Couture costume jewels are true objects of desire

Australian model Elle Brittain is the face and body of Love & Object's new campaign

Australian model Elle Brittain is the face and body of Love & Object’s new campaign

For Constance Cummings, uncommon beauty is an everyday luxury, as Philippa Prentice discovers:

If you could be transported back to any fashion era, to which would you return? Perhaps the 1920s for cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, or the 60s for the knee-high boots? For Constance Cummings of Love and Object, era is somewhat irrelevant. She has her dial tuned firmly to glamour, revisiting the feminine sensuality of the 70s, the exuberance of the 80s and historical goldmines beyond, to source opulent vintage costume jewellery and accessories. “It’s almost like archaeology for jewellery,” she says.

Auckland-based Cummings, 28, says she’s always had a thing for couture costume jewels. Growing up, she learned the value of vintage from her father, whose business was estate jewellery and antiques. Later, art history degree in hand, she and partner Eddie von Dadelszen, 29, creative director of menswear label Working Style, travelled extensively together, and would often bring home heirloom-worthy finds that evoked lust among friends and family. Says Cummings: “For me it always felt normal to buy vintage jewellery and wear it with contemporary clothing, but I realised a lot of people didn’t have the avenues to purchase that sort of thing.”

Harnessing her eye for perennially sophisticated collectables with serious pedigree, Cummings launched Love and Object in November 2013 as the “antithesis of fast-fashion jewellery”, an online destination for the rare and beautiful for those who desire something truly special. The incredible one-off treasures she stocks include both unsigned pieces and creations by iconic designers (YSL, Lacroix, Dior, Givenchy…), some priced for younger shoppers and those who simply want to dip their toes into the look, and some to-die-for “museum-quality” couture items with tags to match. Customers can purchase from the website or at private viewings at Love and Object showrooms in Auckland or Hong Kong. Each impeccably preserved piece comes with details on its provenance obtained through her meticulous research.

Attending auctions and circling the globe with her father gave Cummings a unique education and introduced her to many of the sources she draws from today, predominately the vast private stashes of women in Paris, New York, Texas, Japan… “They’re women who were obsessed with fashion in the 70s and 80s, and a lot of them worked in that industry, so they built up a collection they’ve kept for years. Everything is 100 per cent authentic.”

With a strong local fan club, traction in the Australian market and a growing contingent of customers further afield, Love and Object’s clientele is “a diverse group — many of them are businesswomen who go to a lot of corporate events and don’t want to wear the same thing as everybody else. I do all the work and at the end of the day they know it’s been specially chosen for them.” There are “baby fashionistas” on the books as well. “Rather than go to a fast-fashion throwaway-jewellery company, they’ll come to us to buy a pair of Celine earrings they’ll be able to keep for 20 years. It’s about being sustainable, but stylish.”

Love and Object might stock vintage, but its aesthetic is very now, a duality that’s at the heart of matters for Cummings. “There are so many people who think if it’s vintage jewellery you have to wear it with a tea dress and do the whole look,” she says, “but that’s not what we’re about. It’s about taking what’s old and making it new again.”

The raw imagery of Love and Object’s lookbooks exemplifies this modernisation. Last season New Zealand model Zippora Seven’s naked form was draped in Cummings’ luxurious bounty. This season’s campaign, Of Beauty Rich and Rare (inspired by the emerging 70s trend and a pair of Balmain tassel earrings Cummings spotted in Sydney and later, in a “huge win”, followed up with the matching necklace), stars Australian Elle Brittain. “She’s got an old-school beauty about her, yet she’s contemporary looking; she’s got the baby gap in the teeth, but she could also be a Jagger girl.”

Heroes of the collection include longer necklaces ideal for wearing with polo necks, shoulder-dusting earrings and in a nod to recent Chanel runways, brooches to pair with coats and shirts. “The best thing about my job is that I get to do what I love every day,” says Cummings. “But the best thing is the customer who phones up raving about a piece she bought, saying she’s had 50 compliments on it, got chased down the street by somebody asking about it and carries the provenance card in her handbag so she can talk to people about it.”

Though nobody can deny the allure of a statement piece, how do the minimalists among us make it work? “Just pair it with jeans and a T-shirt, or wear one of our gold chokers with a white shirt. Costume jewellery is made to be worn often – it’s there to have fun with. It’s as simple as paring everything back and just having one strong piece, and then you can build up from there.  “Our jewellery is not about being ostentatious; it’s not about a woman feeling like she’s being flashy. I think Coco Chanel summed it up best when she said, ‘Costume jewellery is not made to give a woman an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful.’ That’s something we believe in at Love and Object: do it for yourself. It’s just about what you feel best in. Give it a go – you’ll no doubt fall in love with it.”

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