From Prada heels to Chanel bags, it's time to welcome Lucite back as a see-through sensation. Whether you go designer or costume, the transparent accessories are clearly the statement pieces of the season.
There's John Wind, chief executive officer of Aston-based Maximal Art, who says he is "obsessed" with it. For spring, he fashioned the clear resin into ropes of flowers and butterflies on bold chain-link necklaces. R.J. Graziano, of Home Shopping Network fame, tinted his pearl-shaped earrings with soft blues and peach for a lovely icy effect. And then there's Brooklyn-based jewelry designer Alexis Bittar, jewelry's modern-day Lucite king. His elegantly carved bangles are available in pastels as well as primary shades.
I'm not immune to the Lucite love, having recently purchased a ring courtesy of Robert Rose.
But the ultimate stamp of approval comes from our best girlfriends: Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha, who will be wearing the clear jewels - as well as clothes by Prada, Venexiana, and of course, Oscar de la Renta - in Sex and the City 2, debuting in theaters Thursday. Lucite bangles and long necklaces will be effortlessly mixed into the girls' wardrobes, and I have it on good authority that Kim Cattrall will be wearing Lucite by New York-based jewelry designer Kenneth J. Lane in her appearances promoting the movie.
"It can be worn with anything, with any color, and any time of year," said Lane, whose Lucite pieces are sold at stores including Anthropologie. "It can be worn in the winter on black and in the summer on white. I just love mixing it with baroque pearls and chains. The beauty is you can wear a lot of it and not look overdone."
So how did the pretty plastic take over the jewelry world?
Known scientifically as polymethyl methacrylate, the synthetic polymer was developed in the late 1920s and marketed by Rohm & Haas in 1933 as Plexiglas; around the same time DuPont developed a similar product that it named Lucite, which became the more popular name in the 1950s. (Since then, it's been sold under many trade names including Polycast and Oroglass, but people often refer to any clear plastic as Lucite.) The clear polymer made for a wonderful ingredient in car hood ornaments and was also used in furniture and china.
But it is Lucite's appearance and durability that make it perfect in the jewelry world. After designers such as Cartier started mixing glass with diamonds in the 1920s for particularly rich-looking brooches and chains, artists picked up on Lucite, and its opaque cousin Bakelite, because it had the same effect but was shatterproof, Lane said.
Actress and fashion icon Gloria Swanson used to wear "those stretch Cartier bracelets, and I did a version that was much bigger and used Lucite," he said of the early-1960s pieces that helped start his career.
Then Lucite and Bakelite became part of fashion's big-bigger-and-biggest bauble obsession of the 1970s, when use of costume jewelry was at its height. The 1980s became more about the real thing - the precursor to early-'90s minimalism and then early-millennium bling.
Bittar, who started selling hand-carved Lucite on the streets of New York in the early '90s, gave the transparent accessory its modern comeback. Once he started selling to Barneys, the collection grew as fashionistas and fashion directors noticed how the pieces added oomph to their magazine spreads.
"It was a slow movement," said Liz Scarlett of Scarlett Alley in Old City, which has been carrying Bittar's work since the 1990s. "It's retro-modern."
But it wasn't until two years ago, Scarlett said, that she noticed an increase in Lucite sales as other designers started easing the polymer back into collections.
Michael Kors showed an oversize beaded necklace for his spring 2010 collection in February. And R.J. Graziano's icy Lucite grouping does well on HSN. (When I mentioned to a girlfriend that I was writing this column, she said it took all her willpower not to mortgage her house for the costume jewels.)
Philadelphia's own Gary Rose, chief executive officer of Robert Rose, worked with department stores this year to develop a private-label clear-jewelry collection. Now Macy's is marketing it as its Lucite collection, part of the store's must-have looks for spring.
"I think it's a great palate cleanser," Rose said. "It mixes well with chains and metals, and it's the perfect accessory for a strong pastel color story."