Recently back home to Toronto to put in a personal appearance at the Little Lanes in Hazelton Lanes, New York-based jewelry designer Marla Buck proved herself the possessor of pronounced style, both comedic and precise. In her vocabulary, the word fun turns out to be an adjective. It amuses her, for example, to think of making a dress out of a huge label: “Sarong it. It would be very fun.” Talking about attending the Jean-Paul Gaultier party in Manhattan a few months ago, she speaks of having been “dressed to the max,” wearing “all these new toys” she’d bought in Europe.
That was “funnest.” For her in-store appearance, Buck is dressed in what she calls “head- to-toe conservative gear”: navy cardigan and pleated skirt, white blouse, attributable to Claude Montana, Pinky and Dianne. She is also wearing shoes with high heels, very high. “At least 700 inches,” she estimates. For jewelry, she sports a variety of pieces from her collections, current and vintage. The large ring of white metal and glass is one of the first pieces she ever did. The big stamped-brass brooch, in the shape of a bird bearing a burning ball, is one of the latest. She is not wearing earrings; she used to, for interviews, but now she finds them aging.
A Manhattan resident for seven years, Buck was born in Toronto in 1956 and says she already feels old. In fact, having been a professional dancer, she turned to jewelry design when she turned 25. “I didn’t want to be nowhere at age 30, and I had an interest.” Having formed her own company in 1982 and with business now so successful that she can say that, “Last month I did as much as I did last year,” Buck grows appreciative when she tells of being 3 years old and playing with a box of junk jewelry that one day, she imagined, she would wear to balls. Her mother, “just a wild lady,” always had a lot of unusual jewelry and her stylish example was further inspiration to Buck. Her father, “a very straight businessman,” does not wear jewelry. “Thank goodness.” While obviously having reservations about the very idea of male jewelry, Buck, with acute timing, has for spring completed her first collection for men. “Jewelry for men is a very delicate subject, because we don’t promote the pinky ring, the gold chain, the gold bracelet. I think that’s hideous. What started it was that I think there’s a lot of androgyny available for women, and there’s no androgyny available for men. You’re either straight or you’re gay or – I just don’t think there’s any in-between ground.”
In London, she finds, things are different. “London is like a picnic. The straight men wear makeup, wear skirts, wear pearl pins with diamonds. There’s no connection between what they’re wearing and who they are, and it’s wonderful. I’m not saying I want men to wear makeup – I don’t know if I’m ready for that either – but I think there’s a way that a man can distinguish himself.” Although an exponent of false stones and non-precious materials in her women’s collections, Buck has fashioned the 30 pieces in her men’s collection from sterling silver and l4-karat gold. “It seems that once a man becomes convinced of the purchase, he wants it to be a true purchase.” Convinced that any male customer who wants something really flamboyant can find it in her women’s line, Buck has chosen not to follow London’s bold lead but has designed the men’s collection with Wall Street in mind. “I’m working from bland on. . . . I really want to get the men educated, and you have to start in grade one.” The tie clips, lapel pins, and cufflinks (bound, with all of spring’s emphasis on shirts, to be a hot accessory) feature images that Buck calls “boy’s story items . . . a lot of cowboys, firemen, all the things he wanted to be when he grew up.” Thus, there are tie clips in the shapes of racing flags and tennis rackets, lapel pins in the shape of bowling pins and propellers. So far, there are no snips, snails or puppy dogs’ tails, but, given Buck’s snazzy imagination, there might have been.