DESIGNER TONY DUQUETTE DIES OF HEART ATTACK AT 85
Byline: Louise Farr
LOS ANGELES — Tony Duquette, the eccentric and visionary designer who created elaborate jewelry for Tom Ford at Gucci and for Oscar de la Renta at Balmain, died last Thursday. He was 85.
Cause of death was a heart attack, said his business partner of 30 years, Hutton Wilkinson. Duquette had been admitted to UCLA Medical Center five days earlier suffering from congestive heart failure.
A disciple of the late interior designer Elsie de Wolfe, who discovered him when he was a window and display designer at Robinson’s and Bullock’s in Los Angeles, Duquette designed both jewelry and furniture for de Wolfe.
He went on to decorate homes for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, J. Paul Getty, Doris Duke and John and Dodie Rosekrans. In a career that he managed to continually reinvent, Duquette, a Los Angeles native, was also a set designer for movies that included “The Ziegfeld Follies,” “Lovely to Look At” and “Kismet.” Later, he designed costumes and sets for the operas “Der Rosenkavelier,” “The Magic Flute” and “Salome” in Los Angeles and San Francisco and won a Tony Award for costume design for the original Broadway production of “Camelot.”
“I’ll miss him terribly,” said Wilkinson, adding that Duquette was surrounded by flowers and family and listening to music from “Der Rosenkavalier” when he died. “He just breathed his last breath like a little baby. He was so happy to go.”
Betsy Bloomingdale remembered going as a girl to the legendary star-studded parties Duquette and his late wife, Elizabeth (known as Beegle), gave in a studio that had once belonged to actress Norma Talmadge.
“He said just what he wanted. I thought he was the most incredible human being,” Bloomingdale said. “What I loved was the renaissance he had in the past few years.”
When photographer Tim Street-Porter and his wife, designer Annie Kelly, first met Duquette 10 years ago, he was living in San Francisco, deeply unhappy following a fire that had destroyed much of his work. Moreover, in a minimalist era, Duquette’s baroque design vision was not in style.
“He was hardly able to smile,” said Street-Porter, who visited Duquette’s Malibu ranch and took photographs of the fanciful pagodas and gardens the designer had built. “He’d call and say could I go again because he’d changed everything.” But in 1993, after yet another fire wiped out his work in Malibu, Duquette started to work on jewelry again, taking crude materials and turning them into decorative pieces. As he started to gain new recognition, Duquette joked to Street-Porter that he got rediscovered about every 10 years.
“Every kind of junk he could find, he used. He worked as an artist would as opposed to a decorator,” Street-Porter said.
“His last jewelry that he made for Balmain was absolutely fabulous. He was inspired by what Oscar [de la Renta] asked him to do,” says Dodie Rosekrans, who owns several of the pieces that began as silver and that de la Renta wanted to be dipped in gold. “In the old days, they would do anything that was presented to them. Tony was that way. His whole life was art and working at art.”
Over the past few years, Duquette designed several events for Rosekrans and her husband, John, including last year’s Venetian Heritage Ball at the Brandolini palazzo. At his 85th birthday celebration in Los Angeles last May, Duquette, wearing an embroidered dashiki, walked in leaning on a painted African walking stick given to him by Sharon Stone. Later, Stone, weighted down with a 24-karat goldplated and antique jewel-studded Duquette collar, told guests what it was like to go to tea at Duquette’s Beverly Hills house. “I invite a couple of friends,” she said, “and frankly, we get ripped.”
“His work will go on,” Wilkinson said, pointing out that Duquette’s jewelry is carried at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus and that a home design line he was working on with Wilkinson will launch next year at Hall’s in Kansas City.
A private cocktail party memorial will be held on Sunday at Duquette’s Beverly Hills house. He is survived by a sister, Jeanne Newman; a brother, Frank Duquette; a nephew, and two nieces.