The Charm of Charms

Harry N. Abrams, 2005; 160 pages; $32.50


From legendary jewelers such as Tiffany and Cartier to out-of-the-way flea markets, from chic design houses like Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel to tiny antique shops, charms are making a great comeback on the fashion scene. Drawn to these tiny treasures for their ability to express elements of the wearer's personality, today's charm lovers are using them to adorn everything from bracelets and necklaces to dog collars and diaper bags.

In The Charm of Charms, photographer Jade Albert and writer Ki Hackney tell the fascinating story of this ever-popular jewelry item. The stunning color photographs provide an up-close and personal view of hundreds of cherished charmed jewels, including pieces belonging to Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, the Duchess of Windsor, Mariah Carey, and Mary J. Blige among other celebrities. The intriguing stories behind these beloved trinkets are told in the lively, informative text, which also covers the history of charms and amulets from prehistory to the present. Combining up-to-the-minute trendiness with nostalgic glamour, this gorgeous volume will appeal to fashion and jewelry enthusiasts both young and old.


From Publishers Weekly: Inspired by the comeback of charms on the fashion scene and by childhood memories of ornamenting their own bracelets, Hackney and Albert have combined their creative talents to share the significance and magical history behind these accessories. For 30,000 years, people have worn charms to protect against evil spirits, recognize family ancestry and, of course, accessorize. In the book's beautiful color photos, Albert places the bracelets and trinkets against clever backdrops, displaying a golden bee perched atop a velvety pink rose or a four-leaf clover placed amid a spoonful of Lucky Charms cereal. Next to the portraits of jewelry makers and collectors donning their favorite pieces, Hackney tells the stories behind famous charm wearers like Jackie Kennedy and fashion designer Betsey Johnson.


Jade Albert has had a long career in commercial photography. Albert's work has appeared in Vogue, Time, and Parents magazines, and in advertising campaigns for Target, Polaroid, Sony, and other companies. She was the photographer of Cindy Crawford's book, About Face (2001). Ki Hackney is the coauthor of People and Pearls: The Magic Endures.


Jade Albert, born in 1950 in New York, spoke with me from her Manhattan studio. She was excited. The swank store Bergdorf Goodman had launched the first Charm of Charms book-signing. "About 600 people came," she said. "It was like I was a rock star and they were going to rip the charms off me. I never was prepared for that. It was beautiful because they had the charms hanging from the chandeliers; there were hanging charms all over. They had a 1950s menu, like 'Chicken a la King' and Swedish meatballs, and they were playing 1950s music.

"Bergdorf had invitation lists of people like Marisa Berenson and her daughter -- the people who are in the book. I didn't want the book to be celebrities, celebrities. I wanted it to be a mix. Amy Fine Collins, who writes for Vanity Fair, was there with her ten-year-old daughter and also Eric Ripert, the chef at Le Bernadin, and Kitty Carlisle Hart, and babies and dogs. Everybody.

"I still have a window there. And everything is Chanel in New York; Chanel, Chanel, Chanel. And I have my charm window. So I'm just like, you know, like 'wow.' So that was super. I was in Women's Wear, and then The Daily News had pictures."

"What did you wear?"

"Oh, it was such a dilemma. And it was horrible rain. It was really wonderful in the beginning. When I arrived it was still sunny, thank goodness, summer. I had this dress; it's strapless. I buy all these Academy Awards things and decided to wear this brocaded strapless. But then I had these beautiful charms that I got as a gift, Valentine's Day, from this woman who's in the book, Deanna Littell, and she actually started a business from our interviewing her. She did the wedding charms. But she didn't have a charm business. She just had her charm bracelet, and then we got to be friendly, and unfortunately I was just forced to go to all the antique shows. I just had to. To the Pier and this one and that one, the Armory.

"So she came with me. She was a fashion designer, so she's very talented; she has a great eye. And she started making these beautiful charm bracelets. She's the one that has the cover of the book, a side cover, and it's all the evil eyes, and we had about ten of those. I love them. And I just wear them all the time, so what's really wonderful about this book is that I met amazing people too."

"What makes a charm a charm?"

"Oh gosh, I was told when I'd go into this whole thing, I sounded like the girl -- who's, like, crazy, from The Glass Menagerie. Because I would talk about, 'See this charm; it's like they're little people, and they have this history.' It's crazy. They're definitely three-dimensional; they have a life. They're like little characters. And they have roots. You know, it's incredible, some of them are older than I am. Generations and generations, they have been passed on and still have all this spirit and they all have stories.

"When I started this book, there were not that many charms being worn. You know, it was like, 'Okay, people had their charm bracelets.' Like my mother, she gave me my charm bracelet back. But now, since I was doing the book, this past two years, it's exploded everywhere. As you know, it's on the bags, on the jackets. Even my dog has charms.

"Charms are everywhere. I have volume two and three sitting here because we had to cut so much out. But the Duke and Duchess of Windsor -- you know, going way back to them -- they had charms, and the Duke really believed in charms. Christie's auctioned off a teddy bear charm that he always kept in his pocket.

"It's really wonderful when you hear about these charms, where men, not unlike rappers today, believe in them. Many people really believe in lucky charms.

"I really think that history repeats itself. You know, right after the Depression, people couldn't really afford the diamonds, so that's when plastic charms started. But then, after World War II, with Mamie Eisenhower, she started thinking it was good to have charms. After 9/11 people started to bring out the charms again."

"What's the difference between a charm and an amulet?"

"You know, it's interesting. There are talismans, okay? I call them all the same -- charms, amulets, talismans. I consider them the same. A perfect example was, I was at Diane Von Furstenberg's or some other book party, and I said, 'I tried really hard to get you in my book because you just did this big thing with Stern -- Stern, they're these jewelry designer people -- and I was aware that you had these charms.' And she says to me, 'I call them talismans.' And they were just hanging off her.

"But I think amulets are like bodyguards almost. I think the common word, in a way, is a lucky charm. Because the amulet is protective."

"Are jewelers now making a lot of charms?"

"Absolutely. Yes. Marc Jacobs was one of the first that just started to do it. It was a big sell-out. And then I guess about a year later, because there was more money, Louis Vuitton started to do it, and they had of course big-deal things. With Sarah Jessica Parker last year they had a big party. Gucci just came out with the best too. They didn't have charms before. They were one of the last. And, like, all the designers, like I just said Diane von Furstenberg, and not to mention, you know, all this bling stuff with Jacob the Jeweler. And now also, Betsey Johnson. She's doing a charm line."

"How did you get interested in charms?"

"Well, it's my mother. She gave me back my charm bracelet, which I totally forgot about. It must be three years ago. I started to wear it. When I started to wear it, people would say to me at parties, 'Oh, what's this?' or whatever, it's like a big conversation piece. 'When did you get that, and when did you get this?'

"Being a photographer, I did a book before, with Cindy Crawford, but it wasn't really my book. She hired me. I always wanted to do my book but, like, 'hello?' Everything has been done before. I thought, 'I don't think this has been done.' And it hadn't.

"I started a file. I was very busy with my advertising career. I thought, 'Okay, this is going to happen eventually.' There

wasn't that much out there. I started looking at Tiffany's. About six months later, my puppy went in a store, and he's flirting with this woman who's a lot taller and bigger than I am, and I look up and I say, 'I know you.'

"She said, 'It's Ki Hackney.' I said, 'Ki? Ki, you're not going to believe this -- I've been thinking about you.' We hadn't seen each other in years. Her book People and Pearls had just come out about a year before we ran into each other, in late 2000. I said, 'I have this idea for a project, and I thought you might be good for it.'

"She said, 'What is it, what is it?' I said, 'No, no, no. Wait. This is really special. I haven't seen you in years. We've gotta sit down and talk about this.' And she said, 'This is good timing because I'm in between projects.' So we got together. And she loved it, and six months later, I still

didn't have a proposal or anything, we said, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, we're going to do this.'

"Her agent was having lunch with someone from Abrams, an editor, and she told her about this project, and she says, 'Oh my God, I want that book.' I was like, 'Uh oh, we don't even have a proposal yet.' So that was really the catalyst. That was, like, 'Okay, we have to be serious here.' That's how it came about.

"We did a proposal and I started with the dog, whatever was available, and a little girl with my bracelet in the sun. That's what I'm really known for -- photographing children. They loved it at Abrams, and then we just plugged away for a year and a half.

"And you know what the hardest part was? Because now, it's like I have people coming up to me saying, 'I wish I had been in the book.' I had to think of everybody that I knew or every time I went out, I would just ask everybody, 'Do you know anybody who has a charm bracelet?' This kind of thing. People would say, 'This or that, or my mother's.' And it just became a thing where everybody wanted to tell their story. Or they were thrilled to death to get them out of the boxes, they hadn't seen them in such a long time."

"I bet you did a lot of polishing."

"Oh, yeah, we had the cloths there. Definitely."

"Is it difficult to photograph jewelry?"

"Some are, some aren't. I really didn't find them hard. I didn't want it to look like a catalog, that's for sure. My photography style is very whimsical.

"These people would just walk in, and they would leave them; some of them wouldn't leave them. If they had Tiffany's or Cartier's or Jacob the Jeweler's, they would come with their security guards, because some of the bracelets are worth over $400,000.

"I would just have to think: 'What am I going to do on the spur of the moment?' I had that pressure that I had to do this fast. I was inspired. It's like Betsey Johnson came in, and I put on those red lips, looking at her, and I thought, 'You know, she's very surreal,' and I thought, 'Let's do it very dolly-like.' So that was kind of fun. And that was pressure on me. That part was hard. But when it worked, bingo, it was so much fun."

"Did people start calling you when they heard what you were doing and say, 'I have a charm bracelet'?"

"Almost when it was toward the end. Like I said, I have volume two and three here. Because I had to edit it down, so that was hard. But they're still calling.

"Some, I had to go to their vault and do it. And then to see the old Tiffany charms from the archives, that was fascinating too. So I just got deeper and deeper as it got more serious."

"How long have you done photography?"

"About 20 years. In the beginning I started working for Vogue as a freelancer, and then I started to get involved with children's advertising, and that's what I do. So it was nice to get a break, to evolve from babies and squeaking toys singing 'Barney' and blowing bubbles to 'PJ,' which is what they call precious jewels.

"Yeah, it was fun."

"Where did you go to school?"

"Parsons School of Design."

"Did you grow up in New York City?"

"Yes. I don't even have a driver's license."

-- Judith Moore

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