From the exquisite elegance of French fashion designer Coco Chanel to the Golden Age Hollywood glamour of silver-screen starlet Greta Garbo, history’s style icons are the inspiration behind Verdura. And now, the understatedly chic jewelry brand founded in 1939 by Sicilian nobleman Duke Fulco di Verdura is available to stylish area residents at the recently unveiled Verdura shop in the Precious Jewels Salon at Neiman Marcus in Plaza Frontenac.
The whirlwind fairy-tale circumstances that would lead to the beginning of Verdura jewelry house were sparked in 1920, when its fashionable founder met American composing phenom Cole Porter while on his honeymoon in the Sicilian province of Palermo. During the early years of what would become a lifelong friendship, Porter recognized Verdura’s extraordinary artistic talent and encouraged him to move to Paris to design textiles for Porter’s beloved comrade, Coco Chanel. “Verdura always wanted to design and make jewelry, so he became [Chanel’s] personal jeweler,” says Jim Haag, Verdura managing director.
In 1934, Verdura immigrated to New York, where Porter introduced the budding jeweler to the period’s most elite East Coast families, from the Rockefellers to the Astors, and the West Coast’s most sophisticated starlets, from Greta Garbo to Katharine Hepburn – all for whom he would go on to design precious pieces of personalized jewelry.
Verdura made his official American jeweler debut on the brink of World War II, when Porter and one of his friends, prominent New York businessman and philanthropist Vincent Astor, funded the Sept. 1, 1939, opening of the brand’s first shop along famed fashion destination Fifth Avenue. “People who went to Verdura were asking him to design [pieces] not because they wanted to show off their wealth but because they wanted to show off how much style they had,” Haag says. “Verdura was really the jeweler of style.”
Verdura would go on to make his indelible design mark by creating thousands of eclectic, yet classic wearable jewels through 1973. “The majority of what Verdura made were special orders for clients, so he really customized for the people,” Haag says. As he became known as the “jeweler to the stars,” Verdura kept handwritten ledgers for every piece of jewelry ever sold until his death in 1978.
Today, area residents can get their hands on those iconic pieces and more at the new local Verdura shop, which showcases the brand’s signature multicolor-gemmed Maltese cross cuffs and pearl “Y” necklace, both inspired by Coco Chanel; the bold and classy curb-link bracelet created for Greta Garbo; the gold and diamond double crescent bracelet, adopted by style-setters such as Britain’s late Princess Diana; the three-stone ring, featuring colorful gems ranging from peridot to amethyst, aquamarine and blue topaz; and the playfully colorful candy ring.
The new Verdura shop is classic, authentic and approachable, much like the jewelry itself and those who wear it, Haag says. “The Verdura brand is more fun than formal,” he says. “Verdura wanted people to wear his jewelry [every day]. People who wear Verdura are confident, authentic and a lot of fun. They are not interested in wearing labels – they are wearing their own style.”
And just in time for the holidays, the unique boutique also will offer Verdura’s latest House Party collection: Named for the multiday – and sometimes even multiweek – star-studded, high-society house parties Verdura attended throughout his life in the States and abroad, the line boasts everyday wearable creations based on the brand’s most famous pieces, such as the caged ring, originally made for CBS founder William Paley’s wife, Dorothy. Expanding on this whimsical yet timeless yellow gold and rock crystal design, the new Caged Collection features complementary caged cuffs, caged bangles, caged drop earrings and a caged lariat necklace.
Verdura jewelry, worn by some of today’s most stylish celebrities, such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Swift, Sofia Coppola and Carolina Herrera, is well-suited for “sophisticated St. Louisans,” Haag says. “The St. Louis client is quietly sophisticated, has a great sense of personal style and is very in tune with the Verdura philosophy of wearing jewelry that shows off [her] personal style.”
Lindsey Barile, public relations manager for Neiman Marcus, says customers will receive an unparalleled experience as they shop the storied Verdura collection. “Verdura has designed for starlets, businesswomen and the ‘who’s who’ of society for decades,” she says. “We are thrilled that our clients will learn the history of Verdura and the specific stories behind the pieces in the collection – as these items are truly pieces of history.”
And the stylish story continues: Upon his retirement in 1973, Verdura left behind an archive of almost 10,000 original design sketches, of which only about 3,800 have been made. So, as the Verdura brand creates lines for the future, Haag says “there’s a treasure trove for us to choose from.” Sophisticated St. Louisans: Stay tuned!
Neiman Marcus, 1701 S. Lindbergh Blvd., No. 100, Frontenac, 314-567-9811, neimanmarcus.com