Imagine wearing a $1-million rendition of Walt Disney Hall on your lapel? That was Frank Gehry's first thought about designing jewelry several years ago, when he proposed a brooch, covered in diamonds, to raise money for the building project.
Tiffany & Co. said no to that idea, but the idea of a future collaboration didn't end there. Fast forward to Sunday night, when Rodeo Drive turned into Gehry-land, as more than 300 guests came out to fete the famed architect and his new line of jewelry and tabletop items.
The block in front of the Tiffany store was closed to traffic and outfitted with the architect's cloudlike lighting fixtures and corrugated cardboard chairs, reissued by Swiss furniture company Vitra. But it wasn't easy to coax partygoers such as Ellen Degeneres, Owen Wilson, Quincy Jones, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Anjelica Huston and Robert Graham out of the store, where the cash registers kept humming all night, even as John Legend and Patti LaBelle took to the stage to sing a duet of "Ordinary People." Other celebs were already wearing Gehry's designs; Laurence Fishburne had a single diamond-encrusted "fish" earring in his left ear.
The 76-year-old architect, who reached a whole new level of fame on the silvery sails of Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Bilbao, is the first new artist to be introduced by Tiffany since Paloma Picasso in 1980. The collection is comprised of six series named after recurring motifs in Gehry's work: Fish, Torque, Axis, Fold, Equus and Orchid.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 13, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Gehry jewelry party: An article in the March 28 Calendar section about a party in Beverly Hills to celebrate the new Frank Gehry jewelry collection for Tiffany & Co. said Rodeo Drive was closed off and outfitted with corrugated cardboard furniture by Vitra. One chair was by Vitra; the rest were designed by Ball-Nogues Design and fabricated at Ethos Design in Glendale.
Last week, at his Santa Monica office, where his "Simpsons" doppelganger hangs above the door, Gehry sat down to talk about the collection. "I am always looking for things to do that give me instant gratification because buildings take so long," he said.
Gehry worked with nine designers, who brought him unusual materials such as black gold, cocholong stone, pernambuco wood and raw cut diamonds. When he first saw his ideas realized in pieces such as the $600 sterling silver Orchid pendant, hung on a black cord, he thought it looked like junk. "But when someone put it on, it came to life -- like how architecture comes to life when a building is used," he said.
The design references are purely personal. Gehry has long had a fish fetish, and their abstracted forms are represented in $275 cufflinks as well as kinetic charms on a bracelet and ring. The fish shape goes to the heart of Gehry's free-form design aesthetic, molded in the late 1970s and early '80s in reaction to postmodern architects such as Philip Johnson, who were basically "regurgitating Greek temples," he said. "They were going back to that because they couldn't figure out a way to bring modern architecture into the present," Gehry said. "So I got angry and started giving talks and saying if you want to go back, if that's what's important, why don't you go back 300,000 years before man to fish, because there is beauty in fish to emulate. I started drawing fish in my book, which became fish lamps. And that language interested me architecturally, so I learned to make bubble curve shapes in buildings."
The Equus series of undulating bracelets and earrings is reminiscent of the horse head-shaped auditorium in Gehry's DG Bank Headquarters in Berlin. And the cross-hatch patterns in the Axis series of bracelets and cufflinks bring to mind the corrugated steel and chain-link fences on his Santa Monica house, completed in 1978.
At $750,000, one of the most expensive pieces is a striking white gold mesh collar scattered with diamonds and pearls, which harkens back to Gehry's proposal for One Times Square, where he imagined swathing the ball-dropping tower in metal mesh. "They brought me a bunch of silver mesh one day and a cup of rough-cut diamonds and I just went 'plop,' " he said, making a spilling motion with his hands. "I asked if we could throw some pearls in and they did."
Before the Tiffany project, Gehry never looked at jewelry as high design. "I looked at fashion a lot because I always thought it was a window into the taste of people," he said. "But I always thought pure diamond rings and things were cut and there wasn't much you could do with them. I didn't see much of a place for me, and it's so miniature, how do you get in there?"
The designers from Tiffany showed him the way, working at six-week intervals in L.A. and New York. "It's been a real collaboration. That's what I look for in people I work with," he said. "But most of the time it doesn't go that way. Most of the time people don't get where you are going and can't riff on it. It's like jazz: You blow a few notes and the guy next to you takes it. That's what we are talking about."
Now that he's been at it for a while, Gehry feels that the process of designing jewelry and objects has become its own thing, separate from referencing his past work. "And now for the first time, these pots are starting to feed back into my architecture," he said, pointing to a photograph of jagged bone china pots in a Tiffany catalog.
"The inspiration for these came from prehistoric rocks made by Neanderthals to cut. An artist friend of mine has a collection of them. When I saw them I went nuts. They are so beautiful and faceted, very architectural and casual. And there's a kind of indeterminacy about them that I like and have started to use in my building."
Gehry's partnership with Tiffany is ongoing. The collection is available in Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo, and will be released to more stores and online this summer. "I feel like we just started," he said. "And if the general public likes what we are doing, they ain't seen nothin' yet."