<![CDATA[Los Fabulous Vintage - The Fabulous Blog]]>Thu, 10 Dec 2015 23:31:23 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Los Fabulous: Real Deal — Peretti Or Not]]>Sun, 02 Nov 2014 18:36:52 GMThttp://losfabulous.weebly.com/the-fabulous-blog/los-fabulous-real-deal-peretti-or-not1
The 'Science' of Attribution
One of the elements common to all dealers and collectors of vintage and antiques is the need to determine who designed or manufactured something that is not clearly marked or signed—or sometimes to find out additional information on things that are marked. To that end there are dozens of pro websites with expert and crowd-sourcing research forums, specialty newlsetters for all manner of vintage styles and areas of expertise, collecting societies' self-published literature, and thousands of thick, professionally published topic guides featuring all the obscure arcana that help determine what is what and who made it. And, of course, how much it's potentially worth.

But if you can't find it in a guidebook or online, and you've asked people who might know and come up empty handed, how can you figure out where an item comes from? You add up all the facts you've gathered—whodunnit style—and take your best guess at solving the mystery. 

The Black Box
I found this covered unmarked trinket dish in a thrift store a few years ago, its three stacked parts both taped and rubber banded together (two bases, one top). I was immediately attracted to its sensual, softly indented lid that reminded me of Elsa Peretti's work. I've bought and sold a few of Peretti's pieces for Tiffany and I greatly admire her esthetic and unique ability to infuse reductive geometric forms with both subtlety and sensuality, and, most importantly, a sense of relationship to the human body and life itself. Many things I've seen by her are marked with her name. This dish in contrast had no mark or label on it at all. But since it didn't rattle or appear to have any cracks and the price was fair for such a well-made item, I bought it. 

When I got it home I ripped all the tape off and cracked it open. The bottom base had a chip in the interior and no label inside or mark inside — disappointing. To my surprise, however, the hidden base was labeled with a slightly battered paper sticker: Made in Japan exclusively for HALSTON.

Halston Style
Ta-da, mystery solved: Halston = Elsa Peretti collaborator = super fabulous find. Well, sort of...

Let me backtrack a bit. Halston was one of the 1970's leading designers and style trend-setters. Before every third-rate celebrity had the power to launch a fragrance collection (exactly how does Hilary Duff smell you might ask) it usually took a well-established name with a strong fashion following to anchor a perfume line. Halston, a fashion icon, was certainly at that level and in 1975 he introduced his eponymous signature scent for women, then later men. 

He certainly had the resources to design his own bottles, but he turned instead to Elsa Peretti, who had captured the New York design elites' attention a few years earlier and become a close friend to Halston and frequent collaborator. Her fresh take on shapes and forms was the perfect compliment to his very sexy, body-conscious aesthetic. Not only did she design the stunningly curvaceous anthropomorphic bottles, but she cleverly infused them with even more of a sexual charge by switching the gender roles, making the women's bottle obviously phallic, and the men's suggestive of breasts and womanly curves; they were part packaging, part sex object.

Halston as a fragrance was enormously successful, and Peretti designed a few more pieces that were accessories to the scents in the form of sachets and powder boxes, produced in ceramic. Later, as the products multiplied, there were variations of a semi-realistic heart in multiple materials, including metal lipstick cases, clocks, plastic compacts, and boxes; the same and similar hearts were also made by Tiffany as a trinket box—and still are. Peretti's bean was used in several Halston products too.

Peretti or Not, Here It Is
So, knowing most of this I assumed that my black box was a Peretti. 

I looked online for its value, and surprisingly came up completely empty handed. Through every search in every possible database I could not find one single example of this same item, either under Halston or Peretti. After a while I gave up and I put the box in my 'Mysteries' storage. I conducted more searches over a year or two — obviously to no avail — then forgot about it entirely. I came across it recently when I organized my old, unaccounted for stock items. Searching again years after buying it still yielded no results: no one was offering the same item online, which is in itself remarkable considering you can find used lip gloss containers and old compacts selling for upwards of $80 on ebay. If it exists you should be able to buy it, but not this dish.

Be all that as it may, I've decided it's high time to draw a line in the sand and proclaim it a Peretti. Why now? I believe you've got to start the dialog somewhere. Here is my reasoning:

• It looks like Peretti, and in general, no other designer has ever truly captured her aesthetic.
• She definitely designed many accessories for Halston's fragrances and cosmetics and in ceramic.
• No other designer is known to have designed accessories for his fragrances.
• It closely matches the mens fragrance bottle's asymmetrical dent shape.
• It, like other Halston accessories, was made in Japan and bears the identical label, and it's the same quality ceramic (earlier versions were incised Halston and were inclined to craze, later versions have just the sticker and are less so).

…and finally, to me the most telling of all signs…

• If someone else had designed it for the line there is no way Peretti would have let them get away with deliberately aping her style for one of her clients. While Halston's business was a well-known mishmash of bad contracts, lawsuits and takeovers and it could have slipped through the cracks, Peretti has always been very on top of the business side of things so it seems very unlikely she would have let it pass.

So, when I add all these up I'm going to say this on the record: this is an Elsa Peretti design from the 1970-1980s.  Certainly not common, but a Peretti nonetheless.*

Rare and beautiful: not a bad find after all.
*And, if you agree or disagree and have evidence or thoughts to share in the matter, I'd love to hear about it. Also, there is one final possibility I should mention: it was adapted from her bottle design by another designer, in which case it would still almost certainly have needed Peretti's approval and the ultimate design source would still be her.
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<![CDATA[Los Fabulous: The Great Find — Silver Tray, part 3]]>Thu, 13 Mar 2014 04:43:24 GMThttp://losfabulous.weebly.com/the-fabulous-blog/los-fabulous-the-great-find-silver-tray-part-3
( PARTS 1 & 2 OF THIS SERIES CAN BE READ HERE + HERE )

Now, list of Austrian silversmith names in hand — or in PDF, actually — I set out to find my tray's silversmith. I began Googling like a madman. I systematically checked every single possible match on the list first with just their names, then using every combination of keywords I could think of to try and find any pieces similar to mine. As you can probably imagine, this took a long time. As in many, many, many hours over many days.

Nothing. 

Not one single piece of silver that matched mine in tone or style did I find. In fact there were very few pieces that appeared to be attributed to any of the silversmiths. Now I happen to know a little German as well, so I was also trying search terms like silber, silberschmied (silver & silversmith), Wien (Vienna) and about a dozen others that might also apply (jugendstil, platte). While they were a tiny bit more helpful in enticing a few pieces of errant silver to reveal themselves from the far reaches of the internet, the haul was so paltry that it was dispiriting in the extreme. Essentially, the web-based method was a no-go. I had not identified the maker, or even seen one maker's mark real or illustrated that I could compare to.

This left me with no choice but to conduct traditional, get-off-your-butt and go-actually-do-something research. In the real world. With books. My first try was the LA Public Library. Almost every book on decorative arts and collecting is a "reference" book in most libraries — LA's being no exception — and hence cannot be checked out, only perused in person. This required a visit to the main branch in downtown. I spent half a day looking through every silver related book and catalog I could find cover to cover, with no luck at all. The principle problem being that nearly every book on silver and silver collecting is about English and American silver. They rarely include information about other silver traditions, and if they do, it's more of an afterthought. 

Striking out downtown, I next tried two smaller but well-heeled libraries closer to home: West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. West Hollywood is a stunning building, but they had few books of interest to my search. Beverly Hills' collection was  more extensive and they have a really top-notch staff armed with iPads and sharp minds to guide you. After a librarian consultation I settled down with a pretty large stack of silver tomes. As before, nearly all the books dealt mostly with Anglo-American silver, and about two hours into looking I was tired.

I had three books in the stack left to go through. Book one, nothing. Book two was the biggest of the three, and I put it aside. Book three yielded, again, not one lead. So I picked up book two, a glossy hardcover collection of Christie's auction results from the seventies through the nineties featuring sterling. There was an actual section of Austro-Hungarian silver! Oh so carefully I perused each page, looking for any initials, marks, names, or styles that might match my mysterious tray. It was a surprisingly long chapter with perhaps hundreds of items, and I lingered over each. When I neared reaching the last page of the chapter I was actually starting to get nervous and sweat a little with the anticipation. And I turned the very last page of chapter 7 and found that I had just discovered…

Nothing. 

No concrete information: as in no items that looked similar, and no names to match my initials. I turned to the back of the book to see if there might be some marks reference or guide; unfortunately, there was none. But there was a bibliography, with one single listing that looked pertinent:

Waltraud, Neuwirth: Wiener Gold und Silberschmiede und ihre Punzen 1867-1922, 2 Vols, Vienna, 1976. 

Translated it reads "Vienna Gold and Silversmiths and their Marks 1867-1922." Aha! Finally! Naturally I immediately checked the collection at the Beverly Hills library: no such book. I had spent the entire day searching so I decided to pack up and head home.

At home that night I tried to find the book online: to begin with, no local library had it. Amazon had two used copies. For $536 and up. No other bookseller had one for less (I found another for $1200). Obviously a rare book. Somehow I managed to stumble upon this lovely researching gem: the WorldCat online, with a listing for the exact book. Miraculously, the Getty Research Institute, mere miles from my home, had a copy in their collection. 

I searched the Getty's online catalog, and it emerged that there is a complicated system of book storage location and access privilege levels, and the book appeared to be somewhere an hour away and I wasn't sure if I was allowed to even use the library. When I hit this roadblock I stopped for the night, and called them the next day when I could speak to someone directly. No answer, so I left a message and was rewarded with a call from a very helpful librarian not that much later, who explained the system. Yes, they had the book, yes, I was allowed to use the library (she gave me an account), and I was allowed to look at this particular book, but not remove it, and, yes, it was all free. Except for the fact that I had to place a special order for the book to have it delivered from their offsite storage and wait for it to arrive it was all fantastic news. I used my fabulous new Getty Research Institute (GRI) Plaza Reader account and logged in to the system and ordered the book!

The next Monday, both iPad and paper pad in hand, I set off for what I assumed would be the make or break final adventure of the saga. When I arrived I had to go through several rounds of discussions and telephone calls with the security gate. You see, the Getty itself is closed on Mondays, but the Research Institute is open. Lacking a scholar's ID they were hesitant to allow me to enter, but, eventually it all got smoothed out (I had been forewarned it might happen as non-credentialed library patrons are rare). I parked in the nearly empty garage and waited for the staff van that took me to the top of the hill (no monorail when the museum is closed). On any given day the Getty and its gardens are beautiful. Deserted of people, whisper quiet, with golden sunshine warming the expanses of marble, it's glorious. I was thrilled just to have the experience of seeing the grounds in solitude — accompanied only by a chaparral scented breeze. 

The research library itself is set slightly apart from the museum to its west. entered and checked in, then walked down into the library. It harbors commanding views of the ocean, the Santa Monica mountains, the gardens, and the entire city of LA laid out below via floor to ceiling windows throughout. In a word, it's an amazing place to visit. There were maybe a half dozen other readers scattered about the fairly luxe "public" section. At the circulation desk I was greeted by yet another friendly librarian, who seemed lightly curious as to why I needed such an uncommon book. I explained the story to her as I filled out my paperwork; within minutes she wished me good luck as she handed me a copy of the (quite possibly) unique reference that could answer the questions surrounding my tray's maker.

I took the small (but dense) book to one of the many open carrels and sat down with it. I gave myself a moment to absorb the experience, then opened it. It only took me about a minute to find the page I was seeking. Unsurprisingly, the Austrians had a very simple, concrete method for ascribing marks to metalsmiths, and once I saw how the system was arranged and designated I knew I was going to be pleased. There, among all the other varieties of JLs — plain, in both serif and sans serif type, with an array of designs and lozenges and extra marks — was my J•L, just as it appears on my tray, standing for:

LOCHNER, JOSEF • Silversmith… 1895 to 1923… Accessories, Candelabras, Tea and Coffee Services…
Hallelujah! 

After so much work and effort it was an exceptional reward. I kept staring at the page, afraid that I might have read it wrong or even just imagined it, but it remained real. 

Sometimes the final outcome of an ardent quest can end up feeling a bit underwhelming, but not in this case. It felt utterly earned and even a tiny bit magical. My dusty thrift store tray was made generations ago and half a world away, by hand, by a master silversmith in Fin de siècle Vienna — one of the great design centers of the world at the time, home of the Secessionists. Once I saw it in black and white I knew that the tiny voice at the back of mind so long before had been right. 

I snapped digital shots of everything I thought relevant, and I also hand wrote the details as well just to be safe. Later on at home I scoured the Internet for anything else I could find by Josef Lochner, and I managed to locate a number of other pieces by him sold at auctions (the Hungarian word for silver, if you're wondering, is "ezüst"). Most featured natural motifs interwoven with piercings, in what I realized must have been his signature style. A few were more traditional and Baroque in their styling, which are likely earlier works. 

Finally, my long-sought artist had become real, and I now I could honestly say that I've found a true treasure, one of the great finds of a life spent looking for hidden gems in unlikely places.

Josef Lochner references:

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<![CDATA[Los Fabulous: Insider — "The Obvious"]]>Thu, 28 Nov 2013 02:44:54 GMThttp://losfabulous.weebly.com/the-fabulous-blog/the-insider-the-obvious
Sven Palmqvist Etchd Crystal vase circa 1942
Sven Palmqvist hand etched and signed crystal vase for Orrefors, circa 1942
PictureSigned Palmqvist & numbered
I'm calling this post "The Obvious" because even veteran thrifters like me forget that you shouldn't overlook the basics. I almost did.

Yesterday I stopped in at a Goodwill that I don't often visit since it seems to have fairly spare shelves with a lot of dishes from Ikea and lamps from Target — not what I would call a vintage hunter's paradise by any stretch. Unless you're looking for college dorm vintage 1997. The first thing I saw (below) was a mid-sixties Tensor style halogen chrome lamp.  A little rust on it, but cleanable and really smart looking. Reminds of an an entirely chrome Lytegem similar to this one I had that eventually died (once it started shocking me every time I turned it on I decided I had to let it go). I grabbed it and kept browsing. 

I found a few other everyday things fairly quickly: a lucite ice bucket (I needed one for an upcoming party), and a Glasbake covered dish as a thank you gift for a friend who collects the pattern. I now had to upgrade from browser to shopper, and I went and got a hand-basket to carry my stuff in. But after another 10 minutes of looking it seemed I had reached the end of the finds and my basket felt heavy, so I set it down on the floor. And noticed something intriguing on a bottom shelf while doing so.

I crouched down to see better and when I reached in I pulled out a Victorian English pudding mold (below). I wasn't sure what it was at first sight, but it felt old and the crazing on it looked earned, not faked, so it went in the basket. And while down lower I saw something on another low shelf: the Swid Powell trés postmodern "Volumetric" chargers (below). Five of the eight were pristine, so those went into the basket now as well. While I had been feeling ho-hum about the whole experience this new turn of events made it all suddenly feel exciting.

With renewed vigor I much more carefully scrutinized all the shelves. I found another pudding mold on the same shelf, behind where the first one was sitting. My basket was now too heavy to carry so I corralled everything into a spot on the floor. I did one more once over of the entire place (keeping an on my stuff) and then went back to go through it to make sure I wanted everything I'd piled up. As I was standing there I realized that a few feet away at the top of one of the racks was the vase shelf (you know the one: filled with florists vases in clear glass and a few frilly bud vases). There were three large ones in front, and I moved two out of the way to see the third, which was likewise not very intriguing. But right behind it stood an outline I immediately recognized—as an Orrefors design from the 1940s. When I turned it around I was greeted by a lovely young woman (top photo) holding a bouquet. I had just found a large, signature piece by Sven Palmqvist, a designer whose work I have long admired, especially the late Deco vases.

As I was turning it over to verify the signature, another collector offered to take it off my hands "If I didn't want it" — although, obviously, I did. After that exciting find, I decided to pack it up and got in line to pay for everything. While paying, a friend (also a collector) walked in and we chatted a bit. I had to tell him he might be too late since I had just found a bunch of terrific things. I'm sure if he had been there before me he would have found all the things I had just bought.

While cataloging everything at home later, I realized how many mistakes I had almost made and the fact that if I had overlooked any one of the finds I made that someone else would have gotten to them almost immediately. The lessons, which are simple and obvious — and apply to thrift stores, garage and estate sales, and antique stores — are:

MY OBVIOUS RULES
  1. Always actually get down to where you can clearly see things on the bottom shelf. From above things look different, and there may be goodies at the back of the shelf. When people are going through their baskets to put things back they set them on the ground and rejected items tend to get set on bottom shelves. And if someone is "saving" something to come back to later, they'll put it in the back, not the front.
  2. Touch items so you can feel their texture and weight. If I hadn't picked up the pudding molds I might have thought they were cheap Chinese knock offs, it was only once I grabbed one that I realized it was a find.
  3. Move things out of the way to see what's behind them. Always! Just glancing at a shelf of stuff can fool you into missing something fantastic. It's why fish swim in schools: it's harder to pick out individuals in a group and focus on one thing. Make it easier by separating them. I could actually see the Orrefors vase without moving anything, but I didn't recognize it until I had made more visual room.
  4. If you come across something you like, keep your eyes open for more of that same thing. People pick things up and put them back all over the place, and your glass, or lamp, or 19th century pudding mold may have a mate. If you're especially focused on one particular thing you're much more likely to spot it.
  5. When you do find something extraordinary put a lot more effort into looking. Vintage hunters are everywhere, and once you find one really great thing it clues you in that you might have gotten to things first. It's a good gamble that there are more good finds to be had.

I got lucky this trip and my excitement led me to keep looking, but I could have just as easily stopped with a lamp and some small gifts and been done. And that would have been because I was not paying attention to the basics, and I would have missed a wide range of great finds at just one store. Obviously.

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