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.
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.