At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Fulco di Verdura - jeweller

Exclusive brand favoured by stars and royalty


Fulco di Verdura, pictured in around 1939 at the time of launching the Verdura business in New York
Fulco di Verdura, pictured in around 1939 at the time
of launching the Verdura business in New York
The man behind the exclusive jewellery brand Verdura was born Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duke of Verdura, on this day in 1898 in Palermo.

Usually known as Fulco di Verdura, he founded the Verdura company in 1939, when he opened a shop on Fifth Avenue in New York and became one of the premier jewellery designers of the 20th century.

Well connected through his own heritage and through his friendship with the songwriter Cole Porter, Verdura found favour with royalty and with movie stars.

Among his clients were the Duchess of Windsor - the former socialite Wallis Simpson - and stars such as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Paulette Godard, Millicent Rogers and Marlene Dietrich.

Although Verdura died in 1978, the company lives on and continues to specialise in using large, brightly coloured gemstones.

The Oppenheimer Blue, the most expensive diamond ever sold at auction
The Oppenheimer Blue, the most expensive
diamond ever sold at auction
The most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction, the so-called Oppenheimer Blue diamond, was set in a ring designed by Verdura. It changed hands at Christie's in Geneva for $50.6 million (£34.7 million) in May 2016.

The last to bear the now defunct Sicilian title of Duke of Verdura, Fulco grew up in aristocratic surroundings largely unchanged since the 18th century.  The novel The Leopard, written by his cousin, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, is said to depict his eccentric and artistic family.

However, his family were not so wealthy that he could live a life of leisure and it became clear he would need to find a profession appropriate to his stature in society and lucrative enough to fund the lifestyle he wished to maintain.

He wanted to be an artist but his destiny was shaped by meeting Linda and Cole Porter in Palermo in 1919.  They became friends and it was through the Porters that Di Ventura met Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in Venice in 1925, when they were both guests at a party hosted by the American couple.

Chanel invited him to Paris, initially as a textile designer, but then asked him to update the settings of jewellery she had been given by a number of former lovers and it became clear where his talents lay. They began an eight-year collaboration when Chanel made him head designer of Chanel jewellery.

Cole Porter became a friend and financial backer of Fulco di Verdura
Cole Porter became a friend and financial
backer of Fulco di Verdura
It was not long after Fulco started working for Chanel that he designed the Maltese Cross Cuffs that are now considered the hallmark of the Verdura brand.

Fulco left Chanel in 1934 and moved to the United States, where Diana Vreeland, a Chanel client based in New York, introduced him to the jeweller Paul Flato, with whom he opened a boutique in Hollywood.

He set up on his own in 1939, opening a small salon called Verdura in New York at 712 Fifth Avenue, with the financial backing of Cole Porter and Vincent Astor. His designs were influenced by both his love of nature as a child in Sicily and his admiration for the art of the Renaissance.

His long list of celebrity clients prompted the New York Times to dub him "America's Crown Jeweller".

In 1941, Di Verdura collaborated with Salvador DalĂ­ on a collection of jewellery designs and in the same year designed “Night and Day” cufflinks for Cole Porter, inspired by the lyrics of the hit song.

He continued to work in the United States until 1973, when he sold his stake in the Verdura business to Joseph Alfano, his business partner, and moved to London, where he would focus on painting. He died there five years later at the age of 80.

Verdura logo
In 1985, Alfano sold the company to Ward Landrigan, a former head of Sotheby's American jewellery department. Landrigan decided to preserve the Verdura aesthetic and made jewellery the same way Fulco had, using many of the same jewellers Fulco used.

Landrigan's son, Nico Landrigan, joined Verdura in 2003, becoming President of the company in 2009.

Today, Verdura continues to appear on the pages of the top fashion magazines and celebrity clients include Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, Anne Hathaway and Cameron Diaz.

Most of Fulco's designs were from individual commissions, yet he produced an estimated 5,000 items of jewellery during his lifetime.

Travel tip:

If there is one attraction in Palermo that most visitors would describe as a must-see it is the Palatine Chapel, the royal chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily situated on the ground floor of the Palazzo Reale.  The mosaics of the chapel are of unrivalled elegance, noted for subtle changes in colour and luminance. The mosaics of the transept, dating from the 1140s and attributed to Byzantine artists and include an illustrated scene, along the north wall, of St. John in the desert. The rest of the mosaics, dated to the 1160s or the 1170s, feature Latin rather than Greek inscriptions.

The Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi in Palermo
The Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi in Palermo
Travel tip:

Fulco di Verdura was a cousin of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the novel The Leopard, much of which is set in Palermo.  The director Luchino Visconti, who made a film of the book, chose for the magnificent ball at the end of the book the Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi in Piazza Croce dei Vespri, a palace designed in Baroque style.

More reading:


Guccio Gucci - the lift boy who went from carrying bags to designing them for the rich and famous

Miuccia Prada's journey from the Communist Party to head of family fashion empire

Gianfranco Ferré's quest to make clothes for real women


Also on this day:






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