A story of bling (by Dolores Pepper)

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Naturally wired for bling, whether rhinestones, gold, diamonds, or daisy chains, most women desire adornment. Even as a child I stared open-mouthed at the lapis lazuli and carnelian stones forming lotus blossoms and beads behind a museum’s protective glass, the jewelry from the boy-king’s tomb, the resting place of Tutankhamun.

Necklace from the Treasures of Tutankhamun, 1325 B.C.
  • Lee Boltin, Cairo, Egypt
  • Necklace from the Treasures of Tutankhamun, 1325 B.C.

The 1979 exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art sparked imagination in all ages, as visitors shared this ethereal transport back thirty-three hundred years.

Blinded by the gold, I hardly noticed the delicate shapes or understood the rarity of the hand-formed objects compared to today’s machine-made multiples. However, I did give in to an impossible and greedy longing: if only I could feel those stones around my neck and somehow connect to Ancient Egypt.

Don’t babies like all things shiny? Perhaps we’re drawn to bling from birth, unable to resist the cold sparkling stones anymore than we can resist curling up under a warm blanket on a winter’s day.

Assuming your gal, your mother, your best friend likes bling, holiday shopping is pretty easy, and not necessarily expensive. For most of us, high-end jewelry is about the fantasy, as opposed to actually owning the item. It’s the idea that one could wear the emerald necklace from the Cartier window, just as one’s head could know the historical and physical weight of Josephine’s tiara. …circumstances permitting, of course.

Josephine Bonaparte by Andrea Appiani, 1807
  • Collection of the Musee du Chateau de Maimaison, outside Paris, France
  • Josephine Bonaparte by Andrea Appiani, 1807

Satisfied with those fantasies, however, we still want shiny objects, interesting shapes, and girlie accessories. Ultimately, whether we adorn ourselves with flashy designs or understated elegance, the goal is the same: that our jewelry reflects our personal taste and makes us feel beautiful.

Here in New Orleans, bling is no problem. It rains from the sky, flung from French Quarter balconies and Mardi Gras floats. We decorate ourselves nearly everyday of the year, and for lots of us, the brighter, the blinky-er, the bigger, the better.

Whether caught or purchased, we want more with each parade and holiday, and the Christmas season is no exception. Haven’t finished your shopping? Go for the bling.

Featuring rings from Violets, 808 Chartres Street, where the bling is blinding; prices start at $12
  • Featuring rings from Violet's, 808 Chartres Street, where the bling is blinding; prices start at $12

Despite the temptation and convenience of on-line shopping, cyperspace does not replace the local experience. Jewelry, in particular, loses its luster on a computer screen. For the real bling, reasonable prices, and a pleasant afternoon in New Orleans, shop on Magazine Street, Royal Street, and Chartres.

Jewelry by Alexis Bittar available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Canal Place, $90-$450
  • Jewelry by Alexis Bittar available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Canal Place, $90-$450

Shiny pins transform old coats and scarves. Attach them to felt purses and hats, or group them on lapels. Just as King Tut’s empire embraced the lotus blossom, choose designs with meaning, such as favorite animals, flowers, or colors, like the parrots pictured above, made of lucite, a translucent plastic, among my favorite pieces because they remind me of paintings by artist Hunt Slonem.
Bayou Casino, 2010 by Hunt Slonem, oil on canvas, 40x30 inches
  • Bayou Casino, 2010 by Hunt Slonem, oil on canvas, 40x30 inches

For something softer, remember silk flowers from Trashy Diva. Lightweight, they hold up on delicate dresses and blouses or pinned into hair.

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Finally, although the jewels of King Tut and Josephine Bonaparte passed through New Orleans years ago,* we have at our fingertips a hometown treasure in designer Mignon Faget, whose work is on view through January 2, 2011 at the Historic New Orleans Collection’s installation, “Mignon Faget: A Life in Art and Design.”

Cruxx by Mignon Faget; prices start at $75
  • Cruxx by Mignon Faget; prices start at $75

Even better, unlike the elusive designs of Ancient Egypt and Napoleonic France, the jewelry of Mignon Faget, this classic New Orleans bling, is available for purchase today and right here at home, a fantasy within reach.

Happy Shopping-
Dolores Pepper

*The New Orleans Museum of Art, which brought us the treasures of Ancient Egypt and Napoleonic France, celebrates its centennial in 2011

For more by Wendy Rodrigue (a.k.a. Dolores Pepper) visit “Musings of an Artist’s Wife

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