Natasha Koifman, owner of the Toronto-based public-relations firm NKPR, recently walked down the red carpet at the L.A. premiere of Cirque du Soleil's new show, Iris, in a Dolce & Gabbana gown with an Alexander McQueen purse and Christian Dior shoes. The item that she received the most compliments on, however, was the long, green faux sautoir she had draped around her neck; it was by the costume-jewellery designer Alan Anderson.
"I am the girl who never fakes anything, but the fact of Alan Anderson's jewellery being real or not real never even entered [the]picture," Koifman says. "As far as I'm concerned, [his one-of-a-kind pieces]are real in that they're really beautiful."
Koifman isn't alone in her love – and public embrace – of costume jewellery: Drew Barrymore, Sarah Jessica Parker and Scarlett Johansson are just a few of the fashion plates who have foregone precious stones and metals recently for high-impact fallalery. Faux jewellery has also been spotted on the trendsetting Duchess of Cambridge. And it's appearing across the retail spectrum: Costume lines have been developed by brands such as Marni, Prada and Oscar de la Renta on the high end and Joe Fresh and Reitmans on the low.
Costume is, in fact, a fast-growing retail segment: In North America, sales in 2010 totalled $2.3-billion (U.S.), according to the latest Costume Jewelry and Novelty Manufacturing Industry report, released this past July. That figure is up from $2-billion in 2009.
Around since at least the 1700s – and made popular during the last century by designers such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, by movie outfitters like Joseff of Hollywood and by New York-based jewellers Miriam Haskell and Hattie Carnegie, all of whose faux baubles are hotly pursued as collectors' items today – costume jewellery has appeared on the fashion radar, perhaps not surprisingly, at a time when the economy is still in crisis mode.
Its resurgence can also be tied to the recent return to the craft of Kenneth Jay Lane, the American designer who first made fakes fashionable more than 40 years ago, when his bold gewgaws adorned the likes of Jackie Onassis and the Duchess of Windsor.
But a new generation of costume jewellers are also giving ersatz a shot in the arm.
Elena Kiam is co-owner of Lia Sophia, the New York-based costume-jewellery line sold across Canada through select retailers. The pervasiveness of the trend has surprised even her. "If you had asked me 15 years ago if top celebrities and other style icons would opt to wear costume jewellery on the red carpet, my answer would have been, 'No, definitely not,' " she says from her company's headquarters on Madison Avenue. "But that was then. Today, mixing high and low isn't just okay; it's the trend."
The dominant look in costume jewellery at the moment is big and bold: Lia Sophia's fall collection, Boudicaa, unveiled last month at the Toronto International Film Festival and New York's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, is reflective of that. Named after the Celtic warrior queen famous for wearing a great deal of heavy metal and little else, the pieces are priced from $50 to $600 and have already been seen on Jessica Alba, Ashlee Simpson, Katherine Heigl and Solange Knowles, among other tastemakers.
Made of horn and coloured resin, the chunky necklaces, rings and cuffs that make up Boudicaa, which was designed by Dani Stahl, were also "inspired by the heft and weight of vintage jewellery," Kiam says.
The large-scale, vintage-style look is also favoured by Anderson, whose collections are sold across Canada through Holt Renfrew. A self-taught jeweller specializing in pieces made from vintage crystals, stones and other materials sourced across North America, Anderson creates statement pieces inspired by the screen sirens of Hollywood's Golden Age, including Norma Shearer, Marlene Dietrich, Lena Horne, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.
"Fashion always has to skip a generation to be cool," Anderson says. "Look at Mad Men and its influence on fashion. The same applies to jewellery."
Maximalist and luxe, Anderson's jewellery ranges in price from $555 for earrings to $2,195 for a necklace. Fans include Emily Deschanel and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Other jewellers have turned to costume as a way to supplement their more expensive collections with items that a greater number of women can afford.
Among them is Micalla, a Montreal-based precious jewellery business that recently launched its lower-priced Don't Ask line through select stores across Canada. The faux collection shows the same attention to detail as its fine jewellery, probably because both are designed by the same person, Danish-born Camilla Jorgensen.
"Even though this is our more commercial line, it isn't mass-produced," Jorgensen says. "The collections are constantly updated and only made in limited quantities."
As for the trend's sticking power, Kiam doesn't believe that costume jewellery is a flash in the pan.
"I think that costume is here to stay," she says. "It's a proven collectible."
As Jorgensen sees it, the low-commitment factor has enduring appeal: "Sometimes all you want to do is date a piece of jewellery, not marry it."