Even if you have never heard about Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duke of Verdura, and Marquis of Murata la Cerda, you most probably know his work, especially the iconic pair of white cuffs with a big Maltese cross made of colored gemstones that Coco Chanel used to wear every day on each arm.
Fulco di Verdura was born in 1898 in Sicily and grew up in his grandmother’s country house just outside Palermo, surrounded by all kinds of pets, from dogs to baboons and even a camel, and all the sumptuous luxury of Italian aristocracy. His cousin was the Sicilian prince and writer Giuseppe di Lampedusa who wrote the famous “The Leopard” that was made into a film with Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale.
It was during his happy childhood in Sicily that Verdura developed his love for animals, nature, and arts and started sketching.
In 1919 Fulco met composer Cole Porter and his wife Linda who, six years later, threw a big party for American and European high society at their Palazzo in Venice and introduced Fulco to Coco Chanel. Chanel was taken by his wit, charm, and elegance and invited him to design new textiles for her in Paris. Soon after, he re-designed some old jewelry she had, transforming them into iconic jewels. This was when he discovered his passion and incredible talent for designing jewelry. He was inspired by his childhood in Sicily and nature, and mixed colored stones with shells or wood at a time when women almost only wore diamonds and pearls.
After 8 years in Paris as head designer of Chanel jewelry, Fulco moved to New York where he opened his own salon with the financial help of Cole Porter and Vincent Astor.
Everybody who was anybody wanted to have a jewel from the Aristocratic Duke who was famous for his joie de vivre, elegance and acid wit that made him the perfect guest at all the best parties.
His clients were Hollywood stars as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, Paulette Godard, Millicent Rogers, Joan Crawford and Joan Fontaine, who wore Verdura’s brooch in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Suspicion.” Also, aristocrats as the Duchess of Windsor and Countess Mona Von Bismarck, The Astor and Vanderbilts, the Duchess of Marlborough, Princess Grace of Monaco, Diana Vreeland and Jackie Kennedy, were among his clientele.
The stylish and unconventional socialite Babe Paley was his muse and great friend and accompanied him on his many trips and parties around the world. Fulco was as much a style Icon as she was.
Verdura, as a real artist, rejected mass-production and commercialism. He designed personal pieces for his friends, and being an old-school aristocrat, he had not much interest in mundane things such as money, this is why he never became wealthy, but as his friends were, he was able to live his life in high style.
He retired in 1973 at the age of 75, selling his company to his long-time business associate Joseph Alfano and moving to London, where he lived and painted until his death.
In 1985 Ward Landrigan, former head of USA jewelry division of Sotheby’s purchased the company and has since kept alive his work and legacy.