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Kenneth Jay Lane (1932 – 2017)
(On July 21, 2017, The New York Times published an obituary for Kenneth Jay Lane who died at his Manhattan home overnight. The article below was originally written in December 2014.)
American, born in Detroit, Michigan, 1932, he graduated from Detroit Central High School, the University of Michigan and the Rhode Island School of Design. Lane got his start with Hattie Carnegie before designing shoes for Christian Dior and Delman. In his free time, he began creating flashy jewelry.
In the mid-1950s, he began working in Vogue Magazine’s art department. From the late 1950s to the early 1960s he also designed shoes for the Roger Vivier studio at and then shoes and jewelry for Arnold Scaasi.
After establishing his KJL Company in 1963, Lane quickly rose to prominence in the fashion world. Among his first designs were inexpensive, rhinestone covered plastic bangles to which he added findings and turned them into excessively large earrings. His jewelry is big, bold, original and executed in exquisite designs with dramatic, superior workmanship.
The designs are frequently inspired by mythology, the zodiac, as well as Ancient, Medieval and Art Deco periods. The jewelry includes figurals and animals often with striking and startling color combinations. The pieces contain superior, fine rhinestones plus synthetic stones from Germany.
Kenneth Jay Lane also produces accessories including handbags, watches and hair ornaments that are sold in top boutiques throughout the world.
Lane created designs for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Vreeland, and Audrey Hepburn. He is probably most identified with the three-strand faux pearl necklace worn by Jacqueline Kennedy during her husband’s presidency. A version of this piece was worn by Barbara Bush at husband George H.W. Bush’s inaugural ball.
Lane’s pearl jewelry has been worn by many of the world’s First Ladies as well as the worlds rich and famous. In the 1960s, K.J.L. (as the company was known until the mid-70s, when the periods were dropped) produced brooches and other jewelry reflecting Asian influences that incorporated elements like Buddhas, dragons, and Indian goddesses.
Lane is also known for costume jewelry animals, including pins in the shapes of faux-emerald eyed lions, bangles ending in pairs of rams heads, and rhinestone-studded Scottie dog brooches. Lane’s “big cat” pieces were inspired by the Cartier fine jewelry created in the 1940s and ’50s for the Duchess of Windsor. While other jewelry designers wanted to create an air of exclusivity around their products, Lane created a KJL for Avon line in the 1980s, sold his gaudiest pieces on QVC in the late 1990s, and marketed Christmas pieces via The Franklin Mint.
Lane’s mark was “K.J.L.” for his first 10 years of production and marked, “KJL for AVON” when he produced designs for that company. Then it became “KJL” for QVC, then, in 1963, finally revised to “Kenneth Lane” with a copyright symbol in an oval frame, the mark which continues into the present.
Pieces made until the late 1970s are marked KJL and are the most collectible. Lane’s jewelry line for Saks Fifth Avenue was signed Kenneth Jay Lane. Jewelry for Laguna that featured their pearls, was signed Kenneth Lane Laguna.
Experts do suggest that, when considering acquiring Kenneth Jay Lane pieces, pay special attention to the mark. Kenneth Jay Lane has always signed his jewelry with a mark so beware of “unsigned” Kenneth Jay Lane. Another thing to watch for is fake Lane jewelry. If the mark is glued on, it is certainly not authentic. Kenneth Jay Lane’s marks are always soldered, engraved, or deeply embedded into the jewelry and never glued.
Lane was among those named to Vanity Fair’s International Best Dressed List, Hall of Fame in 1974. His book, “Faking It” written with Harrice Simons Miller was published in 1996.
Kenneth Jay Lane is considered an icon among costume jewelry designers and his jewelry continues to be in great demand by collectors. Innovative, gifted and imaginative, Kenneth Jay Lane produced exceptional creations that will continue to assure his place in fashion history and in every woman’s collection.
“I like to create jewelry that can be worn any time of the year, by any woman. Glamour is all year round.”-Kenneth Jay Lane
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