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Red carpet jewelry: the secret to Fred Leighton's enduring success at the Oscars

Rachel Garrahan meets Rebecca Selva, chief creative officer at Fred Leighton, to reminisce about her favorite red carpet jewelry looks and 19th-century gems.

20 February 2015

By Rachel Garrahan in New York 

For close to 20 years, Fred Leighton jewelry has been worn on the red carpet by some of the world's biggest stars, including Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and this year's Best Actress Oscar favourite, Julianne Moore.

Rebecca Selva, chief creative officer and PR director, took time out of her busy schedule in the run-up to this weekend's Academy Awards to reminisce about her favorite red carpet jewelry, and to share her passion for 19th century gems.

So what is the secret to Fred Leighton's enduring success? Rebecca believes it is down to its long-standing, collaborative relationships with actresses and stylists, and the endlessly beautiful options offered by antique and vintage jewelry.

Whether mixing Victorian baubles with cutting-edge fashion, or taking antique components and converting them into new, spectacular designs, it is a testament to Rebecca's creative eye that vintage jewelry is no longer locked away in dusty safes and is being worn by fashionable women who both look and feel good. 

"Our approach to the red carpet has always been to let the individual shine. Fred Leighton jewelry is for confident women who know their own style," Rebecca explains. "We have a vast collection of jewels so there are so many unique stories you can create. And what makes a look so beautiful is that a piece works with the person wearing it." 

The journey started in 1996 when the designer Miuccia Prada, herself a Fred Leighton client, requested a Victorian opal choker for Nicole Kidman's first appearance at the Academy Awards. Rebecca and her team have worked with the Australian actress ever since, most recently at the Berlin Film Festival, when she wore a pair of elegant, early 19th century amethyst earrings.

Rebecca's passion is for jewelry of that century, which she says, contrary to its tightly corseted, socially restrictive reputation, was a very creative time: "Its design vocabulary is so rich: from classical motifs to romance, to jewels that convert from brooches to earrings."

When stylist Kate Young was searching for hair jewelry to accessorise Natalie Portman's delicate Lanvin gown at the 2005 Academy Awards, Rebecca was inspired by Victorian ingenuity: "We had a wonderful 19th century choker and, when I looked at it, I thought it would make the most beautiful headband. We mounted it and Natalie looked unbelievable."

She also re-imagined an Art Deco diamond dress clip into dramatic earrings for Jennifer Aniston at the 2013 Oscars. "We had a beautifully shaped clip that was just begging to be made into earrings. We added a diamond baguette fringe so they really stood out against Jennifer's long hair," she says.

Much of Fred Leighton's red carpet jewelry looks like it has just stepped off the runway. At last year's Met Gala, Charlize Theron looked confident and edgy in Dior Couture and dramatic earrings, which Rebecca had designed using the wings from a 19th century bird brooch: "I added a whole double fringe of platinum and diamonds so when Charlize walked the red carpet, they suddenly became modern." 

Maggie Gyllenhaal, star of The Honorable Woman, is another long-time client. With her sleek, modern style, she likes to mix vintage jewelry with fashion-forward gowns. For the Golden Globes, Maggie accessorized a simple, white, strapless column dress with neoclassical-style Victorian earrings. Their purity of form has a timelessness that means they could have been designed today.

For last year's Oscars, Rebecca worked with Lupita Nyong'o's stylist Michaela Erlanger. "She told me that it would be good to do an earring up the ear, but she didn't want it to be hard, she wanted it soft. I looked at some irregular rose-cut diamonds, and created a crescent-shaped design that was shimmery, soft, and with a touch of attitude. Lupita felt confident, she felt herself, and we were so honoured to be part of that," she explains. The earrings inspired a contemporary collection of Fred Leighton jewelry that is available now.

We can only wait with baited breath to see what red carpet jewelry Rebecca and Fred Leighton will conjure up for the Oscars this Sunday.

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