Big, Dramatic Jewelry: The Aurientis Way

Calistro, a free-lance writer, regularly contributes to The Times' fashion pages

While many Parisians will argue the point, French style exists outside the borders of the City of Lights. Consider quiet little Aix-en-Provence, a town known more for its handcrafted furniture and hearty food than its fashion. That's where Dominique Aurientis, one of the most talked-about names in costume jewelry, elected to open her first boutique--not Paris.

"The boutique is a testing ground for new designs," explains Aurientis, who introduced her spring collection at I. Magnin in Beverly Hills recently. "If a style is popular in Provence, it will sell in Paris.

"Young working women will save all their extra francs to buy one good piece a season." That is no minor investment. Aurientis' jewelry ranges from $200 to $800.

"In Provence, as in most places around the world, women typically cannot afford to buy high-fashion clothing, so they depend on jewelry to express their style," says the designer, who is wearing her own earring designs--sculpted golden monkeys with faux pearls dangling from their curled tails.

"When the jewelry is strong, the clothing can be quiet--a black turtleneck, a white shirt," she says.

The designer is part of the burgeoning Paris-based costume-jewelry movement where every bauble and bead is dramatic, overstated. Other names associated with the trend include Isabel Canovas, whose earrings dangle to the shoulders and beyond.

Aurientis served as Canovas' director of design for five years before opening her own firm two years ago. At the fashion houses of Chanel and Christian Dior, this year's accessories overpowered even the styles of their respective designers, Karl Lagerfeld and Gianfranco Ferre. Bold 4-inch-wide cuff bracelets are often accompanied by other bangles. Brooches are worn with oversized earrings.

There are certain rules for wearing such strong jewelry, Aurientis says.

"Always wear two cuffs, though they need not match. Never wear bold earrings with a matching bold necklace--it is too much. Instead, wear a necklace that harmonizes but doesn't compete."

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