The Fabulous Faker
It’s not often you find a designer hawking his jewelry on QVC while at the same time showing his pieces in the jewelry department of Neiman Marcus, but then there has never been a designer quite like Kenneth Jay Lane (KJL).
Famous (or infamous) for copying the styles of both fine and costume jewelry makers from Bulgari to Hattie Carnegie. His tony clients, who always could afford the real thing, often preferred to wear KJL’s fabulous fakes. KJL was the first to combine upscale with downscale that is so popular today. He even made it into a Lou Reed song “Sally Can’t Dance”. KJL, a popular escort for society women was known for his wit and self deprecation, even titling his autobiography “Faking It”.
Kenneth Jay Lane is one of Madge’s all-time favorite jewelry designers.
Who Was Kenneth Jay Lane
Born in 1930 in Detroit, KJL studied architecture at the University of Michigan then attended Rhode Island School of Design where he graduated in 1954. He moved to New York City shortly after graduation and quickly got a job as a layout assistant in Vogue’s art department. Within a year he was hired by Delman Shoes, one of the oldest designer footwear brands in the United States, as an assistant designer. Within a year he was on the move again, over to Christian Dior, also manufactured by Delman, to work as an assistant to Roger Vivier. As his reputation grew KJL also created shoe designs for Bill Blass, Norman Norell and Arnold Scaasi; all the while creating jewelry on the side. In fact it was Scaasi who prompted KJL to switch to jewelry design full-time when he requested earrings to match the buttons on a pair of shoes.
Out on His Own
After a very short stint with Hattie Carnegie, KJL started his own company in 1963 and his jewelry was an immediate hit. Of course having early clients such as Jacqueline Kennedy and Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, certainly helped launch his name in the jewelry biz.
His first cover for Vogue in May 1965, featured Veruschka in a pair of stunning oversized earrings made of lightweight plastic, a real innovation at the time. The photo set off a large earrings craze that epitomized late 1960s and early 70s style.
Soon KJL was providing custom accessories for most of the smart set of the time, including CZ Guest, Brook Astor, Babe Paley, and of course the aforementioned Kennedy and the Duchess. Famous for his lustrous costume pearls, his most iconic piece was the three-strand faux pearl necklace custom-made for Jackie Kennedy. The set sold at Sotheby’s after her death for $215,000 and a copy was made for Barbara Bush to wear to her husband’s presidential inauguration in 1989.
Costume Jewelry Innovator
KJL was one of the first fashion designers to offer high-quality costume jewelry at several price points, a move other designers soon followed. Amazingly, his lower-priced lines for Avon, QVC, and HSN never tainted the popularity of his higher-quality pieces.
KJL jewelry cannot be easily categorized since he worked in every style imaginable from ethnic tribal pieces to figurals to over-the-top rococo and baroque designs. Here are some of the varied jewelry styles currently available at MadgesHatbox.
He even introduced a “Treasures of the Duchess” collection based on pieces he originally created for the Duchess of Windsor.
Recognizing Kenneth Jay Lane Jewelry
Vintage jewelry collectors can always find a KJL piece to fit their style whether they prefer demure or over–the–top outrageous. Every piece is marked and pieces are fairly easy to date based upon that mark. KJL was also smart to mark later reproduction pieces differently to avoid confusion with the originals. So if you see a piece of jewelry that is marketed as unsigned KJL, beware. It’s not genuine. Here’s a quick primer on marks:
1960’s – K.J.L. with dots or KENNETH © LANE, with a big ©
1970’s – KJL without dots or KENNETH © LANE, with very small ©
1980’s – K.J.L.© with dots, K.J.L.® with dots or KENNETH©LANE, ©
1990s – today KENNETH©LANE with © on the same line as LANE.
2000 – today ©KJL Thailand or ©KJL China
1991 – 2000 – ©KJL no dots
1980’s – 2004 signed K.J.L. for Avon
2001 – to now KJL no dots
A Career to Remember
KJL received numerous awards during his long career including a a Coty Award, and a Neiman Marcus Fashion Award. He was also named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1975. Here’s a video from 2012 where he gives a tour of his showroom.
Kenneth Jay Lane passed away at age 85 in 2017 still designing beautiful jewelry right up to the end.
Every well-dressed woman should have at least one piece of KJL in her collection. I know Madge does.