We’ve been talking about the designer Halston quite a bit lately — partly because Ryan Murphy’s hit Netflix series debuted last week, but mostly because we’re all about fashion and fashion history ’round here, baby. Murphy’s offering serves as a mini-fashion history course with his story arc: beginning with Jackie Kennedy’s infamous pillbox hat moment, then the Battle of Versailles, to Studio 54, while showing us how Elsa Peretti got her start. We’re not being dramatic when we say Peretti is, perhaps, one of the most iconic jewelry designers of the 20th century. She tirelessly traveled the globe for inspiration, taking cues from nature and collaborating with local artisans to hone an aesthetic that has become instantly recognizable. Her infamous, signature Tiffany & Company pieces, specifically the Bone Cuff (and corresponding Bone-inspired accessories plus homeware pieces) revolutionized design.
“You think about the beauty and what you want to transmit. If I think about designing, I can’t design”
Before she became the iconic jeweler we know her as today, she was a muse and member of the infamous “Halstonettes” — a term coined by legendary Vogue editor André Leon Talley — to Roy Halston Frowick (or as he known in fashion, just as Halston). As the two got closer, so began their creative partnership. Peretti went from being Halston’s muse to designing the now emblematic, teardrop bottle for his eponymous perfume, as well as many other accessories for the designer. The bottle’s design is so iconic there are at least a good 25 minutes of the series dedicated to the crafting and corporate pushback of its shape. It’s at this point we realize what would become a lifelong affair with crafting beautiful objects.
Peretti was born in Florence, Italy to an oil tycoon, Ferdinando Peretti and Maria Luisa Peretti. She attended schools in Italy and Switzerland. After her parents cut her off financially, she moved to New York in 1968 to model, found herself a photographer boyfriend, Helmut Newton — who infamously photographed her wearing what the New York Times referred to as a variation of the Playboy Bunny uniform — and a fashionable set of friends.
In June of 1974, Peretti joined Tiffany & Co. as an in-house jewelry designer after Halston introduced her to then-CEO Walter Hoving. Her designs instantly became a sensation. They were fresh, sculptural, organic and completely different from the more gaudy, decadent jewelry design aesthetic of the time. She revolutionized the way we thought of silver jewelry, making it luxury. At Tiffany & Co., she created a legacy of iconic accessories. We’re talking her Mesh collection, the more simplistic Open Heart collection, and the ‘Diamonds By the Yard’ necklace. Constantly inspired by nature, her designs took on organic, sculptural forms, and Peretti focused on her creations lasting the test of time.
In the series Halston, Peretti is portrayed by French actress and model Rebecca Dayan— who we must say captures the look and essence of the late Italian designer impeccably. As a central figure in Halston’s life, we get to see a lot of Peretti and her relationship with Halston. They spotlight her shift from model to in-house Halston jeweler, giving us a glimpse into her artistic process. We see several scenes of Dayan as Peretti walking along the beach drawing inspiration from nature’s organic shapes, sitting with local artisans in various countries and crafting the teardrop Halston perfume bottle. We get to see a woman come into her own.
Sadly, Peretti didn’t live to see her on-screen portrayal, as she passed away in her home in Catalonia, Spain on March 25, 2021 at the age of 80. Peretti never married or had children. Her legacy as an OG supermodel, muse, “Halstonette,” and visionary jewelry designer lives on with her Tiffany & Co. designs as they are still just as on trend now as they were 50 years ago.