Cross Wearer: Diana ­Vreeland’s Chanel Brooches

Everyone comes back from vacation a little happier. But when designer Coco Chanel and jeweler Fulco di Verdura returned from a joint holiday in Italy in the 1930s, they were also filled with inspiration. They’d been awestruck by two sights: the colorful Byzantine mosaic of Empress Theodora in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, and the eight-point Maltese crosses in Sicily. With that artwork in mind, Verdura (under Chanel’s auspices) created his stunning Theodora and Ravenna brooches by pressing rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, amethysts, peridots, and tourmalines into two yellow gold Maltese crosses.

“Both the design and the materials were game changing,” says Verdura chairman and CEO Ward Landrigan. “The use of gold as well as the mix of precious and semiprecious stones were a bold departure from the limited palette and rigid geometry of the Art Deco style.” Theodora and Ravenna eventually inspired the Verdura Maltese cuffs that became one of Chanel’s trademarks. But she didn’t keep the brooches: The couturier gifted them to friend and fashion editor Diana ­Vreeland, who often wore them fastened to her turban—making them, perhaps, the world’s most fashion-forward vacation souvenir.

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