Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tony Duquette AND MY BRAND NEW COACH BRACELET (1947, 2012)

Good morning!

Folks, have you heard the good word about Tony Duquette? He was a Hollywood set designer, furniture crafter, jewelry maker, interior decorator, figural sculptor, and all around VISIONARY artist working out of California from the forties' up until a few years before his death in 1999. I was completely ignorant of his existence until I stumbled across the Life magazine article I'm about to tell you about....but first! Breaking news! Check out the Tony Duquette inspired Coach bracelet that I totally own now:
Could you beeee....the most beautiful bracelet in the woorrrrrld....
I was ebaying Tony Duquette items week before last in preparation for this blog post... when I found several listings for a Coach charm bracelet that was part of a Duquette inspired line. Long time collaborator and partner of the designer, Hutton Wilkinson, in tandem with Coach idea man Reed Krakoff (can I please have a name like any of these some day?) created a series of Coach jewelry inspired by some of the fine costume pieces Duquette created during his lifetime. What really "bought" my eye? This brass link bracelet features alexandrite and opal stones, and was winking at me like we had prior history. Matthew and I decided, out of our wedding loot, that everything but a hundred dollars, split two ways, would be put in our joint savings account. MY fifty dollars was burning a hole in my pocket...and when pounce came to pounce, I did! It came in the mail yesterday from Oregon and looks like this:

Yep, that $248 MSRP tag was still attached in the little package I opened from ebay. The box and the little cloth Coach bag were in there, too! The auction was a buy it now for $69.99 with free shipping, and for once in my tiny, thrifty little life, I was like "Ah, just get it!" Scientific findings: a) you can't find another like it on ebay for less than $109 PLUS shipping, b) it's GORGEOUS in person and c) I couldn't give a hoot. I wanted a piece of jewelry other than my wedding ring to remember my wedding by, and here it is! I'm honestly almost too afraid to wear it out in case of a piece of it goes missing. But I'll get up my gumption and wear it first non-work day I get, mark my word!

Now, here is Tony Duquette, from the magazine article that brought me this far:

This Sept 1947 issue of Life magazine was, I think, the result of me looking up something on 7UP ads, but I was way more interested in the bent wire sculptures and home decor items described in this article. Discovered by major interior design icon Elsie de Wolfe in the 1940's, Duquette worked on costumes, stage sets, home interiors, jewelry, random objets d'art....from A to Z, really, and ALL. AMAZING.

Ann Blyth, who memorably played daughter Veda to Joan's title role in Mildred Pierce (remember the slap scene? Ay yi yi!), models a $3,000 amethyst wreath, in front of a fish sculpture with "removable topaz eye". Doesn't Blyth look just like a fairy princess? PS, $3000 is $30,427.26 in now money

Life really missed an opportunity in not photographing these pieces in color-- as stunning as they are form-wise, the colors Duquette uses, rich golds and brass and jewel tones, are what really make his pieces magical. Look at the scans on this blog from the Duquette coffeetable book More is More...aren't the color tones just jaw-droppingly gorgeous? The living limit of luxe!

Neat as the jewelry is, I had my socks knocked right off by the "large plaster figures" that "hold flowers and candles", to be put in "private entrance halls". Can you imagine these in the pink, green, and red color scheme described in the caption? Marvelous, human-sized statues standing in the foyer of some Hollywood eccentric's Holmby Hills mansion just like a suit of armor, but as-done-by-Dorothy-Draper....I die! 2012 cost for this trio is around ten grand. Yeesh. For the less fortunate of us dreamers, you could have the Frog Prince or Madonna pieces in your chi-chi forties' living room for only $1,500 USD (maybe that's still a little steep, but I do wonder how much these pieces would sell to a museum nowadays!).

Here's the artist himself, looking very butch and Jackson Pollock like in splatter denim and a plaid workshirt...but just look at all the magical things happening in his workshop! A Marie Antoinette like doll, next to a gingham unicorn, with a full size alligator hanging vertically....the caption reveals that he's going to decorate the alligator with jewels. WHY. WHY WON'T YOU SHOW US THE AFTER AS WELL AS THE BEFORE OF THIS DECADENT REPTILE. Oh, my imagination and heart are just bursting with love for the kind of design aesthetic at play here. Whimsy meets regency meets...I don't even know, it's just too cool.

For color examples of TD's work, I looked over Google images and found a couple pretty neat things:

1) James Coburn's house:

Aaaaah! Are you kidding me? If I'd known lanky movie villan/action guy James Coburn (Charade, In Like Flint, The Great Escape) lived in such fanciful digs...I don't even know! I think it says something about his personality that in spite being a laconic, Western kind of screen presence, he lives in this totally GORGEOUS, wild-and-out house. Do you see the red wrought iron railing detail? The teal sofa? The drums-as-side-tables? THE ZEBRA PELT RUG? And topped off with a chandelier like a cherry on an ice cream sundae. I love it!

2) This bird:

I didn't find any other information on this piece other than its creator was Duquette, but let's look. Taxidermied speckled bird, to which has been added an outrageous feather turban of similar stones and feathers to the ones he's perching on and wearing, respectively, and placed in this six sided glass-and-brass rectangle of a box. The children's book elegance of TD's vision for these kinds of's just stunning.

3) Cobina Wright's living room:
A columnist for Hearst Newspapers, Cobina Wright is draped languidly amongst her new Tony Duquette living room in this photo, and doesn't she look just like a jewel in a velvet box. Her surroundings! So quirky-perfect. Everything in this room looks just as modern as it did in the early 1950's. The low lying purple couch piped in a lighter fuscia. The panel of drapes. The mirrors. The sunburst room divider. The 3D collage of instruments over the fireplace. The lamps-with-bases-that-are-eighteen-inch-Louis-XVI-people. AAAAAH. See more of the space here.

I can't lie, I was so bowled over by these and other interiors that in spite of its natural "charm" (haha, haha), I treasure my new bracelet all the more for having a connection with the amazing history of Duquette as a designer. Next thing you know, I'm going to redesign my whole house to fit an eccentric view of late forties', early fifties' chic! Don't think I won't! In the meantime, I'm waiting for my copy of More is More to come through interlibrary loan, and enjoying my bracelet.

How about you? What do you think? Which of these pieces sparks your imagination and interior design lust? Is there a decorator or a school of design that's really inspired you of late? What's the last thing you threw caution to the wind and just bought, price be hanged? Let's talk!

That's all for today, but you can see tons more Duquette designs via this link, as well as on the official site, here. I'm off to get some work done, but will see you back here tomorrow! Til then.


  1. AWESOME! I heard coach and my mind immediately went to huge logo purses...and this is pretty much the opposite. I love it ! As a thrifty gal, I understand the painful pocket opening. It is hard. I spent $40 on a pair of shoes last NEVER do I spend over $20 or $25. I had to be in love and know they were originally $70 and I was getting an excellent deal because they weren't in original box. AGh. the pains of being frugal!

    1. I know, I was not a big fan of the rest of Coach's jewelry on ebay (I checked, thinking...hey, maybe I missed something else amazing!), but this Duquette line is fanTASTIC. And I'm glad you feel my pain about the price tag! It's so hard to give in to even a good deal when it's more than twenty bucks!!

  2. I did not know who Tony Duquette was, but now you have me completely hooked and fascinated! There's something AMAZINGLY of his time about these ornate designs! He seems like a perfect melding of ornate, Edwardian decorative chic with post-deco, minimalist/modernist ideas. Am I insane for saying that something about these designs reminds me of Val Telberg? Anyway, thanks for the introduction -- and congrats on scoring such an awesome bracelet!

    1. I'll have to look up Val Telberg, now that one's news to me! I just can't get over how luxe Duquette's designs are-- they remind me of Warhol's shoe illustrations he did pre-Pop Art, with the watercolors and the gold foil and the pretty inked outlines? Elegant while still being a little wild. I'm off to look up the designer you mentioned! :)

  3. What a great deal on that Coach bracelet! Love these designs--especially the Frog Prince and the Madonna (and James Coburn's house).

    1. Can you believe James Coburn lived there?! I'd expect him to live in some dusty Hacienda or a really ultra-clean-line modern house, and here he is in MY dream house!

  4. i want that big gingham unicorn! i'm glad you bought something special like that with a little of your wedding money. we bought a little mini piano while we were in new york on our honeymoon to remind us of our trip. I don't know why THAT is what caught our eye, but i love it and think of our wedding everytime i see it.

    1. I bet your mini piano is so sweet! I'm glad I'm not the only one, I felt a little silly buying something for myself after present-a-palooza of registry gifts, but I love my bracelet and it DOES remind me of getting married!

      You NEED that gingham unicorn. Doesn't his workshop look magical?

  5. OHBOY! Am I ever glad i have "google notice " (orwheateveritiscalled)!!!


    Then; because of Hutton and Ruthie......he and Beegle became treasured real friends!!

    I have to send you pictures I own two (an embarrassment of riches........I truly apologize!!)

    Of those dressed -up birds in the glass cases!

    They were "centerpieces" Hutton's books......both of them....the first is titled:
    Tony Hutton and Wendy Goodman.

    The second one....."More is More" is another treasure beyond description!! This is the one Hutton wrote.......and you will want to read every word!

    Brilliant beyond!
    When I first met Tony......40? years ago....I said to him: "you are the only person I have ever met that your name was taught to me as an adjective"!!!

    I had this fabulously stylish and creative mother........she would point to something...and say this:


    And every single thing...(there were many hundreds) I ADORED!

    Then I had to calm down......Ruthie and Hutton......introduced me (it is a miracle I am still alive!!!)

    We became friends......and Hutton and Ruthie are the reason that anyone now even knows who he was......and can see what he did!

    Bravo to Hutton and Ruthie.....continuing the legacy! We are talking genius that makes Einstein.....look kinda ("pedestrian? " I like that word. Everyday...ordinary!!)

    I love this going on!

    I wanted you to hear what I was all about meaning!.

    1. Hi Penelope! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! That's so neat you got to meet the man himself, in living color! I'm sure he was as vibrant and creative in real life as his design are in these photographs. Speaking of designs, I am so enjoying looking at the blog over on your website! I love that your "style eye" was trained early by a forward thinking mother/fellow Duquette fan! I've just ordered "More is More" through interlibrary loan and am really excited about getting a look at some more TD material. Again, thanks for dropping by! :)

  6. Oh, that bracelet is stunning! I am very happy you found it and now own it! If only it could talk and show you pictures of where it has been and who owned it!

    1. Who could pass something this neat up! I couldn't! Haha. :)



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