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Costume Jewelry Shines on the Red Carpet

Lower-priced baubles stealing thunder of high-end pieces.

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LOS ANGELES — Call it a sign of the times: celebrities have fine jewelers tripping over themselves to loan them some of the world’s rarest and most expensive pieces, but more and more actresses are opting for costume jewelry.

This story first appeared in the July 6, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The big, bold costume jewelry pieces provide an impact on the red carpet and that’s good news for consumers eager to emulate the look without spending too much money.

“It seems counterintuitive,” said Elena Kiam, owner of Lia Sophia, one of the country’s largest direct sales jewelry brands. “Celebrities can borrow or buy anything they want, yet so many of them choose to wear costume.”

Lia Sophia isn’t available in stores, but each collection is launched during events such as the Sundance, Toronto or Cannes film festivals, when actresses like Sienna Miller and Kerry Washington get first dibs and often wear the pieces to red-carpet events the same day.

“I don’t think some actresses knew whether it was fine or fashion jewelry and they don’t care. They just want the look,” said Kiam of the line’s bold, chunky cuffs and necklaces.

Prices for the line range from $150 to $1,300, with an average price point of $300.

“For actors and for the rest of the world, most people would never know if something is real or fake, and you can achieve a lot of the drama for not a lot of money with good costume jewelry,” said stylist Rachel Zoe, who has been collecting vintage costume jewelry for 20 years.

“In this economy, some people are veering away from so much glitz,” Zoe said. “I think it’s totally appropriate [for the red carpet]. My clients don’t care if something is couture or from H&M.”

Melinda Spigel, designer for Melinda Maria, has noticed a shift in consumers’ attitudes toward fine jewelry.

“There has been a change in people’s mentality,” Spigel said. “Even if you are going to a big gala, it doesn’t mean you have to wear diamonds. In this economy, it’s a really important message. People are rethinking where they put their dollars.”

With the price of gold running high, it has become cost-prohibitive for many fine jewelers to create large, weighty pieces.

“There is not a lot of contemporary fine jewelry that is bold,” said Decades owner Cameron Silver. “When it comes down to having a look, you can’t find that in fine jewelry. To me, a Tom Binns piece sort of trumps a Cartier million-dollar piece because it has more impact.”

And just because costume jewelry retails for less than $1,000 doesn’t mean it has to look inexpensive.

Australian designer Samantha Wills, whose namesake line retails in Nordstrom for $60 to $1,500, said, “Costume jewelry does not have to be cheap –– creativity combined with attention to detail defines luxury, thus fashion jewelry can evoke the same confidence in the wearer as fine jewelry.”

Aussie actress Melissa George recently wore a set of $99 gold-plated Samantha Wills bangles to the Whitney Art Party.

Whether or not celebrities are mindful of their pocketbooks, shoppers seeking to copy their looks certainly are.

“People are looking for value, no more empty spending,” said Ashley Dodgen-McCormick, designer of Asha by ADM, which retails in Saks Fifth Avenue and Calypso for $200 to $900. Actresses Anna Paquin and Selena Gomez recently chose Asha chandelier earrings to wear to the premieres of their latest films.

“Big pieces add drama and just show up more,” said Dodgen-McCormick.

Red-carpet fashion is nothing if not of the moment and costume pieces can capture that.

“I think that celebrities are catching on that statement pieces are designed for a moment in time,” Wills said. “That moment is precious. The jewelry doesn’t have to be.”

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