If you’ve visited my showroom, you probably noticed a framed copy of an Estee Lauder print ad from the 1970s hanging with other photos and keepsakes. It features iconic model Karen Graham wearing a collar necklace designed by my late uncle, Richard Glassen. You can even see his name in tiny print on the ad. I keep this tear from Vogue Magazine as a reminder of where my line started--with family as inspiration.
I’ve written before about my dad the geologist and how he introduced me to gems and minerals. But you may not know that my uncle (and godfather) Richard was a jewelry designer and was also extremely instrumental in influencing my designs.
The necklace in this Estee Lauder ad was passed down to my mother, who then passed it down to me. It was special. It always spoke to me, and people would ask me about its origin whenever I wore it. It was the perfect piece to inspire an update and launch a new collection.
Richard grew up on Long Island and came out at a time when people were just starting to talk openly about homosexuality. He also attended a military boarding school, which was by all accounts extremely hard for him. Not surprisingly, he moved to the more forward thinking city of Manhattan immediately after graduating and attended NYU while modeling and designing jewelry.
He became a regular on the gay scene in Manhattan, partying at clubs like Studio 54 and visiting Fire Island frequently. Of that era, one of my favorite jewelry designers, Paloma Picasso, said, “It was a very free time, and now I feel that is missing, people don’t intermingle like they did at the time. At those parties in New York there would be the old guard, the very grand families from New York and at the same time very poor artists and crazy actor or actress or singers…it was a big mix and that is what made it exciting.”
I imagine my uncle enjoyed the exhilaration and freedom of those days, both personally and artistically. On the horizon, though, was a dark side to the party scene of NYC in the 70s which no one saw coming--HIV/AIDS, which claimed the lives of so many brilliant young men the following decade. One of his best childhood friends even wrote a book, Walking the Rainbow, in which my uncle is mentioned. The book is a firsthand account of the unfortunate disease and the profound inaction of our country to recognize the disease and take action on medical research, while so many other European countries made great strides.
Richard was diagnosed with HIV in the early 80s, and his death when I was eight years old is a tragic moment that I remember well. I would like to think that we would have been great friends, as we obviously shared a passion for the arts and making beautiful things.
To honor my uncle’s legacy, Seraphine Design supports Nashville’s HIV/AIDS non-profit Nashville Cares, which works through education, advocacy and donations to help people in my own community live their lives with joy while managing HIV.