Vintage News | A Roman Lunch With Elsa Peretti

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Elsa Peretti.



"I've retired," insists elegant ex-model and legendary designer Elsa Peretti offering champagne. "I'm not inspired any more. I prefer not to talk about fashion and jewellery." In a husky voice, redolent of cigarettes and the Seventies-style energy of Studio 54-dancing, she talks of little else during lunch. 

Peretti is one the most influential designers of our time. For over 40 years she has revolutionised jewellery. She came to jewellery in the Seventies with new ideas and materials. She changed the look of it as well as the way girls wore jewels. The pieces which she created with Tiffany & Co include sensual symbols which have become classics in women's wardrobes around the world. Such as organic-looking bone cuffs, which mould the wrist; beans; starfish; teardrops; and open hearts. Peretti invested her designs with the emotions we feel.

"This was one of the biggest works of my life," she says, pointing to a silver snake necklace which she worked on obsessively to perfect its fluidity and tactile quality.

What was her design secret?

"I don't know if I'm an artist," she answered, "art is something you do alone. In jewellery, you need other people to work with. But I have the sense of touch and weight. And I charm the craftsmen. That's the secret. Without them we are nothing."

And what does she consider her greatest achievement?

"I put silver on the map," she says, clipping on her own silver cat island wave shell earrings which travel everywhere with her.

Peretti is modestly forgetting the revolution she created with Diamonds By The Yard. Named by the designer Halston, the diamonds dotted along chains were a turning point. Prior to that moment, diamonds were formal, serious and no fun. Peretti enabled everyone to afford a diamond chain around their necks. "Yes,it has turned into diamonds by the mile," she concedes of its enduring popularity.

Her inspirational places include the Istanbul's Topkapi Palace and the V&A Museum. "I used to visit when I was a model in London." Every surface of her Rome apartment (that has windows framing St Peter's Basilica in the background) is covered with memorabilia and personal trinkets, wooden objets, silver bowls, fans, shells and her drawings.

Surely they're inspirational and she's still tempted to design? "I don't belong to this generation," she says, "they use materials too fast. I don't like computers. I hate selfies, they are the worst."

But Karl Lagerfeld is still working, I put to her. "He's a genius,", she retorts. "I don't think I'm a genius. You're just doing something you love. I worked too much and pushed myself. Now I feel like resting."

Later on she talks about green gold, Fairmined gold from community mines. "If I'd known about it when I designed," she sighs, "that would have been good."

You detect her brain starting the complicated process of capturing emotion in something with function. She may have taken herself out of design, but it would be impossible to take design out of this woman.

Click here to see this original article on vogue.co.uk >

Click here to read our old blog post "Elsa Peretti: Icon and Innovator" >

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