I am often asked when and where the seeds for my insatiable interest in fashion began, and I have absolutely no doubt that it was when I first discovered Codognato as a wide-eyed child in Venice. I hope it does not disappoint you that amongst the huge amount of Japanese jewelry and fashion I talk about here on Tokyo Telephone, it was actually a Venetian brand that first ignited my passion. Well, what can I say, as a child growing up in Europe I hardly had Japanese fashion thrust in my face as an adolescent, but luckily for me I did bear witness to the majesty of Codognato.
It was a magical experience because fashion that I was aware of when I was growing up held little to no interest to me (in reflection it was there, but I was not looking for it). That which surrounded me was so conservative, so damn preppy (my elder brother would regularly wear waist-coats…) that it felt like my own aesthetic was entirely unfulfilled. So there was me around 9 or 10, always dressed in the same couple of outfits with no real interest in clothes and then… I walked past the window of Codognato just off St. Mark’s Square in Venice.
In an instant it was as if I saw all the aesthetics that I had been interested in outside of fashion tied together in the jewelry. And not only that – I was suddenly aware that these aesthetics were valued by others and indeed had been valued for thousands of years. Maybe a lot of people’s formative fashion experiences are found in that wonderful moment when you realise that others share your values and that you are free to explore them and express them through your body.
In my case it was jewelry that made me realise that these aesthetics could be worn and from there I would discover fashion (as in clothes). Prior to the point where I would concentrate on the clothes, I would just try and make myself a blank canvas for the jewelry. I would dress myself in the darkest of blacks and velvets so that the jewelry was perfectly framed and the entire focus of the outfit.
Not that I could even entertain the thought of owning anything from Codognato or anything made of gold for that matter. No, I contented myself with silver and promised myself that when I did buy gold for the first time, (for myself that is – you will be pleased to note I have furnished Rebecca with gold in the past…) that it would be Codognato.
Not that that is particularly likely to happen in the near future, but I still love to revisit their classic work and they are always good enough to send me their catalogue each year almost as an encouragement to get my act together and work hard!
Since it was founded in 1866 Codognato has been very consistent in producing this uniquely Venetian work, combining carved and natural organics with precious metals and endless imagery and flourishes of detail.
They have taken the opportunity to delve into art deco along the way, but by and large their work right up to the current proprietor Attilio is perfectly of Venice.
It is an aesthetic that by turns is dark and sinister and at others breathtakingly beautiful. It is also rough and worn like the city, right down to the crude cuts of stone.
Although if you are the kind to desire perfection then obviously they are more than capable of doing so – but for me that is somewhat missing the charm of Codognato’s work.
I have always had a fascination for cultish imagery and secret symbolism. One day I will be a member of this exclusive society…
It is gratifying to see that many Japanese designers share my love for Venice – notably Share Spirit, who might well have had some Codognato pieces in his museum in the past…
I love this faintly translucent enamel work on his somewhat macabre pieces.
As well as his absolute perfection (decades before anyone else was even thinking of these kinds of designs).
See those large stones? Those are diamonds. That is the kind of level we are talking about here.
Circa 1920s Skull and Snake cocktail ring.
I just love the fact that people have been wearing this kind of work for centuries. It makes you feel tied into a kind of timeless chain of those excited by the darker side of aesthetics and keen to dedicated their life savings to the pursuit of it.
These kind of broches remind me of the Japanese netsuke in both their obsessive perfection, but also because they would often have a secret detail on the reverse that would be only seen by the owner.
But is I were to own anything, it would have to be a classic skull ring. One to make all my many others seem simply irrelevant.
Regrettably his work is often copied and even more frequently acknowledged by other designers – most notably in Dior’s recent skull rings.
But there can only be one original and that is Codognato.
For further reading there are a couple of books in Casa Codognato is Italian and a handful in English. The best introduction (with great pictures) is by Pierre Hebey and is well worth hunting down if you have an interest in the golden years of Venetian jewelry.
I hope you can forgive me a little deviance from purely Japanese fashion every now and then. But the house of Codognato has been so important in my own love of fashion and jewelry that it really cannot be ignored. This is where it all began and one day, one special day, I will get my own masterpiece from the master.