"Why do we amass stuff we don’t need?" ponders Philipp Blom, a Vienna-based cultural historian, journalist and author of several books, including To Have and To Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting. Within the context of a collection, items assume a different value - one unrelated (mostly) to their purchase price and tied to one of a different sort: the ultimate price. "Carefully arranged around the sarcophagus are representatives of the king’s possessions, of the wealth and the resources he needs to live on in the afterworld," continues Blom, noting the similarities between modern collectors and ancient pharoahs. "Their presence is symbolic, but it assures survival." Like pharoahs, many modern collectors name and donate their collections, often with a portrait or wax likeness, as a way of using their collection to become immortal. "Collected objects are like holy relics: conduits to another world. They have shed their original function and become totems, fetishes. Collecting by its very nature is animist and transcendental...Like relics, collected objects are keys to another world and guarantors of immortality. That is why our urge to collect is impossible to ignore: it touches the very depths of who we are."
And when you wear it on you, like jewelry, even more so.
Costume collector Barbara Berger was struck with the acquisition bug at 13, when she was at a flea market in Paris and found a pair of Chanel earrings. Almost 60 years of collecting later, she has amassed around 4,000 pieces. She recently loaned about 10% of it for an exhibition sponsored by costume jewelry brand Miriam Haskell at the Museum of Art and Design. The museum's Chief Curator, David McFadden organized The Collection of Barbara Berger (on display until April 20, 2014) with guest curator Harrice Simons Miller, a jewelry historian. They selected five decades worth of craftsmanship, creativity and chic - necklaces, bracelets, earrings, brooches & hatpins - by A-list names like Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, Miriam Haskell, and Yves Saint Laurent. "The Berger collection and this exhibition are virtual encyclopedias of this exciting and provocative era of fashion history," they explain, continuing, "through stellar contemporary work, the exhibition also underscores the continuing popularity of couture jewelry today."
And with a collection of this size, has Berger worn every piece? "No, it would take another 150 years to wear my whole collection," she observes. "Everything I’ve bought I would love to wear, but it’s more about passion and history for me."
Plus a point of view. "What the collection is very focused on is whimsy—the fun, the amusement, the size," shoe notes. "And you can’t make real jewelry like fashion jewelry. You can’t do the fantasy." Although Victoire de Castellane and JAR come close, they're still on the spendy end of things. "You can’t collect JAR unless you really have all the money in the world."
For more info on the exhibition, CLICK HERE.
Be sure to check out the podcast I recorded about this and how it ties in with the Folkspun fashion tribe. (scroll down) I hope you enjoy!
Barbara Berger jewelry exhibition through 4/20/14 (Museum of Art & Design)
music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott