Elsa Peretti, who went from modeling Halston and Studio 54 in the 1960s and 1970s to one of the world’s most famous jewelry designers with Tiffany & Co.’s timeless, often nature-inspired collections, has died. She was 80.
She died Thursday night in her sleep at home in a small village outside of Barcelona, according to a statement from her family office in Zurich and the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation.
Sculpted cuff bracelets, beans and open heart pendants are some of her most recognizable works. She also brought her classic aesthetic to functional items, including bowls, magnifying glasses, razors, and even a pizza cutter made from silver, a metal she loved and helped popularize as a luxury item.
“Elsa was not only a designer, but also a way of life,” Tiffany said in a statement Friday. “Elsa explored nature with the insight of a scientist and the vision of a sculptor.”
Peretti, who was born in Florence, Italy to wealthy and conservative parents and was educated in Rome and Switzerland, moved to Barcelona at age 20 and began modeling, where she joined a community of artists that included Salvador Dalí, according to an August profile. in The Wall Street Journal. She soon moved to New York and began modeling for Halston and other leading designers, immersing herself in art and the fashion industry. It was then that she began making jewelry, turning to the designers she worked for to create her jewelry.
It was Halston, a close friend, who introduced her to the upper echelons of Tiffany, an exclusive collaboration that lasted throughout her career.
Peretti began designing jewelry for Tiffany in 1974. In honor of the 50th anniversary of her signature Bone Cuff, Tiffany has released fresh versions, including turquoise and jade stones.
Describing herself “retired” in the Wall Street Journal, she kept in touch, talking to craftsmen around the world and checking out the work of her ateliers.
“Her inspiration was often drawn from everyday things – a bean, a bone, an apple could be turned into cufflinks, bracelets, vases or lighters,” the family said in a statement. “Scorpions and snakes were turned into attractive necklaces and rings, often in silver, which was one of her favorite materials. She herself stated that “there is no new design, because good lines and shapes are timeless.”
About Peretti’s design, Liza Minnelli told Vanity Fair in 2014: “Everything was so sensual, so sexy. I just liked it. It was different from anything I’ve ever seen.”
More than three dozen Peretti collections for Tiffany created luxury out of silver, but she also understood the need for budget flexibility among consumers. She was behind the Tiffany by the Yard line of diamonds, which began in 1974 and was based on the idea of placing stones on a simple chain and offering them at different prices. Today, the line includes jewelry priced between $325 and $75,000.
“You should be able to go out with your jewelry,” she told the Journal. “Women can’t wear $1 million.”
Peretti’s work is in the permanent collections of the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among others.
She has also been a philanthropist, having founded her foundation in honor of her father in 2000. He supports a range of projects, from human and civil rights to medical research and wildlife conservation.
The family said in a statement that the small village of San Marti Vell, where she died in Catalonia, has always been close to her heart. She bought a mustard-yellow house there in 1968 and lovingly restored it over the next 10 years. She went on to restore entire sections of the village, acquiring and preserving buildings, including the church. She has also supported the excavation of Roman ruins and the archiving of the village’s history, and has established a working vineyard that has been producing Eccocivi branded wines since 2008.