With the mellow sounds of Christian Gallo’s music, bright orange umbrellas and toasts all around, family, friends and fans helped Marlene Vitanza celebrate 30 years in business at Peregrine Galleries in Montecito.
For some patrons, an opportunity to feel what it was like to wear a piece of fashion history was enough, while others imagined themselves in Chanel’s Paris salon. A raffle was held to win a piece of fashion history.
Vitanza and her late husband of 47 years, Jimmie, had owned Peregrine Galleries in Santa Barbara for nine years when neighbor Gloria Heibert called to say the space next door to her on Coast Village Road was available. A decision was made to add a second Peregrine Gallery in 1984.
Peregrine Montecito, 1133 Coast Village Road, became Vitanza’s baby while her husband, who died last year of cancer, stayed with the Santa Barbara store.
“My beginning in the business began in 1974 when my husband and I attended an ethnographic show in Los Angeles,” Vitanza told me.
“I decided to wear some silver jewelry I had purchased in Taxco. Federico Jimenez, an important collector of sterling silver and turquoise, admired my Fred Davis and Antonio jewelry and showed me the markings. I was told that the necklace I was wearing was illustrated in the Pack Book, which catalogues collectible pieces.
“This was the very beginning of my love for jewelry.”
Asked about her longevity, tears welled in Vitanza’s eyes behind her signature round tortoise-shell glasses.
“Thirty years in business is no small accomplishment in Santa Barbara where many wonderful stores have had to shutter their doors,” she said. “I love what I do ... I love what I sell. I love the hunt and I never mind looking at pieces. I love my customers.
“I am a very lucky person to be in this position,” she continued. “My husband and I always talked about how lucky we were to find each other and to both be doing something we loved together — right up to the end of our time together, he reminded me of this fact.”
Vitanza’s enduring legacy is tied to her love of the classics. Peregrine Galleries specializes in collectible vintage designer jewelry by Bakelite, from the 1930s until about 1950 — the same time period for Taxco and Miriam Haskell jewelry. Her collections include pieces by Georg Jensen (1903-1940s) and early Native American jewelry and artifacts (1910-1960s), Chanel (1910-1960s), as well as deceased and current early California and American paintings. She is always adding pieces to the many treasures in the store’s glass-filled cases.
The recent anniversary event was focused on one of the world’s most enduring fashion icons, Mademoiselle Coco Chanel. Born in France in 1883, Chanel was famous for her timeless designs, trademark suits and little black dresses paired with great accessories. She is the only fashion designer listed on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the 20th century.
The name Chanel and its double CC logo are sold throughout the world in luxury boutiques and still signify classic chic. In contrast to the simplicity of her clothing, Chanel’s costume jewelry, which is what Peregrine Galleries sells, is bold and often theatrical.
CC embraced this boldness in her accessories, which elevated her trim, tidy clothing, creating a look so womanly and sophisticated that it has never gone out of fashion since she first imagined it more than 90 years ago.
Historically, Chanel was known to drape herself and her models in ropes of faux pearls and gold-tone chains. The feisty, chain-smoking designer was known to be a very visual and tactile artist. She could not draw or sketch, but she knew immediately what was right or wrong when a woman tried on a garment. She designed directly onto models’ bodies, draping, pinning and cutting the fabric to get what she was after.
Her approach to jewelry was very similar. In her studio she kept pieces of flexible modeling plastic, which she shaped into jewelry, embedding real and fake gemstones into the plastic as she worked, moving them around to get exactly the color combinations and balance she desired. Chanel was the first to use costume jewelry to create the finishing touch to her overall look.
In the 1950s, my grandmother’s signature scent was Chanel N°5, (the first fragrance to feature a designer’s name). She often took me to her favorite stores in Chicago to shop for clothing. With her beehive hairdo, high heels, pearls and Chanel suits, I relished this time with her and my introduction to the French chanteuse.
Today, a bottle of Chanel N°5 sits on my dressing table vanity as one of the salient memories of my childhood and of my beloved grand mare. The scent of my past and Coco Chanel THE woman were very much alive in Peregrine Galleries on anniversary night.
A percentage of the proceeds from the Peregrine Galleries event benefited the Santa Barbara Cancer Center.
Peregrine Galleries is located at 1133 Coast Village Road. Click here for more information, or call 805.969.9673.