Fashion and jewelry are among the most visible indicators of what a society values, what it lacks and desires, mourns and celebrates. Such connections are being explored in a new exhibition, “Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip,” opening Nov. 22 at the Museum of the City of New York.
The show, which focuses on 1960 to 1973, “starts at 1960 because it’s the beginning of the modern decade,” said Phyllis Magidson, curator of the museum’s costume collection. (She and Donald Albrecht curated the exhibition and the accompanying book.) “It’s the start of the decade of space travel, of luxury air travel, of optimism” symbolized by President John F. Kennedy and especially his wife, Jacqueline.
“People aspired to achieve the Jackie look and wanted to know how to get it,” Ms. Magidson said. One way was with pearls: in the exhibition, a three-strand necklace by the costume jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane. (All the costume jewelry on display was from the museum’s collection; the high jewelry pieces were lent by Tiffany and Cartier and edited by Judith Price, the president of the National Jewelry Institute.)
“The finished look of the era was very ladylike,” she said, adding that Barbara Billingsley, who played the mother on the TV sitcom “Leave It to Beaver,” vacuumed while wearing a strand of pearls.”
When the British Invasion arrived in the mid-’60s, “you didn’t want to look like your mother,” Ms. Magidson said. And, in jewelry, plastic replaced pearls — dome rings and drop earrings that shook as women shimmied in discothèques.
Unfortunately, because of plastic’s propensity to break, the museum has no examples to include so it has made do with accessories: sunny yellow Mary Quant boots, and bright tights in shocking pink, purple and green.
Around 1967, the era the exhibition calls “The New Bohemia,” the Beatles grew beards and traveled to India, the “Black is Beautiful” movement rose, and dashikis and dresses in bold African prints filled store racks. Jewelry turned ethnic, too; the show includes a rhinestone handpiece (part ring, part bracelet) by the costume jeweler Henry Schreiner and Mr. Lane’s gilded metal hobnail Indian pendant.
“Even jewelry in precious materials was used in a playful way,” Ms. Magidson said. The exhibition shows Tiffany brooches designed by Donald Claflin to look like little Aztec Indians and animal figures — a salamander, bird and lizard — in gold, turquoise and diamonds.
“Every piece we selected illustrates the wit, whimsy and beauty of Tiffany jewelry from this era,” said Ashley Barrett, the company’s vice president of global public relations.
Ms. Price said the overriding theme of the “Bohemia” portion of the exhibition was “color, color, color!” A bib collar in sapphire-colored crystals by the Italian jewelers Cupola & Toppa, coordinated with a color-swirled cape and dress by Emilio Pucci, showed exactly what she meant.
Turn, turn, turn. In 1970, a “New Nonchalance” arose. Women’s lib was born. By day, women clad in pantsuits strode into executive offices; by night, they danced in discos, confident in body-conscious, body-baring outfits.
Elsa Peretti’s jewelry, designed for her friend the designer Halston, was as pared-down and sinuous as the fashion designer’s matte jersey, hug-the-body clothing: a mini silver flask on a leather strap, and an ivory cuff once owned by Lauren Bacall.
At Cartier, “the maison offered a new definition of luxury — making precious objects and jewelry more accessible,” said Pascale Lepeu, a company curator. The jewelry designer Aldo Cipullo shook things up at the venerable jeweler in the early ’70s and, Ms. Lepeu said, “transformed everyday objects into exceptional pieces of jewelry.”
Case in point: a bracelet that looks like a gold nail encircling the wrist, and a pair of gold and carnelian earrings that look like common buttons. Ms. Price said, “He took something right in front of him and made it into a piece of art.”
Cartier also exalted other everyday objects into luxury items: a nécessaire, a little evening bag, that looks like a silver lunch pail, and a cigarette rendered in silver.
The show ends in 1973, when American designers took their streamlined fashions and black models to Versailles to compete against French designers in a series of fashion shows (a competition that the Americans were deemed to have won).
From Jackie’s pearls to Ms. Peretti’s flask, in 13 years, fashion took quite a trip, and jewelry went right along for the ride.