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Surreal Bijoux

By BillyBoy*

Gallerist, jewelry designer, artist, fashion historian and art deco-period furniture collector, all by the age of 18, the life of fashion and culture maverick BillyBoy* (who spelled his name with an asterisk) reads more like a tightly curated study on high society of the 1970s and 80s.

Posted February 8th, 2018 By Colby Mugrabi

In 1979, at the tender age of 19, BillyBoy, having already made an impact in New York and LA, moved himself and his couture collection to Paris. France’s creative community and social aristocracy welcomed the eccentric teenager, while local trendy magazine ACTUEL published a 14-page cover story upon his arrival, ironically titled “At Last, a Normal Young Man”. BillyBoy’s eclectic style – which inspired Jean Paul Gaultier to launch his first menswear collection in the early 1980s - and avant-garde personality, were instant hits throughout the city of lights.

Just before his move to the French capital, BillyBoy* began designing unique pieces of costume jewelry in association with his alternative couture house, titled “Surreal Couture”, which he launched in his art deco-filled apartment in New York City in the mid 1970s. BillyBoy* revisited this creative practice while in Paris and started producing jewelry, this time with his newly found life partner and creative companion, Jean Pierre Lestrade “Lala”.

In 1984, the duo opened the ‘Surreal Bijoux’ workshop and showroom in Paris, in an effort to “usher in a new era in costume jewelry”. After designing over 1,000 unique pieces for the launch party, with the motto ‘Get Groovy!’, the new brand became an overnight sensation and BillyBoy* was hired to create jewelry for various fashion houses across Paris, from classic couturiers like Emanuel Ungaro and Thierry Mugler, to French footwear designer Charles Joudan.

Under the label ‘Surreal Bijoux’, BillyBoy* and Lala took sizable design inspiration from early 20th century artists and couturiers, such as Elsa Schiaparelli, whom BillyBoy* considered his personal muse. The focus of each piece varies dramatically, from body parts such as lips, eyes and legs – classic surrealist subject matter – to hearts, sea creatures, animals and robot faces.

Similarities between these eclectic designs exist in each one’s focus on contrasting sources of inspiration. BillyBoy* was obsessed with opposites, citing constructivism and lavish baroque as two distinct influences that when put together, produced enough inspiration for an entire collection of jewelry. BillyBoy’s creative contradictions bring to mind the label ‘minimal baroque’ which Miuccia Prada referenced as the title of Prada’s spring/summer 2011 runway collection. Taking a closer look at ‘Surreal Bijoux’, poignant references emerge, exposing the power of BillyBoy’s original designs and their reproducibility in fashion and jewelry of today.

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