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Courtesy of Savage x Fenty; Courtesy of Patricia von Musulin
Style Points is a weekly column about how fashion intersects with the wider world.
“I seem to be transcending generations,” says jeweler Patricia von Musulin. It’s quite the understatement: her creations were just seen on the models in Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty Vol. 3 extravaganza, but that was far from her first runway rodeo. The list of designers she’s worked with doubles as a roll call of the biggest names in American sportswear—Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene, Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren, and Carolina Herrera among them. Blass, she says, “made a joke once: that the problem with my work was, it was too good—and it lasted too long.”
“Timeless,” along with “wearable,” is one of the most overused adjectives in fashion, but it really does apply to von Musulin’s trend-transcendent work. Her pieces feel organic, almost like they were born, rather than made. “They go through my entire digestive tract,” the designer says of her process. “They start off from one end and come out the other end…But they seem to last. They seem to have enough cultural influences, in all directions, that they have an enduring quality.”
It’s what has kept designers seeking her out for decades now. “I haven’t solicited any of this, and even the Fenty [project] sort of landed in my lap,” she says. “There’s something about my work that attracts people who like the same things I like, and they show up.” Those admirers include people like stylist Daniel Gaines, Chloë Sevigny, Interview EIC Mel Ottenberg, and, evidently, Rihanna. (“She likes my things. That’s all I can say. She wears them personally. She ended up buying them, which is amazing. No one buys anything,” says von Musulin. “I’m looking forward to meeting her. We’ve spoken on the phone, and I’ve worked with her stylist, but I think we’ll get along. I have a feeling we will.”)
Her fan base is only multiplying with her placement in the Savage x Fenty show, and the pieces are now available for sale. Her work is worn in the upcoming Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That (where her designs have been spotted on new cast member Nicole Ari Parker), but also thanks to the surge of interest in fashion-history Instagrams that allow previously hard-to-index editorials and shows to resurface. Von Musulin joined the platform in December, and has been using her account to post arresting images like a Richard Avedon shot of Nastassja Kinski wearing only a coiled snake and the first ivory bracelet von Musulin ever made, inspired by the pleating of Madame Grès’s gowns. (“I suddenly got all kind of responses from people who said, ‘Gee, I have that [photo] in my house,’ and would send me photographs of it parked above their bed.”) Most of all, the account feels like a testament to her omnipresent-but-hidden, Zelig-like quality in fashion: she’ll alternate an image of Lourdes Leon wearing one of her designs in the Savage x Fenty show with an old Deborah Turbeville shoot from the Italian magazine Lei.
Von Musulin’s background is in industrial design, and she’s steeped in historical references. Early on in her career, she had a job creating reproductions of ancient Egyptian objects for the Met’s King Tut show, and she even worked with the famed Space Age designer Pierre Cardin when he turned his talents to making cars. That eclectic background may explain why her jewelry feels more like sculpture. “I wanted it to have a scale and a presence,” she says. “Most jewelers draw out jewelry, which in my mind, always makes it very flat. Whereas I actually make all the models originally in plaster. They’re made either to actual scale or larger, and then I refine them.” Sometimes she’ll work on a pair of earrings for a year, delicately adjusting their proportions. The resulting designs are “contoured, so that when a person wears them, the earring turns in space along with the person.”
Though her studio is in Manhattan, von Musulin works with a foundry in Beacon, NY. “It’s such a turn-on to go out to the foundry, because they’re pouring hot metal and it’s all this great industry and all this great art—and it’s also extremely noisy,” she says, explaining why she couldn’t call in to our interview from there. Currently, she’s working on portraits of her late friend Gloria Vanderbilt, who regularly wore her jewelry, and is embarking on a new project with diamonds. “I never worked with diamonds and I don’t like them particularly, but I want to do something with them, so I just bought a whole bunch of them,” she says. “I think my next collection is going to incorporate them somehow, not in a petty little itsy-bitsy way, but in some way where they actually make sense.”
This openness to everything, even a previously-reviled stone, might be the secret to her longevity in fashion. “I remember [painter] Lucille [Corcos] saying to me, ‘If you want to be an artist, you have to know how to do everything.'” she recalls. “And so, throughout my whole career, I have had no hesitation in learning how to do anything.”
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