Kenneth Jay Lane: American Jeweler to the World

Curt DiCamillo

Tuesday, November 13, 2012Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Kenneth Jay Lane Brooch

Kenneth Jay Lane Brooch

“Elegance, good taste, and luxury never go out of style.” Kenneth Jay Lane’s famous quotation perfectly captures the design philosophy of one of the most important American fashion icons of our time.

Kenneth Jay Lane, a native of Detroit, was educated at the University of Michigan and the Rhode Island School of Design. He started at the art department at Vogue and became a top shoe designer for Christian Dior. He added rhinestone buckles to Dior’s shoes and, in his spare time, created flashy baubles. His jewelry creations, branded as KJL, were an immediate success. Saks Fifth Avenue sold its entire initial inventory in one day! His fakes have been widely praised as being more beautiful and dazzling than the real things.

Mr. Lane’s dazzling creations have graced some of the best-dressed women of the 20th century, the Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Diana Vreeland, editor of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Jacqueline Kennedy epitomized stylishness with the now iconic KJL three-strand faux pearl necklace that she wore during her husband‘s presidency. Mr. Lane’s jewelry is collected by sophisticated connoisseurs and worn by fashionable women around the world. Lou Reed, mentored by Andy Warhol, characterized Kenneth Jay Lane’s combination of bohemianism with chic in his 1974 song, “Sally Can‘t Dance”: “She knew all the really right people; she went to Le Jardin; She danced with Picasso’s illegitimate mistress and wore Kenneth Jay Lane jewels ….”

Current patronage by fashionistas, such as the Olsen twins, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton, demonstrate the continuing popularity of his designs inspired by such diverse influences as Benvenuto Cellini, the British crown jewels and Faberge. Kenneth Jay Lane’s price range, however, does not limit his customers to glitterati. Many women appreciate — and can even afford — his creations. Kenneth Jay Lane believes that “every woman wants to be Cinderella when she puts on jewels. Faux jewelry is like wearing glass slippers. A woman can feel like she’s going to the ball, even if she’s not.”

Curt DiCamillo studied at the Valencia (Florida) Community College before becoming an architectural historian and authority on the British country house. He served as the Curatorial Planning and Project Manager at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for 13 years. Since 1999, he has maintained a website, the DiCamillo Companion, that seeks to document every English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish country house ever built, standing or demolished, along with their family histories, architectural designs, collections and gardens. He has served as the executive director of the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA, based in Boston, since 2004.

7:15pm mini-exhibit

This lecture provides an opportunity to sparkle. Wear your costume jewelry — or pin it to the mini-exhibit tablecloth.


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.