The Good, the Bad and the Priceless
Melanie Fischmann, co-owner of vintage store Caravan, shares her love of vintage costume jewelry.
For Melanie Fischmann, her passion for older things began while she was still very young.
“My fabulous and, oh so stylish, grandmother, Violet Lauga, was a fashion icon in my eyes,” Melanie says as she holds the side of the framed shadowbox that displays part of her handsome collection. “She had a marvelous collection of costume jewelry in many different styles and from different designers. Grandmother and grandfather Clem were the first owners of the horse and buggy carriages in the French Quarter – once called the Gay Nineties and now known as Royal Carriages – and she always looked beautiful when she was all dressed up and wearing something from her unique jewelry collection.”
Melanie recalls that it was her grandmother and mother who started her collection of jewelry by giving her a charm bracelet when she was a little girl of about 6 or 7 years old.
“I soon began collecting charms on trips or holidays,” she recalls. “When I was older I loved to go to flea markets in search of interesting jewelry. By the time I was an adult, I had discovered estate sales and my quest began in earnest, and continues today, to find beautiful vintage costume jewelry.”
Now Melanie knows all of the names of the best vintage jewelry designers and her collection is filled with special pieces from her favorite designer. She rattles off names such as Mirian Haskell, Whiting and Davis, Julio Marsella, and Jay Feinberg to quickly display her textbook knowledge of the subject.
What is the ultimate favorite in her collection?
She smiles as she quickly answers, “It’s a classic vintage Miriam Haskell pair of large clip-on brilliant rhinestone earrings that belonged to my grandmother. I had the earrings made into two necklaces – one for my mother and the other for myself – using Chanel chains.”
Her second choice acquisition was purchased at an estate sale in New Orleans that she attended with her partner Nora Lasky. “It’s a Julio Marsella treasure.”
Melanie and Nora own Caravan, a shop within The Shops at 2011, located at 2011 Magazine St.
“We always have great vintage costume jewelry, but our main focus is on vintage furniture, art and objects from the ‘40s to the ‘90s,” Melanie says. “I enjoy having a shop that gives me the perfect excuse to always be on the lookout for great pieces. I like collecting because most of the pieces I come across in my shopping travels are so unique and special.
Melanie says she discovered long ago how to tell the good from the bad.
“The older designer costume jewelry is made so well, and although some of the costume jewelry of today tries to imitate vintage jewelry, I can quickly tell what is old and new,” she says. “The new is made much cheaper with less quality. The older vintage jewelry has a superb quality and the look and feel of it is like wearing precious instead of costume jewelry.”
Every once in a while, Melanie and Nora will hit the jackpot at an estate sale.
“I remember one sale at a Lakefront area home where I found one of my favorite pieces,” she says. “We purchased many pieces that day, and each one was so unique and special that we were hyperventilating over each one. There were pieces we had never seen before. Our problem was that we wanted to keep everything we purchased. Yes, it’s always hard to part with the good stuff, but in the end we know we must.”
As you would expect, the shop has sold to movie stars and they rent many items for movie sets such as “American Horror Story.”
“We love our regular customers – Alicia Bendana, Robin Kanner, Elise Allen, and Jackie Shreves – all interesting, stylish and strong women,” she says.
While wearing great vintage costume jewelry certainly makes a statement, Melanie says it’s as much about family as fashion for her.
“I often think of my grandmother when I finish off my look of the day with a fine piece of vintage jewelry, and I quietly say to myself. ‘Grandmother Violet would approve.’”