If a Manolo Blahnik pump with a three-inch heel was the definitive “It” shoe for a generation of urban professionals raised on a diet of Sex and the City, its jewellery equivalent was a sexy gold earring known as the Stella.
Roberto Faraone Mennella, the creator of that iconic parabolic hoop, died June 4 in Torre del Greco, near Naples, Italy. The cause was cancer. He was 48.
News of his death was first communicated through the social media accounts of Amedeo Scognamiglio, his partner in business and in life. “Robu is finally free,” Mr. Scognamiglio wrote on Instagram, “sketching jewels and interiors in his new home in Heaven.”
Raised in Torre del Greco, Mr. Faraone Mennella was attending a private Jesuit high school when he met Mr. Scognamiglio at a friend’s birthday party. “It was difficult at that time in the south of Italy, and within our very conservative circle, even to admit to ourselves we were gay,” Mr. Scognamiglio said in an interview. The two men went on to study law at the University of Naples, although neither would ever practise.
Instead, fleeing anachronistic social strictures that still held sway in the southern Italy of the late 1990s, they quit Naples for New York City, where Mr. Faraone Mennella enrolled in the Parsons School of Design to study design marketing, while Mr. Scognamiglio hawked the cameos that had been his family stock in trade for generations.
“I sold to Macy’s, the jewellery center on West 47th Street, Chinatown jewellery exchanges, anywhere” while awaiting a commercial break, Mr. Scognamiglio said.
Good fortune, when it struck in the otherwise ill-omened year of 2001, took a series of turns so improbable that they might have lifted from Calvino’s Italian Folktales. There was a late-night call, a woman identifying herself as Sarah Jessica Parker, an exchange of numbers almost immediately misplaced and, later, a midnight stroll on the Upper East Side that led Mr. Scognamiglio and Mr. Faraone Mennella to a block where a Sex and the City shoot happened to be underway.
“We knocked on the door of the wardrobe trailer,“ Mr. Scognamiglio said. In the doorway appeared a flame-haired apparition in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, a cigarette dangling from her lips. It was the show’s influential stylist, Patricia Field. “She said, ‘Where have you been?’ ” Mr. Scognamiglio recalled. “ ‘We’ve been trying to track you two down for months.’ ”
Eventually, Ms. Field chose one of Mr. Scognamiglio’s cameos to use as an accessory for Ms. Parker’s character, Carrie Bradshaw, and called in the entire first collection of samples from Mr. Faraone Mennella’s fledgling label, Faraone Mennella.
Elegant and yet offhand, these were a natural fit for the show’s principal characters, a shiny cohort of professional women with messy love lives and closets full of shoes. Even before the first store had placed an order, Faraone Mennella jewels were appearing on screen, emblems of what in the jewellery trade was being pitched to female consumers as “the self-purchase.”
“The secret power of those hoops we all saw on Sex and the City was how effortless the design seemed,” Stellene Volandes, the editor-in-chief of Town & Country and the editorial director of Elle Decor, said.
They were the sort of thing Kim Cattrall’s character, Samantha Jones, might wear to a party on a yacht anchored off Capri – lustrous enough to register as fine jewellery and yet nothing so fusty as mommy’s pearls or stuff pulled from a vault.
And while, at roughly $450 a pair, they were far from cheap, the Stella earrings – 18-karat gold with beaded pendant loops of tiger’s-eye, aquamarine, turquoise or diamonds – were nevertheless priced to appeal to a generation that no longer looked to men to provide their baubles.
Propelled by that early success, Faraone Mennella designs would find their way into couture collections by Carolina Herrera, with whom the designers embarked on a five-year collaboration in 2004, and onto the sales floors of Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s and Saks in what may turn out to have been the twilight of the great department stores.
“Roberto and Amedeo loved their clients, loved women, were inspired by them,” said Linda Fargo, director of women’s fashion for Bergdorf Goodman. “Their clients became their muses.”
Those clients, almost inevitably, came to include fast-living aristocrats from London’s smart set; Hollywood A-listers like Jennifer Aniston, Hilary Swank and Cameron Diaz; and members of a freshly minted caste of American plutocrats.
In 2015, Mr. Faraone Mennella was commissioned to create a suite of jewellery for the lavish Amalfi Coast wedding of Hope Dworaczyk, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year, and Robert F. Smith, a billionaire investor and philanthropist.
“Roberto’s refined sense of style accentuated the beauty of the women with the beauty of the stone,” Mr. Smith said by email. “When he designed the pieces I requested for my wife, he was focused on enhancing her beauty and not promoting his style.”
Roberto Faraone Mennella was born Sept. 25, 1971, in Torre del Greco – for centuries a centre of cameo and coral jewellery production – to Renato Faraone Mennella, an agronomist, and Hannelore (Czermak) Faraone Mennella. Besides his parents, he leaves Mr. Scognamiglio and a sister.
The jeweller’s life was not all pavé diamonds and million-dollar parures for Faraone Mennella. Starting in 2002, he offered his designs to a broader consuming public on the Home Shopping Network. True, the gold was now plate and the jewels simulated. Yet the prices of Mr. Faraone Mennella’s costume jewellery (about $100) were within reach of the average consumer, and the designs sacrificed little of the brand’s integrity to accessibility.
“Light, engineered well, those interlocking shapes of Roberto’s remain as valid and desirable now as the day they were created,” Ms. Fargo of Bergdorf Goodman said. “A hoop is forever.”