English Jeweler, a Bit Faded, Turns to the House of Jagger (The New York Times 4/29/01)

I don’t want to design jewelry just for the ladies who lunch,” Jade Jagger declared with puckish emphasis, lunching at Claridge’s earlier this month, as one of the grandes dames in question, seated nearby, flashed a look of disapproval and returned to her pheasant. “That’s not what my job is about.”

Ms. Jagger was referring to her new role as jewelry designer for Asprey & Garrard, the venerable New Bond Street luxury goods retailer. Asprey is the place that the poet John Betjeman — whose father once supplied it with walnut and ebony cigar boxes — was moved to describe as “a world/Of shining showrooms full of secret drawers/And Maharajah’s dressing cases.”

Ms. Jagger’s first Asprey collection — which includes silver and gold pendants engraved with the word “Angel” — went on display in one of those showrooms last Monday, not far from the “boathouse,” the upstairs area where, in the ’20s and ’30s, the Prince of Wales liked to hang out before he became Edward VIII.

To certain English people — especially those who know Ms. Jagger from her frequent appearances as a party-loving It girl in the social columns, and who regard the 220-year-old Asprey as a mainstay of the stately way of life — her arrival at 167 New Bond Street might appear incongruous, to say the least.

Others of the N.V.I. (No Visible Income) persuasion may have been surprised that she even wanted a real job. After all, Ms. Jagger, 29, is the daughter of Mick and Bianca Jagger and a sometime model who was quoted on the cover of Tatler Magazine, “I’m a pro-choice pot smoker and don’t care if the whole world knows.”

“I was perfectly aware of Jade’s social reputation when we hired her,” said Rosa Monckton, the new chief executive of Asprey & Garrard, “and, in part, hired her to attract a younger, more design-led crowd.”

Ms. Monckton was Asprey’s marketing director briefly in the 1980′s before moving to Tiffany in London, where she gained high status for serving genuine breakfasts at Tiffany’s. She returned to Asprey last fall after the house — once grand, but now faded — was bought from the Brunei royal family by Silas Chou and Lawrence Stroll.

Ms. Monckton’s grandfather Sir Walter Monckton was Edward VIII’s legal adviser during the 1936 abdication crisis (when the king’s boathouse period was but a happy memory), and she is keenly aware of what the Asprey brand means to England. Her brief, she says, is to “polish it up,” since “Asprey lost its way over the years.”

“The company was doing so well in the Middle East catering to the whims of the potentate market that it had put all of its energies into funding that side of the business and completely lost touch with its U.K. customer base,” she said. “I want to make the house more fun. And I want to make it more accessible.”

She also hopes to make it profitable again. Financial records released by the company show that under the direction of Prince Jefri of Brunei, Asprey operated seriously in the red in recent years. For the fiscal year ended in March of last year, it showed an operating loss of $:7.2 million (roughly $10.4 million in today’s dollars) on revenues of $:64.8 million.

A central feature of Ms. Monckton’s revival plan is to bring in new designers, seven in all, including well-known London names like Ms. Jagger, who travels with a crowd that includes Kate Moss. Another is Nigella Lawson, the glamorous cookbook writer whose father, Nigel, is a former chancellor of the Exchequer. (She will design housewares.)

International jewelry experts praised the new Jade Jagger for Asprey line, which sells for $135 to $1,750, at least as much for the marketing coup it represents as for its artistry. Mary Genoud, editor of the jewelry trade magazine Couture International Jeweler, likened the move to Tiffany’s appointment of Paloma Picasso in the ’80s. In an email interview from her offices in Switzerland, Ms. Genoud said: “Jagger is part of a trendy international set and thrives on the latest in styles and fashion. Now all she has to do is translate that knowledge into wearable jewelry.”

Vivienne Becker, jewelry editor of the British fashion and society magazine Harpers & Queen, called Ms. Jagger’s hiring “a stroke of marketing genius, and a brilliant reflection of the changing role of jewelry in fashion and lifestyle today.” She sees the Jagger and Picasso names as having the same “resonance,” although she pointed out that Ms. Picasso, unlike Ms. Jagger, had formally trained in the fine jewelry industry before she was hired. “Jade has a reputation so far only in fashion jewelry circles,” she said, “mostly for very simple but trendy glass bead jewelry.”

“What’s important is that Asprey has taken a bold step forward and stirred things up a bit, which was badly needed,” she said. But she added, “We should also be turning our serious and talented British jewelers into celebrities, instead of turning celebrities into jewelers.”

For his part, Tim Bent of Bentley’s, a Kensington shop that carries things like jewel boxes and vanity cases from Asprey’s golden era, which he considers to be 1880 to 1935, was hopeful that the appointment heralded a new era for the company. “Asprey has always represented the best of British craftsmanship,” Mr. Bent said from behind an accessories-laden counter of his time-machine-like store, which is patronized by nostalgic Londoners and Anglophile Americans of the sort who can pay $30,000 for a vintage Asprey vanity case in alligator skin.

“Somehow, people have stopped shouting about Asprey,” Mr. Bent said. “I don’t think that the last two decades came close to the style Asprey showed in the first two. Jade Jagger brings glamour back to the firm, and I think she sets the tone for a new progressive image. The designs are cool and modern, and Asprey still has great craftsmen.”

For her lunch at Claridge’s, a bastion of proper London, Ms. Jagger wore beige Plein Sud slacks, brown Louis Vuitton high heels, burgundy Agent Provocateur stockings, a white Christian Dior cardigan and a white spangled T-shirt bearing the likeness of Debbie Harry beneath the legend “Bad Reputation.” From her neck dangled a bold necklace bearing oddments that included skulls and dice. It belongs to the Jade Inc. line she was making before Asprey called. That business, which started in 1997, grew out of a hobby and introduced a collection to London last year at a celebrity-filled party given by Ian Schrager, who a quarter-century earlier gave parties at Studio 54 with her mother as the star.

“The Asprey contract means everything to me,” Ms. Jagger said, after showing off a spiky amethyst-and-gold ring from her Sunburst collection, one of two she and her partner, Tamsin de Roemer, have designed for Asprey. “I am putting everything on hold for it – including Jade Inc. I am devoting everything to this.”

The invitation from Ms. Monckton “was the just the right call at the right time,” she went on, to the strains of the lobby violinist. “Granted, we were going in a somewhat, perhaps most, bohemian direction, but I love Rosa and I love her vision for Asprey. Anyway, Jade Inc. had already begun to incorporate precious stones and finer materials. So the timing was perfect.”

Ms. Jagger divides her time primarily between the Spanish island of Ibiza and London — where she works in a former architect’s office adorned with photos of her in high party mode — but she might just as easily turn up in Mustique or Los Angeles, befitting the globe-trotting life she inherited from her parents.

“I guess you could say that I am a gypsy, in the sense that I move around a lot,” she said. “A Londoner in the sense that I have many friends and family here, but within a couple of weeks in any one place I am asking, ‘Where are we heading?’”

She made it clear she was uncomfortable talking about her personal life, though it’s mostly a matter of record, beginning with a childhood in New York (with long stretches reportedly spent in Andy Warhol’s Factory). She was sent to St. Mary’s Calne, a private school in Wiltshire, England, which eventually expelled her. (“Yes, I was kicked out of school,” she said with a sheepish grin.) Then, at 17, while on a plane to Florence, Italy, she met Piers Jackson, with whom she went on to have two daughters, Assisi and Amba. Nowadays, she is linked most often with Dan Macmillan, a photographer who is a grandson of the late Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Not that she would say much about Mr. Macmillan. All she cares about right now, she said, is making a go of her new job.

“Asprey is one of those things about London that I love, that you can’t find anywhere else — like Claridge’s,” she said, as she dipped into her dessert. “To me Asprey signifies brilliant design, quality and tradition.”

She doesn’t want to change Asprey, she said, but hopes to broaden its client base. “Of course I will be doing some designing for the ladies who lunch. But I also want to bring in Lil’ Kim and her people. I want people to see jewelry as a form of making a personal statement.”

As an example, Ms. Jagger showed off a chunky silver pendant from her new Graffiti collection. “Honey,” it said in carefully etched letters. “You can say anything you want,” she explained. ” ‘Honey,’ ‘Lucky,’ whatever — whatever you feel like.”

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