Art,  Fashion

Robert Lee Morris, A Legend in Haute Couture Jewelry

Bridging the gap between the artisan and the artist is haute couture legend, jeweler Robert Lee Morris, below.

His influence is undeniable. Morris defined and redefined modern haute couture jewelry on more than one occasion, having created 36 arresting collections for Donna Karan alone over a career spanning six decades. That, in the fickle fashion industry, is an eternity; that kind of longevity and relevance is rare and reserved for creative royalty.

Morris was honored with the prestigious Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement award from the CFDA in 2007. The first and only jewelry designer to receive that award, Morris wears a veritable crown in the world of couture. In fact, when he met Oprah, the beloved media giant actually bowed to Robert Lee Morris. Madonna and her bodyguard literally locked themselves inside Morris’s Soho studio and insisted on a private tour, complete with inside gossip on private commissions.

The rise to legend in the world of haute couture jewelry is somewhat surprising when you consider Morris’s humble and circumforaneous beginnings. His father was an Air Force pilot and his mother, a fashion model. Born in Nuremberg, Germany after World War II, Morris traveled with his family extensively during his formative years; as a result he was exposed to a rich, fertile creative landscape and allowed to flourish. However, it was a lingering stay in Japan from age 7 to 11 that was a life-changing experience for Morris. “The creative urges I felt instinctively were churned by Japanese aesthetics, simplicity in form, and meditative,” he observed.

After college Morris found his true calling. “I taught myself how to make jewelry while living on a hippy craft farm in the cornfields of Wisconsin,” he stated. Soonafter, this hippy was discovered at a local craft fair by gallerist Joan Sonnabend and was whisked away to the manic city of New York.

Sonnabend publicized Morris’s brave new wares alongside blue chip artists like Pablo Picasso at her Sculpture To Wear Gallery and eventually offered Morris a one-man-show, after which his career skyrocketed. “All I was doing,” stated Robert plainly like a true hippy, “was following my bliss.”

Morris challenged the current state of affairs in fashion, ushering in a new era of designer jewelry–Artwear, it’s been aptly named by the fashion industry. It’s the kind of unconventional statement pieces you see in high-end stores today. He designed massive hinged cuffs to be worn on the arms and wrists; bold clavicle collars; heavy sterling silver pendants that undulate seductively on simple black knotted linen cords, below…….yes, these are the beautifully-bold baubles of Robert Lee Morris.

Pendants like the one above, Robert explained, are now available for purchase in the RLM silver necklace shop on Morris’s eponymous website. This is a very special piece, Robert said, as it is a manta ray design with a hidden functionality. “It also serves as a money clip,” he stated.

One of the brand’s drivers is his signature pregnant knuckle ring, designed in 1974 and pictured top. Talk about statement jewelry. Beyond cool. This sterling ring, along with his Alpha cuff, are synonymous with the Robert Lee Morris name. Trust me, what this man can do with silver is scintillating! But if you’ve been bitten by the Gold Bug in fashion, like I have lately, then you’re even more fortunate!

And that’s because no one does gold like Robert Lee Morris. Robert Lee Morris Gold seems more golden, albeit an almost brushed, matte kind of gold…..akin to gold leaf. It’s utterly opulent. This effect comes from a special process, Morris told me. “High-karat gold is electroplated on brass, but over a soft nickel,” he said. “Brass is first tumbled to get a matte finish, then plated in soft nickel, then gold on top of that. The gold is often 24k. Most (conventional jewelry) is plated over a hard nickel, which is too shiny for me,” he mused.

But it’s not just the finish….Anyone can pile on the gold, or the silver, for that matter. Understand me: It’s not the material that is valuable. It’s the forms. Breathtaking and curious, with a ripe, organic, sculptural component, the shapes fascinate and appear to be like those that are found in nature, like something that came with a prior life. A swollen cuff, shaped similar to that of a dried up pod, for example; or a hair comb that emulates a gingko leaf; or perhaps a ring, a ring that resonates as a sea-worn stone, now revelling in its shiny reincarnation.

Morris breathes new life into found objects. He also plays with pearls and is enamored of crosses, hearts, concentric circle themes and nature. Check out this hypnotic gold disc necklace, below, which shimmers unapologetically on Morris’s black resin body cast. FYI, you too can own one of these exquisite torsos; they are ideal for displaying jewelry and come complete with a wire in the back for hanging! Cast from a real model and used in the actual Robert Lee Morris studio for display purposes! Even Morris’s visual merchandising is iconic.

There’s a quote by Saint Francis of Assisi that reminds me of Mr. Morris. “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” And Morris’ body of art in metal is both inspired and vast, as his Artwear has punctuated the beautifully-best torsos and limbs of virtually every top model working in fashion today. With a bottomless creativity, his range as an artist is truly impressive. Some creations even unite the past with the future.

Robert Lee Morris’s pieces look valuable because they *are* valuable, meaning……they are expensive. But have no fear! I’m here to guide you through buying a genuine Robert Lee Morris piece that you will adore forever at a deep deep discount! Here is my one-word solution: resale. Specifically, online resale. Specifically, eBay. You would not believe the selection of gorgeous goodies to be found, but buyer beware! My advice? Read the description very thoroughly and ask copious questions before you buy to make sure you’re getting exactly what you want, and you too can own an original piece of Robert Lee Morris.

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