Remembering Kenny (Video)

Kenneth Jay Lane and Carolina Herrera

His was a fabulous New York story, the kind that haunts the dreams of many American boys or girls, as well as the novels of Scott Fitzgerald and John O’Hara. He first came here with his mother in 1947 when he was 15—from Detroit, where he grew up. They stayed at the Waldorf. In those days, this was where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor put up when in town. Its Presidential Suite was for our presidents. None of this was lost on the boy.

He and his mother went to the theatre every day, and twice on Wednesday. They had four meals a day “at all the good restaurants”—breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper after the theatre—and walked the avenues (especially Fifth).

That single trip to New York was a seminal moment in his life. He knew then what he was going to do and where he was going when he grew up—to the land where designers and artists “were treated like celebrities.” After college (U. Michigan, RISD), he came directly to the city. The first 10 years he was a shoe designer (for

Roger Vivier at Dior, for Delman at Bergdorf’s). In 1961 he started designing shoes for fashion designers. For a new collection by Arnold Scaasi, he was asked to design some bejeweled shoes. Jewelry design had already been much on his mind. Besides the shoes, for Scaasi’s collection he designed matching bracelets. They were a hit! A fashion tycoon was born.

In 1962 he presented his first costume jewelry collection. Already part of the Seventh Avenue designer crowdwho was beginning to move in the world of society—and each with their own labels—Kenny-, as he was known to all his friends and associates, moved with them. Soon among his clients were the big names such as Babe Paley, Audrey Hepburn, Garbo, Jackie, Nan Kempner. They wanted Kenny’s costume jewelry. It became chic, and so did Kenny Lane’s crowds of friends on both coasts, as well as in Europe.

The image he created was that of an international social figure. But Kenny was a worker. He was in his studio every morning. His costume jewelry never went out of style because style was what it was. He traveled frequently to Europe, India, and Asia. He was always meeting people and learning. Kenny was a reader, a learner. It was all an ongoing progression of the boy from De-twa. It was also a charmed life and he was the charm.

“I am myself a fabulous fake,” he once remarked, reminding that despite the air he presented—of a man born to the purple—he knew who he was, and how he got there. And where he was going.

Adieu, Kenny—you will be missed.