Costume Jewelry Designer Kenneth Jay Lane Dies at 85

Kenneth Jay Lane - Bloomingdale's Visit 2010 - Getty - H 2017
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The famed jeweler's faux gems were worn by Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana.

Kenneth Jay Lane, famed costume jewelry designer whose exquisite gems were worn by former first ladies and royals alike, has died. He was 85.

The American jeweler died Thursday in his sleep at his Manhattan apartment, publicist Stuart Cohen confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.

A documentary about Lane's illustrious 50-year career has been in the works. British filmmaker Gisele Roman wrote, produced and directed the film, Fabulously Fake: The Real Life of Kenneth Jay Lane, which will feature some of his closest friends, including former first lady Barbara Bush, Joan Collins, designers Tory Burch and Diane von Furstenberg, and celebrity couple Anne and Kirk Douglas, to name a few.

In the film, Collins recalls a time when she was stopped at customs with her KJL jewels and even the customs official couldn't stop complimenting her about the baubles. "I was going through customs in Mexico — I keep all my jewelry in a box in my wheely — and the customs man saw it and said, 'Let me open it. Let me see it.' He looked at it and I said, 'Can we go into a private room? Because I don't want people to see it,' even though it wasn't real," says Collins. "We went into the private room, and the customs man is picking it up and said, 'Very nice, these earrings very good.' Finally, I said, 'It's not real, you know. It's not diamonds and gold and rubies; it's faux jewelry. And finally he closed it and said 'You have very nice stuff here!'"

Designer Carolina Herrera, who's also featured in the film, remembers a time when there was a robbery during a friend's dinner party in Caracas, Venezuela, and the KJL gems were the only concern. "We were at the home of a friend of mine who has a lot of jewels, and during dinner the butler came to say there'd been a burglary in the house, and they were very concerned about it because it had been upstairs. Her only reaction was 'Oh, gosh! I hope they didn't take any of my Kenny Lanes!'"

Roman will be taking the doc on the film festival circuit this fall; it's projected to air in early 2018. The film has yet to find a distributor.

"Kenneth Jay Lane is a nonconformist who changed the perception of the establishment toward costume jewelry. He even got the Duchess of Windsor and a host of British royals to wear costume jewelry — unheard of at the time," says Roman. "His designs still define the modern era, and he continues to work at 85!"

Lane was born in Detroit, Michigan, on April 22, 1932, and attended the University of Michigan and the Rhode Island School of Design. Before launching his jewelry business, Lane had a stint in Vogue's art department and designed shoes under Roger Vivier at Christian Dior and Arnold Scaasi. While decorating jewels on footwear, Lane started experimenting with jewelry design.

By 1963, he launched his own line of costume jewelry and garnered fans in the Duchess of Windsor, who is said to have launched his career by recommending him to her friends, and legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland. Former first ladies Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan, iconic stars Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, and Princess Diana were also among his famous clients.

He's been honored with numerous awards for his jewelry designs, including a special Coty Award in 1966, the Harper's Bazaar International award in 1967, and the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award in 1968.

In 1996, Lane released a memoir titled Faking It, which detailed his life and career as a famous faux jewelry maker.

At age 85, Lane had no plans for slowing down. In addition to the doc, he recently told THR he had been busy focusing on his e-comm site, which offers affordable tassel earrings, pearl necklaces, bold cuffs, embellished brooches and cocktail rings.