Renowned French costume jewelry designer Léa Stein was born in France in the 1930’s and started making her wildly popular whimsical jewellery in the 1960’s. Her husband Fernand Steinberger came up with a secret method of combining fabrics and lace with laminated cellulose acetate to form a “multi-coloured sandwich of plastic”. Each ‘sandwich’ was baked for a long time, then cooled and cut into shapes. The process could take as long as six months. Léa Stein is one of the most popular collectable plastic jewellery designers of all time. She was also known for her buttons that are still voraciously collected by clothing designers to this day.
Art Deco Style
Léa Stein was strongly influenced by Art Deco design. This is evident by her use of deco images including flappers, vintage cars, and the very recognizable ladies in cloche hats. This was also seen in more abstract architectural and geometric pieces. She was heavily influenced by “plastic” jewellery made in the 1920’s and 1930’s often of flowers, fruit and adorable little animals. Each brooch has a name, sometimes as simple as ‘Fox’ or more descriptive like ‘Quarrelsome’ the cat. Each design might come in dozens of different colors and patterns.
Lea Stein’s work in the humble medium of plastic has proven to be something that is revered and adored by collectors around the world. It just goes to show you that it’s the subject matter, attention to detail and perfect execution that make her pieces so loved and collectable. Her work is still available and can fetch prices in the range of $100 – $250 and up for rare pieces. When you wear Léa Stein you are wearing a piece of innovative craftsmanship that has stood the test of time.
It’s important to look towards the innovators in this world. The ones who took a chance on a vision and spend countless hours to make it work. The people who worked so hard to make their ideas come to life. Léa Stein and her husband Fernand Steinberger were pioneers in this particular artform but that doesn’t mean that others haven’t used their work as a source of inspiration.
Check out our Erstwilder brooch collection available on our website; it’s an homage to the groundbreaking artists that started it all. We are in love with this quirky Australian company their innovative work and wonderful packaging. Maybe it’s time to start a collection?