If you’ve got an iconic Chanel or Céline handbag on your wish list but not in your budget, here’s a compromise: Buy a piece from the brand’s costume jewelry collection that distills the essence of the bag. For far less money, this gambit still lets you co-opt the label’s style DNA. “Costume jewelry represents a nice entry level, especially for younger people,” said Dana Kraus, owner of Connecticut-based DK Farnum Estate Jewelry. “I recommend new or young collectors to find a designer you love, follow and collect them, and take care of what you have.”
Costume jewelry (known as bijoux fantaisies in French) uses ordinary metals and semiprecious gemstones to mimic fine jewelry—or, more often these days, to deliver effects that can’t be achieved with precious gemstones. “Costume jewelry allows for whimsy,” Ms. Kraus said. “Designers can express themselves more freely in less expensive materials.” As a result, costume pieces have become as collectible as the real thing.
That wasn’t always the case. Costume jewelry—originally known as “paste jewelry” and made of not-precious-at-all glass—was popular for travel. It was so cheap there were fewer worries about stolen baubles or extra insurance. In the 1920s and ’30s, along with utilitarian garments like cardigans and trousers, Coco Chanel popularized costume jewelry as an end in itself, and Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with Surrealist artists to produce museum-worthy pieces. During World War II, when metals were requisitioned for the war effort, many fine jewelry designers found work making costume jewelry for couture houses like Balenciaga. Hollywood movie stars wore costume jewelry by Joseff of Hollywood along with their Van Cleef and Arpels fine jewelry, on and off screen.
Some of this season’s timeless offerings truly can stand in for a pricier purse. Take Chanel’s $625 pin in the shape of a white camellia. A Coco Chanel motif since 1922, the camellia is as classic as the house’s quilted calfskin 2.55 handbag ($4,900), named for the date of its creation in February 1955. Meanwhile, Gucci’s $880 faux-pearl and crystal-encrusted ring in the shape of a bee makes one of the label’s ’70s-era symbols buzzy again. The brand’s Dionysus suede-and-canvas bag ($4,400) is similarly insect-inspired, with embroidered moths, flowers and crystal beetles.
‘For far less money, this gambit still lets you co-opt the brand’s style DNA.’
Other costume jewelry designs are even more closely linked to their sisters in the bag department. Valentino’s $745 turquoise resin and antique silver earrings, blinged out with jet hematite crystals, reflect the edgy rock ’n’ roll vibe of the label’s platinum-studded red leather Rockstud Spike Chain Bag ($3,195).
A tasseled liquid-metal necklace from Prada’s 2018 Resort line, sleek and unadorned, has much of the straightforward quality of Prada’s signature backpack ($1,100) made of industrial black nylon, though at $920 is almost as pricey. And Bottega Veneta’s $3,950 faceted cubic zirconia and oxidized silver necklace echoes the geometric precision of its well-known leather weave, seen in the Cabat tote ($7,000).
With Céline’s designs, a common denominator is overscale proportions; neither the brand’s classic calfskin Big Bag ($5,500) nor its brass letter charm, a more reasonable outlay at $380, could be called petite.
Costume jewelry may not be fabulously expensive but a designer piece in good condition will hold its value over time or even appreciate. Ms. Kraux recently sold several highly prized Chanel pieces from former fashion editor Polly Mellen’s collection. Some were designed by fine jeweler Fulco di Verdura, who began his career in 1926 as a costume jewelry designer for Chanel. “Birkin bags outperform the Standard & Poor’s index consistently,” as does costume jewelry, said Ms. Kraus.
That fact gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Fake it ‘till you make it.”
Bauble vs. Bag
These gems deliver a label’s essence for less
VALENTINO Both the earrings and the bag descend from the brand’s Rockstud heels, which have sold out every season since 2010. Earrings, $745, and Bag, $3,195, Valentino, 212-355-5811
CHANEL Much like the quilted, chain-strapped 2.55 bag, the camellia is a classic emblem of the house of Chanel. Brooch, $625, and Bag, $4,900, Chanel 212-355-5050
CÉLINE With its exaggerated scale, the alphabet charm shares oversized proportions with the beloved Big Bag. Letter Charm, $525, and Bag, $5,500, Céline, 212-535-3703
GUCCI This bee ring and the handbag from the Italian label’s Fall/Winter collection have insect motifs in common. Ring, $880, and Bag, $4,400, gucci.com
PRADA The clean, millennial lines of this silvery chain echo the streamlined look of Prada’s trademark backpack. Necklace, $920, and Bag, $1,100, Prada, 212-334-8888
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