By Rachel Garrahan, guest editor, LA awards season
When jeweller-to-the-stars Neil Lane arrived in Los Angeles more than 20 years ago, Hollywood was very different to the place it is now. These days, it is hard to picture Cher making an appearance in a Bob Mackie creation or Demi Moore in a gown and matching cycling shorts at one of the many high-fashion, high-stakes red carpet events.
"The old world guard of the glamorous days of Hollywood had gone," says the designer and passionate vintage jewellery collector of that time. "There was no internet, many fewer TV channels and therefore less opportunities for young starlets, and hardly any red carpets."
The designer who today counts leading actresses and musicians including Jennifer Lawrence, Sandra Bullock, Madonna, and Rihanna among his clientele says there was also little focus on fine jewellery, with most stars happy to opt for a pair of their own diamond studs.
He is among those people responsible for "the return of glamour to the red carpet", bringing some of the world's finest jewellery to the world stage during awards season, and helping make it a multi-million-dollar business in the process.
The native New Yorker started collecting vintage jewellery on a visit to Paris as a teenager. His first store in Los Angeles was a "little counter" at an antique gem mall in West Hollywood. "I came with a little bag of vintage jewellery and some of my own designs," he says. One of Neil's first clients was Goldie Hawn, who used to bring her daughter, Kate Hudson, in with her to try on jewellery. When Kate got engaged to her first husband Chris Robinson, she chose a Neil Lane engagement ring.
One of his early awards show clients was Marisa Tomei, who wore Neil Lane diamonds at the 1993 Academy Awards, where she won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for 'My Cousin Vinny'. He has since accessorised the looks of countless stars - whether it be with vintage pieces, such as Zooey Deschanel's flower earrings at January's Golden Globes, or contemporary designs like Madonna's diamond-encrusted platinum initial rings at the Grammys. He still maintains friendships with many A-listers, including Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry, and credits much of his red carpet success to the fact that he works with them year-round.
Neil, whose personal collection of gems dates from the 1880s-1930s, says his favourite recent red carpet ensembles include Jennifer Lawrence in Dior with his vintage-inspired diamond, jade, coral and platinum earrings and bracelets at this year's Golden Globes; Naomi Watts at last year's Academy Awards, who paired his 20ct diamond platinum drops with her futuristic Tom Ford gown; and Jennifer Garner's staggering vintage necklace, set with almost 200ct of diamonds.
As for this Sunday's Oscars, while he cannot reveal whose jewels he'll be providing, Neil says he expects to see "some beautiful chandelier earrings, maybe some jewellery in the hair and a mix of gold and white metals, multiple rings and stackable bracelets." One thing's for sure, he says. "It's always exciting to see beautiful jewels on the most beautiful women in the world."