Meet Carole Tanenbaum
With New York Fashion Week upon us, we look to the runway for new ideas and fashion innovations, but as with most things, to move forward we must look to our past. The history provided by many centuries of fashion form the building blocks of fashion as we know it today, especially when it comes to jewelry. Unique pieces from the past provide dazzle and enchant us—and are quickly snapped up by discerning collectors. Enter Carol Tanenbaum, vintage jewelry collector extraordinaire.
Tanenbaum has spent twenty-five years on a world-wide hunt for the best of the best costume jewelry. Her collection consists of more than 30,000 pieces and it keeps growing. Tanenbaum’s jewelry has graced the pages of Vogue, has been worn by celebrities such as Beyoncé and Michelle Obama, and is sold in high-end boutiques around the globe.
Tanenbaum is showing her collection exclusively at the Burchfield Penney Art Center on Thursday, September 22, from noon to 8 p.m. The exhibition and sale includes costume jewelry ranging from the Victorian era to the 1980s, along with a mix of contemporary pieces. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds from the sale are being donated to the Burchfield Penney.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tanenbaum by phone, and got a contact high from her unbridled enthusiasm. I was also happy to learn that she loves coming to Buffalo. “I frequent Buffalo for the cultural experience,” Tannenbaum says. “I love Charles Burchfield; he’s very much like the Group of Seven painters up here in Canada. I really relate to that sensibility.”
In the following Q&A, Tanenbaum talks about her career, style, and vast costume jewelry collection:
How did you start your career in collection?
I was born in New York, in Brooklyn. I spent my young adulthood in New York City, and then I married a Torontonian and have been here ever since. I started out as a child psychologist. When I started having children, I didn’t want to be a mother and psychologist, so I left the field of psychology. When the kids were old enough I went into the art world. I was an art consultant for corporations downtown. Then I came upon a collection of vintage costume jewelry while we were in London. I had never paid attention to jewelry, it really never interested me, but these were like little objects of art. I bought twenty of them, and this was in the seventies. At that time, it was just for my personal use. I loved it and I started collecting more and reading about it. Then in the early eighties, my collection had grown, and I then approached Holt Renfrew [Canadian department store chain specializing in high-end merchandise].
What drove your passion of collecting?
Just a love for it. My husband and I collect on many different levels, but I loved the extravagance of design in jewelry and the colors that were used. I’ve always been a fashionista, an accessories person. I felt it was the greatest way to make yourself an original. I would always wear pins in multiples, bracelets in multiples. But I collected so much! I then approached Holt Renfrew to do a trunk show for me. Holt did the show, and then they took my collection on as a department and branded it the Carol Tanenbaum Vintage Collection. I was there for twenty-plus years, and then my collection went international.
Do you ever shop at flea markets?
I do go to antique shows when traveling. We always go to whatever flea offerings in that particular city. My husband is also a collector; it’s really a part of our communication. A great part of collection is finding that piece that fills a collection.
What jewelry trends are you currently coveting both personally and for the collection?
Vintage collars and chokers are always desirable. Number one, I love them because they’re outrageous. They have a real wow factor in accessorizing. They are hard to find. I’m also always looking for beautiful vintage full necklaces. I do a lot of editorial work with magazines. If I come across a designer I love in that field or even a contemporary designer, whom I know produces beautiful work, I will always pick up pieces that I feel are great.
What has been your favorite “find” recently? Where did you purchase it?
Yes! We were in London at the beginning of July, and there was an antique show in the market, and I met a new dealer, whom I had never heard of before. I picked up a magnificent runway-worthy, one of a kind, Hagler collar. It’s asymmetrical and pale blue. It’s really astounding.
What do you tend to look for when selecting a piece for your collection?
I love most eras, but I’m very partial to excellent Bakelite, I have a very large collection. And, oddly enough, I do really like ridiculous figurals. You will find in my collection wonderful butterflies, elephants, and crazy little dogs that are doing things. I like it because they are so outrageous; you wonder who would have worn them at the time they were made. And I always look for quality and how a piece is made. I don’t care if the piece is signed or not signed, I just care for the design and quality.
What advice would you give young collectors?
I think they should buy what they love. If one piece catches their eye, go for it. Most copper is affordable. Go into fields that have not really caught on yet. Always ask the dealer questions, what has been replaced? I suggest buying in great condition.
Have you ever shopped for costume jewelry in Buffalo?
Yes, I have. I always try to get to Clarence to Antique World, when they have their big outdoor/indoor sales. I always have fun there. It’s sort of a best-kept secret. You are bound to find something!
What can Buffalo expect from your collection?
I’m going to be bringing pieces from the Victorian era to the eightoes as well as some contemporary pieces. So, there’s something for everybody at every price range. I’m also going to be bringing my book, Fabulous Fakes.