Some Spikes With My Pearls, Please, Mummy!

jessica stam and dana lorenz 1 getty Some Spikes With My Pearls, Please, Mummy!

The trick to finding your favorite designer at the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards is to scan the room for their 6-foot-tall dates. On Monday, June 7, at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Gwyneth Paltrow’s sleek blond ponytail bobbed near Michael Kors; Devon Aoki’s dark mane meant Zac Posen was near; and Lara Stone was connected arm in arm to Francisco Costa. Model Jessica Stam, meanwhile, stood out not just because of her height but also because of the sparkly nest of jewels around her neck: a complex layering of speaker wire, pearls, Swarovski crystals and spikes. The piece, paired with a plain black dress, was the creation of her date, jewelry designer Dana Lorenz of Fenton/Fallon, who was nominated that evening for the Swarovski Award for Accessory Design opposite Alexander Wang and Eddie Borgo. 

Looking on, Julie Gilhart, the fashion director at Barneys, which was one of the first to pick up Ms. Lorenz’s collection when it launched in 2005, said:  “This is a good thing for Dana. Jewelers are typically not the celebrities of our industry and this will bring attention to her. It really validates her.” 

The awards started 45 minutes late, per fashion’s custom. “Ah. Good evening,” said Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the CFDA, addressing the crowd. “Everyone is in such a good mood.” Sitting in the audience, Ms. Lorenz was wearing a long, deconstructed Ann Demeulemeester black dress, paired with Vera Wang bandage sandals, her shoulder-length brown hair swept to the side.

“I wouldn’t call it a gown because it’s too grungy to be a gown,” she had said of her dress several days before the awards, when The Observer met her in her office, a small, rectangular space on Chrystie Street on the Lower East Side. “I don’t think it’s necessary to be all Nicole Kidman about this.”

This low-key attitude helps to explain the attraction to the designer, who has collaborated with J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons and Proenza Schouler and whose pieces are regularly worn by first lady Michelle Obama. Ms. Lorenz, who is 35, seems respectfully rebellious toward the fashion world; she admires MTV’s Daria, the animated 1990s teenager whose sarcasm and keen observations of her peers get her through the indignities that define suburban high school. Her designs are a Freaky Friday mashup of the Park Avenue mother in her Oscar suit and her downtown-residing, biker-jacket-wearing daughter: pearls layered on top of biker chains on top of crystals and gems on top of fringed chains and bleached feathers, twisted and manipulated into sparkling absurdist pieces. It is impossible to tell which layer came first and inspired the next.

 

ON THE THURSDAY before the awards, Ms. Lorenz and her three assistants were doing some light soldering on a few pieces awaiting shipment (an uptown space handles more complex assembly) and packaging orders for Barneys and Colette, the French boutique. Next door, another building was under construction, and there was a loud pounding coming through one of the walls. In the window above the designer’s desk at eye level, a one-legged bum wheeled himself toward Rivington Street. The Fenton/Fallon store in Freeman’s Alley, located directly behind Ms. Lorenz’s office, was closed and will remain that way for an undetermined amount of time due to an unexpected construction problem. A few weeks ago, on the day a 20-person crew came to photograph the designer for an official CFDA portrait, the chimney of the building collapsed and a cloud of soot blew into the store.

Fenton and Fallon are two separate lines: The former is the high-end ($220 to $1500), original collection named after the designer’s great-aunt and great-uncle because they never had children and she wanted to preserve the name; the latter a more affordable ($80 to $300) and aesthetically younger line named after Fallon Carrington Colby of the 1980s TV show Dynasty. “The whole philosophy of Fallon is that it’s the daughter of the Fenton customer,” said Ms. Lorenz. She was dressed in a simple floor-length skirt and a long-sleeve hooded jersey, both garments in navy stripes of varying widths. “She is a little punk snot who’s like, ‘If you’re not going to buy it for me, I’m going to buy it for myself!’ Because it’s much less expensive.” She picked up a layered Fallon necklace with red gem stones. “This has Swarovski re-created antique necklaces, biker chains, a Cartier-type bracelet running through here,” she said. “It takes uptown and-not mocks it but it kind of says it doesn’t have to be so prim and proper.”

In 2003, Ms. Lorenz moved to New York with a “sketchbook and a ton of ideas” from Chicago, where she graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago and subsequently worked as a ready-to-wear specialist at Gucci. She took a job working for Donna Karan but left it in 2005 to “enjoy New York.” That same year, she met Alexandre Plokhov at Cloak, who admired her homemade jewelry and asked if she could translate her pieces for his upcoming men’s show. Barneys and Ikram in Chicago instantly bought the collection after seeing it on the runway. Vogue took notice. In 2007, Ms. Lorenz launched Fallon, and this September the store in Freeman’s Alley opened. 

 

ABOVE THE DESIGNER’S desk, magazine tearsheets from the ’80s and ’90s were pinned onto a bulletin board: Melrose Place’s Grant Show in a Barneys ad; Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover (November 1988), featuring a model wearing a $50 pair of jeans and $10,000 bejeweled Christian Lacroix sweater; the all-girl hip-hop act TLC; Madonna in her prime. There was also a pinned letter on CFDA letterhead.

Ms. Lorenz didn’t ramble on excitedly about her nomination the way other designers might and often do. It’s not that she wasn’t thankful. But there is a sense that she hasn’t entirely come to terms with how someone in her position-she is not a member of the organization, nor has she ever attended the awards before-is supposed to handle the press for such a thing. The CFDA is an institution not unlike high school, in which peers vote for best-looking and most likely to succeed. Part of the criticism surrounding the awards has been about the Meryl Streeps: Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler are nominated year after year and merely shuffled among the various categories. Like the Oscars, the awards are political, and there is quite a bit of campaigning that goes on for votes.

“It’s like in golf-sorry, my dad’s a golfer!-you’re supposed to just keep your head down,” Ms. Lorenz said. “I don’t have a FameGame profile. I don’t go to parties to advertise that way.” Later, she added, “I’m the type of person who would always rather be at home watching Daria, but I’m really enjoying this.” She also said she was especially excited to meet Michael Kors at the awards. “He’s a genius at creating a person, and you’re like, ‘I kinda really want to be that person sometimes.’ And I love funny people.”

Alas, at the ceremony on the 7th, Ms. Lorenz didn’t win.

“And the winner of the Swarovski award for accessory design …” said television host Alexa Chung, standing at the podium alongside Gossip Girl‘s Ed Westwick, “… is Alexander Wang!” (The other winners in the Swarovski categories, which are intended for emerging designers, were Jason Wu and Richard Chai-hardly newcomers. Women’s designer of the year was given to Marc Jacobs; it was his ninth CFDA award.)

The next morning, Ms. Lorenz was a little hung over. She was at the CFDA after party at the Standard until 3 a.m. “I was really giddy all night long,” she said by phone. “Watching the show, I really felt like a high-school kid lying on my bed reading magazines and dying to move to New York.” And she didn’t even get to meet Mr. Kors.

ialeksander@observer.com