I stood for a while admiring the chandelier in the window at Bergdorf Goodman. There was something about its icy lozenges of light telescoping out from a brass center spindle like planets around an axis that caught and held my eye even before I learned it was called the Harlow.
Bergdorfs Welcomes Harlow
The tony window-dressing surrounding it illustrated an imaginative ensemble a young male archaeologist might wear, at least in the movies, I thought to myself as I walked up Fifth Avenue toward the Holiday House NYC. The fact the fixture read metrosexual in that milieu was interesting since there was something decidedly feminine about it.
A week later, a rush of excitement took hold when I received an email shedding light on its name. “Harlow,” I mouthed, wondering if the designers, Gabriel Kakon and Scott Richler of Gabriel Scott, had known the original blonde bombshell known by this name had likely slid past the location of the Bergdorf window in a limo on her way from The Plaza Hotel to The Rainbow Room once upon a time.
With great anticipation I asked them if the actress was the inspiration for the chandelier, which debuted last year at ICFF. “We try to provide fitting character names for each of our pieces; and, appropriately enough, Jean Harlow’s story is both glamorous and dramatic,” they answered. “But the inspiration for the Harlow is directly related to Scott’s background in jewelry design. The blown glass held by a series of contrasting prongs makes for a precious jewel-like feel.”
A tiny bit disappointed that my fantasy had been thwarted, I took heart in the fact it was serendipitous that I had spotted the fixture in a window facing a façade that had hosted Jean Harlow, and one that the star had described in her only novel Today is Tonight, her prose surprisingly intelligent and enlightened given the fact she was thought of as unsophisticated against the rival actresses of her day.
Jean Harlow’s Only Novel
The book has made me wonder whether she might have gone on to become a celebrated writer if she hadn’t died at the young age of 26. In the opening lines of chapter 23 of the novel, published posthumously in 1965, she describes an anonymous luxury hotel modeled after The Plaza:
“The hotel was not the newest of New York’s glittering postwar hostelries, nor was it even a new hotel.
“Judy’s generation did not know that it had been completely rebuilt in order to maintain its staid expensive dignity, facing that Park, which alone saves midtown Manhattan from stigmatic classifications as a city completely unimaginative except for height.
“A Victorian bronze statue flanked the white building. Two of New York’s three remaining horse-drawn cabs were in regular attendance outside the main entrance.”
I also think it’s fitting that a chandelier named for Harlow was inspired by jewelry given that one of the most poignant facts in the book Harlow: an Intimate Biography, penned by Irving Shulman, notes that the star’s mother “played” with her jewelry almost every day near the end of her life, longing to be transported to heaven, along with the jewels, to be with her daughter.
“Jean would be waiting for her, Mama was certain, an angel of coral and silver; and in paradise the mother would help dress the daughter in jewels she had never parted with despite her desperate need of money. The jewels were the sacred gift Mama would bring to her Baby in Heaven…”
A Chandelier Fit for a Movie Star
I decided to revisit the Bergdorf window once I knew the chandelier’s name. On a frigid December afternoon, I turned from the luxuriant masculine setting to see a black limo with darkened glass pulling from the street skirting the Plaza.
I realized as it glided by, it wasn’t only the weather causing me to shiver. There was something about the fact I’d been lost in thought about a sensationalized version of a woman born on the same day I was 47 years earlier that brought me a surreal rush of déjà vu.
The Harlow comes in a number of finishes and is available in a pendant version as well, which I could just see dangling from the actress’s ears in one of her many films in which she was always dressed to the nines.
The Diary of an Improvateur and this DesignSalon entry, Harlow at Bergdorfs!, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and journalist, as well as a contributor to Architizer. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.by