemplar of the stylish, liberated professional woman of the 1970s.

    Born in Florence, Peretti was estranged from her well-to-do and tradition-bound family for most of her adult life. In 1964 she went to Spain and began modeling; four years later she took her chances in New York, and quickly integrated into the social circles around Andy Warhol and Halston, whose playground was Studio 54. On Halloween of 1975 she posed in a Playboy Bunny outfit for Helmut Newton.

    Elsa Peretti, 1970s.Photo: Jack Robinson / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
    Halston, center, with Elsa Peretti, left, in 1971. Photo: Vernon Shibla / New York Post Archives /© NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images
    Elsa Peretti at the Met Gala, 1973.Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
    Tall, with short-cropped hair and distinctive glasses, Peretti was both mercurial (she allegedly threw a fur coat into a fire when arguing with Halston) and minimal. “Take away, take away,” is how she described her process to Vogue in 1986.

    Peretti’s jewelry first made its way down the runway at a Giorgio di Sant’Angelo show, but she’s best known for her long standing collaboration with Halston, for whom she designed jewelry and perfume bottles. It was Halston who introduced Peretti to the Tiffany brass, a relationship that lasted for nearly 50 years.

    Tiffany & Co. Chairman Henry Platt with Elsa Peretti, circa 1978. Photo: PL Gould / Images / Getty Images
    When her first collection for Tiffany was released in 1974 Vogue wrote that “right then, what had been a cult-size ardor exploded into a national passion—suddenly everybody is collecting Peretti. From New York to California, wherever there’s a Tiffany’s, there are lines—and they’re not just-looking-thank-you.”

    Patti Hansen in Halston, with an Elsa Peretti pin.Photographed by Arthur Elgort, Vogue, August 1968
    Model in a dress by Galanos and Elsa Peretti pearl necklace.Photographed by Chris von Wangenheim, Vogue, April 1975
    Those customers were snapping up Peretti’s curvilinear pieces in sterling silver—not gold. This, the magazine would later note, turned the idea of what constituted fine jewelry on its head, and also affected who was buying it. In a break from tradition, women were shopping for themselves rather than being gifted jewelry by men.

    Elsa Peretti at work.Photographed by Duane Michals, Vogue, December 1974
    Finding fame dizzying, Peretti retreated to Spain, to the village of Sant Martí Vell where she had bought a compound in 1968, and started to revive it, one building at a time. Peretti led an ascetic, unhurried, and happy existence in Catalonia (perhaps somewhat akin to that of Georgia O’Keeffe in Taos, New Mexico), that she found conducive to creation. “Of course, I’m slow,” she told Vogue. “I have to crystallize a form, find the essence. It’s a continual training to be essential in your work, and then you have to be essential in your life, too.”

    In light of the fact that Peretti was known for her largesse and for quietly supporting her friends, it seems fitting that one of her best known pieces is an open heart.
  2. YohjiAddict

    YohjiAddict Well-Known Member

    May 26, 2016
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    She was quite captivating in the Halston documentary and seemed like such a unique woman, very energetic, grander than life and obsessive with her work in that way only an italian can be. I would've loved to meet her.

    RIP Elsa
  3. Benn98

    Benn98 Well-Known Member

    Aug 6, 2014
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    Can't agree more! Her situation with Halston reminds me of Alt's situation with Anna/Karl. Only in Elsa's case, she was clever enough to secure the Tiffany deal. And that secured a little nest egg in her old age.

    Btw, have you read this Vanity Fair article? Dated, but very insightful.

    Via Vanity Fair:

    Elsa Peretti’s Great Escape

    Arriving in New York in 1968 with a black eye from a lover, Italian model Elsa Peretti was soon part of fashion’s in-crowd, becoming known for cocaine-fueled scenes at Studio 54 as well as for her revolutionary jewelry designs. Unlike her best friend, Halston, she made it out alive. James Reginato finds that Peretti, 40 years into a partnership with Tiffany that made her a household name, is in a very different world—one she created.

    JULY 16, 2014

    She was an Italian beauty who moved to Manhattan and became the poster girl for Studio 54-era decadence, alongside her best friend, Halston. So it’s a bit startling when Elsa Peretti swings open the thick wooden door of her new home, an ancient stone manor in Sant Martí Vell, a tiny hamlet in Catalonia, north of Barcelona. “A lot of people died here from the Peste,” she says cheerfully. Peretti is referring to the bubonic plague that cut through Europe in the Late Middle Ages.

    At age 74, Peretti retains the vitality for which she is well known, but absent is the lithe figure that propelled her into modeling stardom in 1970s New York, before she launched her wildly successful jewelry line for Tiffany & Co., which this year celebrates her 40th anniversary there.

    Thanks to her fondness for vodka and cocaine, Peretti barely made it out of disco-era Gotham alive. Her salvation was Sant Martí Vell. She first saw the place in 1968, in a photograph a friend showed her. I must have it, she thought, even though it was largely abandoned and in ruins. With the money she had started making from modeling, she scraped together a few thousand dollars and bought two buildings. Over the intervening decades she has slowly enlarged her holdings and rebuilt the patchwork collection. Now it’s her private village. Elsa wanders—usually wearing pink Crocs—among a dozen or so buildings that are connected circuitously and are centered on her own town square, the Plaça del Poble.

    In recent years it seems that actual poble have begun to infiltrate this remote enclave. “The village is becoming a bit of a nightmare! People come and peep through windows,” Peretti complains. “Maybe I should open up a pizzeria.” (I didn’t spot any interlopers during my visit.)

    Peretti’s solution was to restore a long-abandoned stone building she has owned for 46 years, located down a more remote road, and make that her primary residence, though she goes back and forth to the various buildings in the village, occupying each when it suits her.

    Is it ironic, or fitting, that her new home outlasted a plague? For Elsa herself did the same in Manhattan, during the height of the AIDS crisis. “All my friends are dead,” she says bluntly.

    Being a Taurus, as she frequently makes note of, Peretti has soldiered on stubbornly, for which Tiffany is no doubt grateful: her designs have long represented 10 percent of the company’s global net sales, which totaled $3.8 billion in 2012. Thus Peretti has earned billions for the firm since she signed with it, in 1974—far more than any other designer in its stable. But thanks to savvy advice from Halston, who helped her negotiate her first contract, Peretti retains ownership over her name and all her designs. (In 1973, Halston had sold not only his company but rights to his name to Norton Simon Industries, later to his great regret.)

    So there must have been much alarm at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in May 2012, after Peretti expressed a desire to call it quits. The company reportedly made a substantial offer to buy the rights to Peretti’s brand and its intellectual property, but six months passed before an agreement could be reached.

    Finally, on December 27, Tiffany announced a new, 20-year contract with the designer. Peretti, in addition to increased royalties for future sales that will bring her many millions, received an immediate $47.3 million payment.

    “It was my price for the past,” she told me shortly after the deal was announced. “It might look like a lot, but, after taxes, it’s not really, for the work I’ve done.”

    From Rome with Love

    Peretti didn’t need the money; she was born into one of Italy’s wealthiest families. Her father, Ferdinando Peretti, in 1933 founded Anonima Petroli Italiana (API), which became a giant oil-and-energy corporation. But after 1961, when Elsa rebelled and ran away from her highly conservative family in Rome, the purse strings were cut.

    Peretti eventually fled to Barcelona, where she tried her hand at modeling. Elsa’s father and her mother, Maria Luigia, both of them severe, stopped speaking to her for years.

    Franco-era Barcelona was gritty and raffish, but it was heaven to Peretti. “The Marines, the whores, the flowers, the ocean,” she reminisces. Peretti became intimate with la gauche divine, intellectuals opposed to Franco.

    On a cold day in February 1968, she landed in Manhattan. “I arrived with a black eye, from my lover, who didn’t want me to go,” she says. “New York was in the middle of a garbage strike. I moved into the Franconia hotel, on West 72nd Street. I had nothing. I was poor, but in a good way.” Yet there was certainly a mystique about her that people picked up on. “We all knew Elsa came from money, but we had no idea how much it was,” says Marina Cicogna, another wellborn Italian who made landfall in America.

    Peretti never liked modeling. It “terrified” her at first, but it paid the bills. She was represented by the Wilhelmina agency, and her tall and sophisticated look caught on among designers from Charles James to Issey Miyake, who cherry-picked her to walk their runways. One of the first to spot her special quality was Roy Halston Frowick, whom she first met in the late 60s.

    “Elsa was different from the other models,” the designer recalled. “The others were clothes racks—you’d make them up, fix their hair, and then they’d put their blue jeans back on. But Elsa had style: she made the dress she was modeling her own.”

    When the two first met, he was still a milliner at Bergdorf Goodman. Elsa began to socialize with him, often on Fire Island—an environment not conducive to genuine friendship, she says.

    “I like gay people, but not when they’re all together. I had the best time with him when we got away from fashion and all those people, like when we went to the movies,” she says (citing the 1976 Richard Pryor comedy Car Wash as one of their best filmgoing experiences). “Little by little, we became friends. At that point, there was no coke; we were just smoking joints.”

    Around the pair, a tight posse coalesced that included designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, illustrator Joe Eula, and Victor Hugo (Halston’s troublemaking hustler boyfriend), as well as Andy Warhol.

    In the early years the clique often gathered at Halston’s rental apartment on East 55th Street (which became Peretti’s home in 1974, when Halston moved on up to his haute-minimalist town house on East 63rd Street). “Joe was the most interesting and warmest of the group. He made spaghetti for us. Stephen Burrows made potato salad. Halston made a whiskey sour that was divine. He drank Johnnie Walker Black, always,” says Elsa.

    Elizabeth Taylor, an occasional guest, preferred Jim Beam bourbon. And lots of it: “She could really hold her liquor,” says Elsa. “My goodness, she could drink!”

    Elsa’s favorite part of the 70s was the dancing: “Everybody was shaking and moving. Not like today, where everybody is so tense.”

    She hit surely every disco and club in town, from Le Jardin and Max’s Kansas City to the Saint, Studio 54, and Paradise Garage, which was among her favorites—“It was mostly a black crowd and had the best music ever.”

    Many of her memories of that epoch are out of focus, Peretti admits. And not just because of the alcohol and drugs. “I wanted to look good, so I didn’t wear my glasses. So it’s all a bit of a blur.”

    Fortunately, much photographic evidence remains of Elsa in that era, such as Helmut Newton’s 1975 shot of her leaning languidly on a terrace in Halston’s take on a Playboy Bunny costume. “Helmut and I were having an affair. He was a Scorpio. There is something between Scorpio and Taurus,” she says, taking on a suggestive tone. “One morning, he said, ‘I want to do a picture of you.’ I didn’t know what to wear. I went to my closet and came out wearing this costume I’d worn to a party with Halston. Helmut was flabbergasted. He took me on the terrace and took the photo. It was 11 A.M.”

    By this time, it was apparently an exception if Elsa was sober. The December 23, 1976, entry in The Andy Warhol Diaries: “Office Christmas party [Elsa] was saying how wonderful it was to be with me and not be on anything.”

    Notwithstanding the partying, Peretti was able to focus and create remarkable things, using her instincts. She’d always been drawn to the shapes of objects, especially natural ones she found on the beach. The urge to transform them into pieces of her own first surfaced one day in 1969 when, as she recalls, “I said to Giorgio, ‘I’d like to do some jewelry.’ ;” Inspired by a silver flower vase she had found at a flea market, she made sketches, then took them to a silversmith in Spain with whom she hammered and filed a prototype for a two-inch sterling-silver bud vase, worn around the neck on a leather thong. When a model at Sant’Angelo’s next défilé appeared wearing the piece, with a rose stem inside, it caused a sensation. “Everybody wanted that little flask!,” Elsa recalls.

    In 1971 she began designing pieces for Halston’s collections, where she continued to use silver, which was then quite unusual in fine jewelry; it was considered “common.” Peretti changed that—as Liza Minnelli remembers of her first encounter with Elsa, during a fitting in Halston’s studio for a new wardrobe he was creating for her forthcoming trip to Europe: “Halston said to me, ‘You can’t afford gold, and men have to give you diamonds, so you’re going to wear silver.’ My god, I thought. All I could think of was Albuquerque. But then Elsa brought out all these things—the bone bracelet I remember best. Everything was so sensual, so sexy. I just loved it. It was different from anything I’d ever seen, and I’d seen a lot. I’ve only really worn Peretti jewelry from then on.”

    A few years later, Halston asked Elsa to design the bottle for his perfume. Executives at Max Factor initially resisted Peretti’s bulbous teardrop shape, however. Bottles had to be rectangular, they said. After a launch in 1976 that is considered the most successful in fragrance history, the scent was a best-seller for years—thanks in no small part to Peretti’s design.

    Her compensation? “He said, ‘Would you like $25,000 or a sable?’ ” she remembers. “I said, ‘The sable.’ ” A fateful decision, as we shall see in a moment.

    By now, her line was thriving at Tiffany. Halston had taken her to see C.E.O. Walter Hoving in 1974, and the executive signed her up immediately. “After that, things went BOOM,” says Peretti. Her simple, sensual, sculptural shapes transformed the way women wore jewelry. A 1977 Newsweek cover story went so far as to claim that her designs had started the biggest revolution in jewelry since the Renaissance.

    Adding Fur to the Fire

    It has been said that Elsa’s new stardom added tension to her relationship with Halston. But there seems to have always been intense emotional and sexual energy between them. “The only problem was they never fucked,” said Eula.

    While drama had been the norm between them for a while, everything came to a head and exploded in January 1978 at Halston’s town house, during what was supposed to be a cozy evening with just them and Eula. (“A simple dinner of caviar, baked potato, and cocaine,” Eula recalled.)

    What transpired has become a fashion legend, though accounts have varied. But there is no dispute that the evening ended after Elsa yelled “f*ck you” to Halston and flung the fur he had given her into a roaring fire, which incinerated the garment immediately.

    In Simply Halston: The Untold Story, author Steven Gaines suggested that the sable had been a bone of contention for Peretti since it was part of her comparatively minimal compensation for her bottle design for the fragrance. (Gaines wrote that Halston had also given her a $25,000 check.) Elsa herself has never really explained her motivation that evening.

    Over a simple dinner of foie gras and vodka at Sant Martí Vell, she gave me her side of the story: “Halston was very aloof and cold. I wanted to get more personal with him. You never talked personally with him. The conversation was like ‘What are you wearing tonight?’ You know, at 12 o’clock at night, you don’t want to be speaking about clothes.” Frustrated that she could not break through to him, she snapped. “I said to him, ‘Your friendship means more to me than this f*cking coat,’ and then I threw it in the fire.”

    “I’d earned it,” she adds of the coat.

    After a three-month no-speak—during which he moved his design studio into its palatial new Olympic Tower quarters—the pair collided late one April night in the basement of Studio 54.

    In her limo on the way over, cocaine had already been snorted, as her date, Bob Colacello, recounted in his memoir, Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up. Things got off on the wrong foot after Studio proprietor Steve Rubell, who was sitting with Halston, said to Elsa, “Have another vodka, honey pie.”

    “How dare you call me ‘honey pie,’” Elsa snarled. David Geffen, sitting at the same table, tried to explain to her that “honey pie” in America was a term of affection, which only made Elsa more upset. Finally, Halston spoke up: “This is why I don’t want to see you.”

    It went from bad to worse: “I am not going to be thrown out of a basement by a ****** queen like you! You’re nothing but a no-culture cheap ****** dressmaker!” she screamed. “And you’re nothing but a low-class cheap jewelry designer,” he snapped back. Before Halston could leave, she emptied a bottle of vodka on his shoes, then smashed it to the ground, sending everyone fleeing.

    “It’s enough to make you want to stay home for the rest of your life,” recorded Andy in his diary after he learned about the incident the next day (as did much of Manhattan, via “Radio Rubell,” according to Colacello).

    Was it a testament to Elsa’s magnetism or a reflection of the era’s decadence that barely a week later Studio 54 was begging her to come back? The Warhol Diaries, April 23, 1978: “Stevie called and told me to ask Bob to invite Elsa Peretti, he said he didn’t care about that fight in the basement.”

    But not long after that, Elsa realized it was time to move on. “New York is not good for the relation,” she was quoted explaining a few years later.

    After reading The Warhol Diaries in 1987, she was even more grateful she had relocated. “In the end I was a little disappointed by Andy. He was a bit of a sh*t,” she says today.

    Throughout the 70s, she had been slowly restoring Sant Martí Vell and using it as a temporary escape hatch from New York. With the dawn of the 80s it became her permanent refuge. Today she owns numerous other dwellings—apartments in Rome, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and New York, and a spectacular stone tower in Porto Ercole, Italy, which dates from the 16th century—but she seldom visits them.

    “Here I feel free,” she says of her Spanish village. “Fashion was my bread and butter, but I didn’t live it. I was never fashion-oriented. I was attracted to Sant Martí because it was contrary to everything in New York and my family. Here there was no sophistication. My first years, things were still in ruins, many of the houses didn’t have roofs, and I slept on a bench and washed myself on the stone floor.” Today, while it is full of exquisite things, Sant Martí remains hard-edged. It’s rough beauty.

    Elsa has never married, but she’s certainly had her share of lovers. Her longest relationship was with Stefano Magini, a rugged guy whom she first met in 1978, when he was delivering stone to her home in Porto Ercole and knocked down her gate with his truck. He’s been described as a contractor. “He was basically a truckdriver,” says Elsa. “We were together 23 years. Ten were great.”

    There’s a monastic quality to Sant Martí Vell. It’s about work. There is always a project. The new house she just moved into had sat empty for four decades after she bought it before she decided to focus on it. A few years ago, she also built a sophisticated winery and launched a serious line of fine wines under the label Eccoci, which in Italian means “Here we are.”

    Tiffany Engagement

    Clearly what consumes her is the collection she has created for Tiffany. She supports ateliers of artisans in Japan and Italy, but many of her craftsmen are near Sant Martí. She has a tight bond with them, as she does with her customers. “While my mark is still alive, I dedicate every second of my life to be fair with myself, to my people, and my customers. I demand a lot from myself. Maybe I am a little too Taurus. But at least I feel I accomplished something,” she says.

    Her output, she explains, stems primarily from intuition and enthusiasm. When fallow periods come, as they often do, she goes on hiatus. “Then you have to go in another direction—rest, read. I never force myself to work.”

    Peretti doesn’t hide her satisfaction about what she’s earned. “I am very happy with what I’ve done. I knew a man wasn’t going to give me money.”

    Eventually, however, she did inherit a fortune from her father, Ferdinando. Just months before he died, in 1977, the two had a reconciliation. The cover story on her in Newsweek helped instigate it. The businessman had it translated into Italian and was finally full of pride and respect for his daughter’s accomplishments. Sadly, Elsa had only a fleeting period of time to enjoy his approval. But in his will he left her a hefty 44.25 percent of API’s shares, while Elsa’s only sibling, Mila, received 55.75 percent. At the same time, Mila’s husband, Aldo Brachetti Peretti, assumed the reins of the company. At the behest of Ferdinando, who had no sons, Aldo had taken the Peretti name when he married Mila and began working for the company.

    Elsa attempted to have a role managing the company but was rebuffed. She sued her sister for an even 50 percent stake, which eventually led to an epic corporate and legal battle that lasted approximately four years. In 1989 an arbitration panel awarded her an additional 4.75 percent of the stock, but that still left her at 49 percent.

    An angry Elsa had her family buy her shares, which left her sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars, according to estimates. It was money she didn’t feel right spending on herself. So in 2000 she transferred the bulk of those assets into a charity she launched and named after her father, the Nando Peretti Foundation. Since then the organization has given away more than $50 million on projects ranging from wildlife conservation and human rights to health and education in 68 countries.

    “The diversity of her foundation is extraordinary,” attested wildlife advocate (and brother of the Duchess of Cornwall) Mark Shand before his death, in April. “Yet the way she puts it together and runs it is so personal. She picks every project very, very carefully,” said Shand, whose organization, Elephant Family, has received N.P.F. grants.

    “It’s a serious foundation—it’s not for taxes,” Elsa comments.

    While the good work her foundation is doing may have ameliorated some of the bitterness she felt over the lawsuit, she appears to be estranged from her relatives, who are still unwilling to give her respect, she says: “I will never get it from them. We are not a family any longer. I don’t want to speak about them. They don’t deserve it—not my sister.” Since Aldo stepped down, in 2007, API, which had revenues of 3.92 billion euros in 2011, has been steered by the couple’s sons—Ferdinando Brachetti Peretti, who was recently divorced from H.H. Princess Mafalda of Hesse, and Ugo Brachetti Peretti, who is married to Countess Isabella Borromeo. (Aldo and Mila’s daughters, Benedetta and Chiara, sit on the board of the firm as well.)

    Elsa Peretti still knows how to make an entrance. She appears for her portrait garbed in a bright-yellow caftan, which was designed, not surprisingly, by Halston. She makes frequent jokes about the wider girth she possesses today. “Charles James told me, ‘Don’t get too thin—because when you’re older you will get fatter,’ ” she says.

    But refreshingly, unlike so many others, she is comfortable in her own skin. “No retouching,” she orders photographer Eric Boman. “This is how I am.”

    Even during her party-hopping years, Peretti was an elusive person. For some time now she has avoided the media. Filmmaker Whitney Sudler-Smith doggedly pursued her to appear in his 2010 documentary, Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston, but she never responded to his requests.

    She prefers to think about the future, she says. But after the portrait shoot is over, and a bottle of vodka is opened in her kitchen, she offers a few thoughts on the designer and her relationship with him.

    “What I really valued about Halston was the encouragement he gave me. When you like something somebody does, it’s important to tell them. Nobody tells you now.

    “Now everybody talks about his sex life and the coke, but he was working all the time—he was an incredible businessman. The problem was he never had a partner, like a Pierre Bergé or Giancarlo Giammetti, so he did everything himself and was always desperately trying to stay on top. He was up all night cutting. But it was incredible to see him cut. He was a much better cutter than anybody now.”

    Two years before his death, in 1990, the pair had a rapprochement, when he visited her in Porto Ercole. They phoned Joe Eula for laughs and tried to focus on the happier aspects of their relationship as they enjoyed the splendors of Peretti’s tower. In contrast to her rustic interiors in Spain, the appointments inside Porto Ercole, designed by the late Milanese master Renzo Mongiardino, are quite sumptuous.

    “Halston would never come here,” Elsa interjects with a mixture of humor and umbrage in her voice. “It wasn’t grand enough.”

    But it suits her perfectly.
  4. MissMagAddict

    MissMagAddict Well-Known Member

    Feb 2, 2005
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