Yesterday, Elsa Peretti’s family office in Zurich announced that the jewelry designer, who was famous for her creations for the US jeweler Tiffany & Co., died Thursday at the age of 80 in a village near Barcelona, Spain peacefully in her sleep.
Just last October, Tiffany & Co. had tapped Peretti to design nine one-of-a-kind pieces, based on archival designs from her personal library, in celebration of 50 years since the introduction of her widely recognized bone-cuff bracelet – and 45 years since she began designing for the company.
Tiffany’s Instagram post.
A pioneering designer
Elsa Peretti was born in Florence and trained in Switzerland and Rome, where she later returned to for a degree in interior design. In the late ’60s, she had established herself as a model in New York City and Barcelona, and she also began to design her own jewelry. A small silver bottle worn as a necklace became her first successful creation. She found the inspiration for this design in Portofino, where women used to wear fragile gardenia flowers as a fashion accessory: the small silver vase necklace made the flowers last longer. Throughout her career, she would always try to combine beauty with practicability.
Elsa Peretti’s bottle pendants for Tiffany & Co.
The American fashion designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo used some of her pieces in a fashion show, where they immediately became a huge success. The very next day she was a star in New York. During this time she met the legendary US fashion designer and seventies icon Halston, with whom she had a lifelong friendship and with whom she worked frequently. The US jeweler Tiffany & Co. became aware of the young designer and in 1974, she started an exclusive collaboration that would last through her entire career.
Elsa Peretti with Halston in 1977
She often seeked inspiration from everyday objects – a bean, a bone or an apple could be turned into cufflinks, bracelets, vases or lighters, scorpions and snakes were turned into attractive necklaces and rings, often in silver as one of their preferred materials. She herself said: «There is no new design, because good lines and shapes are timeless» and in fact her pieces are as modern and wearable today as ever.
Elsa Peretti’s famous bone cuffs.
Elsa Peretti’s designs are in the permanent collections of the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. In recognition of her remarkable work, Tiffany established the Elsa Peretti Professorship in Jewelry Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the first endowed professorship in the history of FIT. In addition to other honors, the designer was awarded an honorary doctorate from the FIT in 2001. She also received the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award for Jewelry in 1971 and the Rhode Island School of Design President’s Fellow Award in 1981. In 1996, she was named Accessory Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Elsa Peretti was also known for her charm, and friendliness towards others. She had a profoundly humanitarian vocation, supporting cultural, scientific and educational initiatives and advocating the defense of human rights. In 2000, she founded a charity in honor of her father, which was renamed the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation in 2015, that focuses on the protection of the environment and wildlife. Furthermore, it also aims to fight poverty. Over time, the foundation’s work has expanded to support a wide range of projects promoting human and civil rights, with a particular focus on the right to education, the rights of children, and the rights and dignity of women.
Sant Martí Vell, her Catalan hideaway
The Italian designer had been living a reclusive life in the tiny village of Sant Martí Vell in Catalonia, Spain, where she has lived permanently since the ’80s in a mustard-yellow home she purchased in 1968. She had restored it over years and the little village became her preferred place of residence. As a result, she restored entire sections of the village, acquired and preserved other buildings, including the church, and supported the excavation of Roman ruins and the archiving of the history of the village. She also founded a winery that has been selling exclusive wines under the Eccocivi label since 2008.
She promoted the visual arts and worked to consolidate, protect and disseminate the historical, artistic, cultural, architectural and craft heritage of Catalonia. In 2013 Elsa Peretti became the first non-Catalan person to be awarded the National Culture Prize of the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CoNCA).
Rest in Peace, Elsa!
A truly creative mind and great should has left this planet. Thank you, Elsa, for leaving us such a lovely legacy. You will never be forgotten. Fortunately, also much photographic evidence remains of her, such as Helmut Newton’s 1975 shot of her leaning languidly on a terrace in Halston’s take on a Playboy Bunny costume. «Helmut and I were having an affair. He was a Scorpio. There is something between Scorpio and Taurus,» she said in an interview with Vanity Fair, taking on a suggestive tone. «One morning, he said, ‘I want to do a picture of you.’ I didn’t know what to wear. I went to my closet and came out wearing this costume I’d worn to a party with Halston. Helmut was flabbergasted. He took me on the terrace and took the photo. It was 11 A.M.»… what a beautiful life!
Matthias Schneider, Studio Director and Head of Design at REPOSSI, paid homage to Elsa Peretti on Instagram.
Photos: Courtesy of Tiffany & Co. / Elsa Peretti