Handbags and Accessories

The Legend Behind the Most Collectable Chanel Jewelry from the 80s and 90s

By Lindsey Weiss
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Francis Patiky Stein

The Rise of Frances Patiky Stein

In the 1960s, Frances Patiky Stein met Diana Vreeland as a rising Senior at Smith College. Vreeland, credited with discovering many talents such as Lauren Bacall, interviewed Stein for a position at Harper’s Bazaar. The New York Times reported Stein’s recollection of the interaction in a 2005 interview with W Magazine: “The first thing Vreeland did was grab my hair and say, ‘That’s Russian hair,’ She hired me on the spot and sent a memo around saying that a girl with great hair had arrived. People were expecting Rapunzel”.

Stein started her career in fashion working for Glamour Magazine and then as a millinery editor at Harper’s Bazaar. It was in this position that she met Halston. Roy Halston Frowick was starting to build a name for himself designing hats for Bergdorf Goodman, and in 1968 when he decided to build his own brand, asked Stein to join his team.

Soon after, Stein became a fashion director for Vogue, and was hired by Calvin Klein to assist in designing collections. The late André Leon Talley said of Stein, “Frances was one of those iconic fashion editors. With impeccable style and a certain mystique and as intimidating as polished granite. One of the sacred monsters of that time. She wore cashmere as if it were sable”.

Frances Stein and the House of Chanel

While Frances Stein was on the rise, the House of Chanel was depreciating. Following the death of Coco Chanel in 1971, the brand suffered a massive decline in reputation and sales. In the early 1980s, Stein was brought in to breathe new life into the brand. She designed cashmere pieces, classic handbags, fashion jewelry, and the iconic ballet flat. All of which boosted the company’s popularity and saved it from potential ruin. Though little credit is given, as lead designer for Chanel jewelry from the 1980s to the beginning of the 2000s, Stein developed the brand’s signature jewelry style that remains relevant today.

The New York Times described Stein as a perfectionist with a big personality and strong temper, stating that even in her early days as an editor, she was known to throw objects such as scissors or coffee. In 1982, after being named head of Chanel’s fashion accessories, Stein acknowledged her reputation stating, “I adore what I do…but I am a loner and I know I have a reputation for being difficult. This disturbs me, because most people who have worked with me know how hard I work at what I do. I’m a perfectionist.”

Frances Patiky Stein's Collection: Chanel Green and Red Gripoix Necklace, Gold Metal, Circa 1971-1981

Frances Stein and Karl Lagerfeld

Following Stein, Karl Lagerfeld was hired to run the ready-to-wear and couture lines. It is known Lagerfeld and Stein clashed. He outwardly complained about her behavior and belittled her categorical contributions to the brand. In 1985, Lagerfeld said to Women’s Wear Daily, “I like some of her cashmeres, and I don’t mind her doing all that duty-free jewelry”. The tension was palpable and evident enough to have been recorded in the media. According to The New York Times, Stein once compared one of Lagerfeld’s boot designs to “hooves”.

Jill Kargman, daughter of Arie Kopelman, President and COO of Chanel from 1984 to 2004, acknowledged how immense Stein’s economic impact was and how it added to Stein’s feud with Lagerfeld recalling how Stein’s success made Lagerfeld so jealous he launched his own accessories studio within Chanel. Kargman explained she and Stein would often discuss the conflict with Lagerfeld.

Nonetheless, both creative visions came together to revitalize the brand into what it is today, restoring the status and reputation achieved by Coco Chanel.

Frances Patiky Stein's Collection: Chanel Faux Pearls Gripoix Necklace and Gold Metal, 1971-1981

The Legacy of Vintage Chanel Jewelry

It was the early 1920s, and Coco Chanel had already captivated the fashion world with radical, sporty silhouettes that freed women’s physical form. And, of course, with the little black dress, or petit robe noir. Eager to astound her loyal followers once again, Mademoiselle Chanel made opulent costume jewels her next endeavor. By combining faux and precious materials in an unprecedented way, Chanel costume jewelry, or bijouterie, would forever alter the course of fashion history.

Stein’s design aesthetic became instantly recognizable as she was known for use of color, gripoix (poured glass), floral motifs, and chunky metal pieces.

Frances Patiky Stein's Collection: Chanel Earclips, 1971-1981

Chanel costume jewelry are best recognized for the visual interest created by their contrast and excess, which fit right in with the opulent designs of the 1980s and 90s. Often accompanied by a matching ring or cuff bracelet, Chanel jewelry is the ideal finishing touch to any outfit. Today, vintage Chanel costume jewelry is coveted by the most dedicated collectors.

Frances Patiky Stein's Collection: Chanel Camelia Earclips and One Matching Brooch, 1971-1981

Collecting Vintage Chanel Jewelry

Sotheby's Buy Now Marketplace has a large selection of Vintage Chanel Jewelry. While the pieces available changes regularly, you will almost always find earrings, bracelets and necklaces featuring iconic motifs in plated gold. Vintage Chanel jewelry pieces are highly collectible and preferred by most Chanel fans over the modern pieces. The intricate gripoix designs are even more sought after due to their rarity and craftsmanship.

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