Christian de Castelnau is a curious hybrid. Ten years ago he was sipping Pernod at Cafe des Deux Magots on Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris. Today it's California Cabernet at Citrus on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood.
Though he never entirely abandoned his French roots, nine years ago Castelnau decided to make Los Angeles his operational base. This year he expects his ever-expanding fashion empire to garner $50 million in retail sales, yet he continues to maintain that his clothing designs are thoroughly French.
"I can only do what I relate to," Castelnau said during an appearance at Neiman-Marcus. "I think it's important to stick to my gut."
Three years ago, his gut told him to abandon the label Liquette and instead sell his designs for women, infants, children and teen-agers (a men's line is due next year) with his own--unmistakably French--name attached.
Then, presumably after taking a lesson in American aggressiveness, Castelnau launched a $1-million-a-year advertising campaign, making up his mind to go after the same customer as New York designer Adrienne Vittadini.
"At Nordstrom, we hang next to each other," he boasted.
In May, Castelnau, who now devotes only two hours a day directing his design staff and the rest to business, opened his first Castelnau boutique on Madison Avenue in New York, followed in the fall with a shop on the Champs Elysees in his hometown. He is negotiating to manufacture his designs in Canada, Japan and Europe.
But back to fashion. What's the Castelnau concept and why does it work?
"I always say the concept is from the beach to dinner." With minor adjustments, he explained, the skirt that goes to the beach in the morning, and the city in the afternoon, can also go out for an evening meal.
Diamonds Mightier Than the Sword
Setting up the premise that wearing a diamond is an event unto itself, the Diamond Information Center, the consumer information bureau for the diamond industry, made an intriguing offer.
The center would loan a piece of diamond jewelry to a select group of reporters and editors who could wear the jewel of their choice for two weeks, insurance included. Understand, we're not talking about anything Elizabeth Taylor would want to borrow, but something nice.
Otherwise, there were no strings attached, except that after the two weeks were up, the jewelry would have to be returned. (Everyone complied.) And, they hoped of course, the journalists would write about the experience or photograph diamonds for their publications.
So how eventful is wearing a diamond? Here is how some of the participants described the experience:
Jean Penn, senior editor Los Angeles magazine: "I walked up to five people and asked, 'Notice anything different?' said Penn, who borrowed a necklace with 1.56 carats of pave diamonds, "and they all said no. I pointed it out to one friend who said, 'I just assumed it was phony.' It was fun though. It was a lot of fun. But I took it off when I was negotiating with workmen at home because I didn't want them to up the price."
Susan Warner, editor of Beverly Hills 213 magazine: "They did make me feel sort of jazzed," she said of a pair of ebony-and-gold earrings covered with .72 carats of pave diamonds. "They were certainly better than anything I could afford. I like diamonds, but I also like emeralds and sapphires and rubies. A couple of people at luncheons noticed, people who own very fine gems. They're familiar with high-end jewelry and asked questions about the nature of the design."
Renee Shupe, staff writer of Apparel News Group: "It was fun for people to notice it," she said of a necklace with 16 round diamonds weighing a total of 1.30 carats. "But knowing it was not mine, and working in downtown Los Angeles, it worried me a bit. Every time I walked out the door I wanted to hold my neck. I didn't want to run out and buy a big diamond necklace to worry about."
Eleanor Phillips Colt, West Coast editor of Vogue: "I feel they offered a wonderful service, but people don't look at my rings and notice what I'm wearing," she remarked of a diamond ring with 43 baguette diamonds all together weighing 3.02 carats. "I certainly didn't get any proposals of marriage. But I loved it. I'm mad about rings, any kind of rings please me enormously. I personally loved the feeling."
Harriette Ellas, former editor of Valley magazine, commenting about a ring with 72 pave and baguette diamonds totaling 2.56 carats, said: "Well, it was certainly interesting. I never much thought of wearing diamonds during the day, not that I have that many. While it didn't change my life, it changed my fantasies. It felt very different when I was wearing the ring. I never had anything quite as expensive and it created a lot of comments by my friends."
Masks Dance Their Way Back to Popularity
Some people believe that masked balls are making a strong comeback. Mask maker Joseph McLaughlin sold 22 of his creations (priced $70 to $600) in one recent evening. The event, at Tallarico Jewels in Beverly Hills, was a kickoff for a masked ball in August given by the Friends of Robinson Gardens honoring Terry Stanfill.
"In this town, there are more and more masked balls," McLaughlin said. The reason?: "Masked balls are the easiest way to escape into fantasy."