I knew I was in for a treat when my visit to “Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger” began before I even walked through the Museum of Arts & Design’s doors.
That’s because oversize images of pieces in the glittering collection decorate the façade of the Columbus Circle building.
They hinted at the beauty within – and I was not disappointed, spending a recent morning in the most interesting jewelry box of sorts.
Forget diamonds, emeralds and rubies, though. This exhibition is dedicated to costume, or fashion, jewelry.
But I defy any jewelry lover to feel even a hint of disappointment. Those with a particular love of costume jewelry will find themselves in a sparkling wonderland of some 450 pieces from Berger’s trove of more than 4,000.
It’s an exhibit at once historic and eclectic, seriously stylish, downright playful and at times even quite cutting edge (including that 1980s “Safe Sex” collection by Billy Boy).
Berger, the daughter of a diamond merchant, grew up in New York but got her start collecting as a teenager visiting a Paris flea market. And, it seems, she’s never stopped.
What a treat to wander from case to case, enjoying a circa-1940 fur clip by Eisenberg at one moment then a circa-2000 Maison Gripoix feather bib necklace the next. Sleek geometrics of Pierre Cardin necklaces from 1965 are steps away from the over-the-top opulence of various 1990s pieces by Iradj Moini.
It’s a walk through fashion history with pieces from Miriam Haskell, Trifari, Kenneth Jay Lane, Coro, Boucher and Schreiner, along with work created for fashion houses ranging from Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino to Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana and Oscar de la Renta.
There are flowers and swans, sailboats and pagodas, zebras and mermaids, a few crosses and a show-stopping Venetian mask.
And this exhibition has gone all out, from the lavish companion book to an insightful video that plays continuously in one of the galleries.
The book, also titled “Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger,” is devoted to the Berger collection and published by Assouline. It’s a great way to savor the exhibition again. Three copies are thoughtfully set out within one of the galleries for a sneak peek, with the title also on sale in The Store at MAD.
The video, featuring designers, curators and Berger herself, is also well worth watching, as it truly ties everything together with thoughtful commentary.
“The basic thing in fashion jewelry is to have a wonderful time, and to be who you are, to present your personality,” Berger says in the video.
And she also touches on the heart of her passion, putting her devotion into words that resonate with many a collector.
“It’s never been who is the designer, what it costs. It’s always been… ‘It spoke to me,’” she says. “I just would see it as ‘This, I have to have.’”
And lucky for us, what Berger has been fortunate (and savvy) enough to acquire is now also ours to admire.
The exhibition will continue through Jan. 20 at MAD (though a portion will close Sept. 22). MAD is in the Jerome and Simona Chazen Building at 2 Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Visit madmuseum.org.