Even if you have never heard about Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duke of Verdura and Marquis of Murata la Cerda, you most probably know his work as a jewellery designer, especially Chanel’s iconic pair of white cuffs with a big Maltese cross made of coloured gemstones that Coco Chanel used to wear every day, one on each arm.
Fulco di Verdura aristocratic childhood
Fulco di Verdura was born in 1898 in Sicily and grew up in his grandmother’s country house just outside Palermo. There, he was surrounded by the sumptuous luxury of the Italian aristocracy. Not to mention all kinds of pets, from dogs to baboons and even a camel. His cousin, the Sicilian prince and writer Giuseppe di Lampedusa, wrote the famous “The Leopard”, which became a film with Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale.
It was during his happy childhood in Sicily that Fulco di Verdura developed his love for animals, nature, and arts. He started sketching as a child, which led him later, to become Chanel’s jewellery designer.
Fulco di Verdura, Cole Porter and Coco Chanel
In 1919, Fulco di Verdura met the American composer Cole Porter and his wife, Linda. Six years later, the couple threw a big party for American and European high society at their Palazzo in Venice. They introduced Fulco to Coco Chanel. Chanel fell in love with his wit, charm and elegance. The French fashion designer invited Verdura to design new textiles for her in Paris.
Fulco di Verdura in Paris
Soon after moving to Paris, Fulco di Verdura re-designed some old jewellery of Coco Chanel, transforming them into iconic jewels. This was when Verdura discovered his passion and incredible talent for designing jewellery. Nature and his childhood in Sicily inspired Chanel’s blue-blooded jewellery designer. He was ahead of his time. Fulco di Verdura mixed coloured stones with shells or wood when women almost only wore jewellery with diamonds and pearls.
Moving to New York
After eight years in Paris as head designer of Chanel’s jewellery, Fulco di Verdura moved to New York. There, he opened his salon with the financial help of Cole Porter and Vincent Astor.
Everybody who was anybody wanted to have a jewel from the aristocratic Duke. Fulco di Verdura was famous for his joie de vivre. His elegance and acid wit made him the perfect guest at all the best parties.
His clients were Hollywood stars as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn. Additionally, Paulette Godard, Millicent Rogers and Joan Crawford were fans of Verdura jewellery. Joan Fontaine wore a brooch created by Chanel’s jewellery designer, in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Suspicion.” Besides Hollywood actresses, aristocrats as the Duchess of Windsor and Countess Mona Von Bismarck wore Verdura. The Astors and Vanderbilts, the Duchess of Marlborough, Princess Grace of Monaco, Diana Vreeland and Jackie Kennedy, were among his clientele.
Verdura and his A-list friends
The stylish and unconventional socialite Babe Paley was the muse and great friend of Fulco di Verdura. She accompanied the jewellery designer on his many trips and parties around the world. Fulco was as much a style icon as she was.
As a real artist, Fulco di Verdura rejected jewellery mass-production and commercialism; he created personal pieces for his friends. And being an old-school aristocrat, he didn’t have much interest in mundane things such as money. Chanel’s jewellery designer never became wealthy, but with rich friends, he was able to live his life in high style.
Verdura Jewellery today
Fulco di Verdura retired from jewellery designing in 1973, at the age of 75. He sold his company to his long-time business associate, Joseph Alfano. After that, Verdura moved to London, where he lived and painted until his death.
In 1985, Ward Landrigan, the former head of USA jewellery division of Sotheby’s, purchased the jewellery house Verdura. And since then, Landrigan has kept alive the work and legacy of Fulco di Verdura.