Elsa Peretti died this Thursday at the age of 80 in the town of Sant Martí Vell, Girona, in the beloved house that she made her home and in the town that she helped restore and inspired her. The internationally renowned designer lived through it all, but did it in her own way, generously and intensely. She befriended each and every one of the artisans she worked with in her 40+ years creating jewelry for Tiffany & Co. He traveled the world, from Barcelona to Japan or the United Kingdom, looking for hands capable of accepting his challenges; they worked tirelessly creating organic forms, almost alive, and over the years, they became companions. Peretti supported them in their personal projects and their names came up whenever he had the chance.
“For me she was a mentor. Not only professionally, especially in philosophy of life ”, recalls his friend and collaborator, photographer Manuel Outumuro, who helped him curate his retrospective at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 1990.“ I arrived in the city in 1979, without knowing English, and Elsa opened the doors to everything, including Studio 54. She was incredibly generous, ”he recalls. “Until then I had prejudices associated with money. She taught me that you can have it and do incredible things, “he adds. Elsa Peretti grew up in a very privileged environment, but she always fled from the codes associated with her social class. He hated the confinement and, most of all, boredom. At the age of 20, he left his native Rome and left his family and his father Nando, an oil magnate, behind to settle in the Barcelona of the sixties, plagued by the Franco regime but with a flourishing intelligentsia. He allowed himself to be photographed by Leopoldo Pomés and Oriol Maspons, he rubbed shoulders with Dalí or the sculptor Xabier Corberó. In the 70s he settled in New York and began, unconsciously, to build his myth.
His peculiar way of understanding life, always looking for figures to learn and listen to, dragged him to the New York night scene, to Andy Warhol’s Factory, to Studio 54 and to spend long nights helping to control the creative genius of myths of design like Giorgio di Sant Angelo and, of course, Roy Halston. Peretti always spoke of Halston as a “life partner.” She helped him become the fetish designer of the ’70s. He introduced her to Harry Platt, then president of Tiffany & Co. The rest is history.
As is often the case with great geniuses, Elsa Peretti revolutionized jewelry almost without realizing it. He insisted on working with silver, a material reviled at that time. “At the brand they thought it was an exercise in snobbery, but I insisted because the ideas I had in my head could only be accepted by money,” he told this journalist on one occasion. Because Peretti’s head didn’t work like the others: he condensed emotions and memories into small objects (his first creation, the iconic bracelet Bone alluded to the small bones that he collected from the Roman catacombs during his childhood), he was fascinated by details, for many, insignificant (he picked up a bean from the ground, stroked it for days and, in the end, hung it around his neck, that’s how he was born his famous pendant Bean) and, above all, “he was moved by the passage of time and the imprint of life on objects,” says Outomuro. A molded bowl in the shape of the thumb that supports it, a bracelet that reveals the facets of silver after use “or even the worn stairs of his house in Sant Martí Vell, he loved its shape”, recalls the photographer.
Elsa Peretti arrived at Sant Martí Vell tired of the excess of New York nights. Her friend, the photographer Colita, showed her the image of that small town in Girona, then abandoned, and Peretti decided to take refuge there, without electricity or running water, to find herself again. Over the years he remodeled the town, rebuilding its square and its church, finding inspiration for future creations. At the same time, he decided to deposit his father’s inheritance in a foundation, the Nando & Elsa Peretti Foundation, from which he worked tirelessly for culture and human rights. He was involved, among many other causes, in the crisis in South Sudan or in improving sanitary conditions in Jaipur (India), but also in promoting the arts, supporting exhibitions or restoring heritage. He lent his unconditional support to the Fundació Aura, which advocates for the improvement of the quality of life of people with intellectual disabilities and created the Teatre Akademia in Barcelona, where names such as Isabella Rossellini have passed. Peretti used to say that she wanted to give back to the world something that she “was given”, and she had her hope in young people to reactivate the cultural and artistic movement of Barcelona.
Her last months were spent in Sant Martí Vell, “but in a house on the outskirts that belonged to Antonio Gades and was much more adapted for her,” recalls Outumuro. After his broken hip he could no longer climb his beloved worn stairs. There he died last Thursday. This Saturday dozens of friends meet again in that small town in Girona where Peretti used his creativity to pay tribute to him.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.