What Would Audrey Wear?

A fashion crisis usually happens on mornings when you’ve already overslept or at midnight before a big event. You stand staring at your entire wardrobe piled on the bed—in my case, a six-foot mountain in 257 permutations of black—wondering why you seemingly have nothing to wear.

In these moments, I almost always call upon my favorite sweater, a black wool turtleneck I bought in 1986. A black turtleneck is a wardrobe basic, yet this 16-year-old one transcends basic. There’s something special about the fabric, the fit, and the cut. It works beautifully over skirts, pants, or jeans, and I suspect if I ever had the inclination to wear it with sweatpants or a ball gown, it would look okay with those too. It is, in a word, a true classic.

When in doubt, classic works. And when times are tough or uncertain, classic sells. Despite—or because of—the terrible events of the fall and the uncertainty of these times in general, shoppers decided Christmas 2001 was the time to give gifts with deep meaning and lasting value. Of course, jewelry fits the bill perfectly.

And what were they buying? Classics. Even by late November, reports from jewelers around the country indicated this wasn’t going to be a big year for high-fashion jewelry. Precious fashion is a splurge, and it certainly has its time and place. But when the message behind the gift is “now and forever,” the choice is almost always a classically designed piece.

Except there was one little glitch: Many jewelers went into 2001 with a lot of leftover inventory and so bought very little for holiday 2001, only to be caught short-handed once the unexpected demand hit. It now means that many jewelers’ inventories are greatly depleted and it’s time to stock up again.

Just as certain beloved wardrobe staples help end a fashion crisis, so too will the right pieces help avoid a merchandise crisis. The key lies in learning the difference between what’s classic and what’s just dull. There are staples that no jeweler should ever be without, but even among those, some pieces quickly look dated while others never do.

It’s easy to confuse bland with classic. While it’s true that most classic pieces tend to be simple rather than ornate, simplicity alone does not a classic make. Why does one turtleneck stand the test of time, while others look frumpy? Why does one diamond solitaire look distinctive, and another looks like any other ring in any other store?

It’s not a distinction that can easily be put into words. There’s a balance of form and proportion, of texture and size, of fit and craftsmanship that sets apart one piece as a classic while another remains average. And oddly enough, basics can look dated far more quickly than ornate or even outlandish pieces that are well designed and distinctive.

Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Jackie Onassis were queens of classic. Yet the typical “preppy” wardrobe—containing many of the same kinds of clothes these ladies wore—just looks dull. These women had a sense of the subtleties of detail and fit, and if they ever had a fashion crisis, we never knew. Perhaps, as you’re buying this spring, the best way to ensure you choose classics rather than basics is to ask of each piece, “Would Audrey wear this?”

On a separate note, I’d like to introduce a new page (p. 22) debuting this month in JCK . Quite simply, it’s called “This Month.” Born of a suggestion we received from jewelers attending the Jewelers Education Foundation’s fall seminar last October, it contains a brief summary of each of the key features in the issue. While we hope you enjoy all of our comprehensive reports every month, we know you’re busy and we’ve designed “This Month” to help you target first those articles that have the most relevance for you. Happy reading!