Elsa Peretti (pictured), the former fashion model whose jewelry designs became a staple at Tiffany & Co., died on March 18, according to WWD. She was 80.
Born in Florence, Italy, the younger daughter of an oil magnate, she worked as a ski instructor before pursuing a degree in interior design in Milan.
She then came to New York City to be a fashion model, with only limited success.
“It was hard for me to model here,” she told The New York Times. “The perfect American model was blond, looked 16, and was beautiful. I was too tall, too strange, too Spanish, they said.”
From there, she began designing for Halston, eventually fashioning the designer’s signature teardrop perfume bottle.
“I became a jewelry designer because I knew how to do something with a pencil and sketch my ideas,” she told Time. “My friends admired what I was doing. The kind of attitude then was, Why not?”
She also credited Halston with giving her some key advice.
“[W]hen I started doing jewels that I thought were great but too expensive, he said, ‘Make small, medium, and large,” she told Time. “It may sound simple, but it was very useful, and I have never forgotten it.”
Her longtime association with Tiffany & Co. began in 1974. She quickly became renowned for her Bone cuff, Diamonds by the Yard, and inverted snake designs.
Her fame became such that her designs made the cover of a 1977 issue of Newsweek, titled “Jewelry’s New Dazzle.”
Her collaboration with Tiffany was so fruitful that in 2012, when it looked like the retailer might lose the license, it mentioned Peretti’s possible defection in its financial report, noting that her designs comprised 10 percent of its sales. One publication, noting the popularity of her Jewish star necklaces, said the breakup would be a “blow to Bat Mitzvah girls everywhere.” (Peretti and Tiffany eventually came to terms.)
Peretti’s name still seems to hold considerable power, with Tiffany reissuing some of her vintage designs last year.
“I’m happy to see designs that are so important to me reinvigorated in this way, made even more modern and relevant,” she said in a statement at the time. “This is part of the secret of my things—they are still valid.”
Her designs reside in the permanent collections of the British Museum in London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
Tiffany said in a statement: “A masterful artisan, Elsa was responsible for a revolution in the world of jewelry design. Her collections of organic, sensual forms have inspired generations. Elsa’s relationship with style and the natural world was profoundly personal and strongly reflected in her creations.… Elsa explored nature with the acumen of a scientist and the vision of a sculptor.”
Peretti never married, and at press time there was no information on survivors.
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