Brooch-ing the Subject

Even the least avid follower of fashion knows by now that it is quite the season for old-lady, old-fashioned brooches. Fusty pins, the bigger the better, are meant to be affixed, in multiples, to artfully fake-ratty cardigans and fraying tweeds, the better to embody what the magazines are calling granny chic, a trend promulgated by last spring's Milan runways and taken up enthusiastically by the fashion flock. (Don't like granny chic? Don't worry—it's going bye-bye, and soon. Last week on its spring 2005 runway, Prada showed parrot chic: outfits appliquéd with birds.)

Now, if you are Miuccia Prada, your gigantic brooches—fenders, as they were called 100 years ago—are bought at places like Fred Leighton on Madison Avenue. We've been to Fred's—and let us tell you—the stuff is gorgeous, but the staff isn't thrilled to take out pieces endlessly for people who are clearly in no financial condition to buy. After all, it ain't a museum.

Which is why we recently skipped Leighton in favor of a real museum. To get a look at truly high-caliber brooches—along with earrings, charm bracelets, etc.—we stop by the "Masterpieces of American Jewelry" exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum (folkartmuseum.org). And what do we find, along with 18th-century mourning lockets and Tiffany orchids? A series of those famous pins known to collectors as Raymond Yard bunnies.

Truth is, though we have been hearing about these rabbits for decades, we have never seen one in the flesh, as it were. The anthropomorphic critters were made during the Depression by Yard, who functioned more or less as private jeweler to the Rockefellers. He dressed his bunnies as race-car drivers and fishermen and even butlers carrying tiny trays of bejeweled cocktails.

In person the bunnies are far grander than we anticipated—which isn't to say we we'd turn one down if it hopped out of the mailbox. (At this point, they're so rare even Miuccia would have trouble finding one.) Oh, well, even if we owned one, it would be a little small for this year's brooch trend, which is bold bordering on gaudy.

In search of such glitz at a low price, we check out the Laila Rowe shop that just opened on West 8th Street between Broadway and University Place. (These Laila Rowe stores, with their cut-rate baubles and quirky handbags, have been multiplying like a virus all through downtown Manhattan.) Indeed, Laila does have plenty of pins, included one in a sour-green color that shows two butterflies, one on top of the other. (Is this how you get baby butterflies?) In any case, it is a pleasing $12.

Though H&M is sorely disappointing, offering only a fabric flower that converts from hair holder to pin (then again, for $2.90 it could glitz up a sweater), believe it or not, Banana Republic has a host of choices, including an item that combines a clot of fake jewels with a few feather plumes for $32. A huge turquoise spiral studded with ersatz diamonds and amethysts is $58, which seems like a lot to risk on so a fleeting trend, so we go once again to our favorite cheap jewelry store, the wonderful So Good at 496 Broadway in Soho. For $29.99 there's an imitation Chanel diamond-and-pearl pin; a peacock feather (almost a parrot! Save for spring!) is likewise $29.99. For $49.99, you can have a rather gruesome spider with a multicolor stoned center, which might be nice for the days leading up to Halloween. But perhaps our favorite brooch is a bejeweled martini glass, complete with fake-emerald olive and only $14.99. All it needs is a bunny to serve it.

 
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