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Smoking in Style

Jewelry Designer Barry Kieselstein-Cord is Far From a Household Name, Which is Just the Way He Likes It
Nancy Wolfson
From the Print Edition:
Orlando Hernandez, Mar/Apr 99

(continued from page 1)

On a small table next to his bed, leather editions by nineteenth-century French author Alexandre Dumas lie next to a copy of 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark.

While he has a warm-and-cuddly bear-like nature, at five foot seven and a half inches he moves weightlessly, like a gazelle. Well-established at 54 years old, he still has the gee-whiz curiosity of a boy. Although the frown and laugh lines etched into his face are evidence that he has lived, there remains a childlike wonder in his expression.

Kieselstein-Cord grew up in New York City and Long Island, and vacationed in Key Biscayne, Florida, where his parents had a home. His mother, now 77, was an illustrator. Always highly creative and a bit eccentric, she nurtured the artist in him. He adored his father, who was trained as an architect but ended up "a tough guy in the real-estate business." He died while Kieselstein-Cord was in his 20s and working as an art director in advertising (a career he pursued for seven years).

Although his father was the only man in his family who didn't smoke, Kieselstein-Cord associates cigars with his side of the family. "When I was a boy in the 1950s, my grandfather and uncles would send me next door to the Blarney Stone at 32nd Street and Sixth Avenue [in Manhattan] to buy one-dollar cigars, which were pricey at that time. Talk about intimidation! They figured if I was tough enough to go into an Irish bar during lunch or rush hour, I could do anything."

In addition to the challenge of acquiring Garcia y Vegas, he loved the smell of the glass-tubed cigars. "I like fresh tastes. It has to be the right-smelling cigar and I have to be in the right mood to smoke," he says. "I like long, thin cigars. You have to be big to smoke a big cigar. Schwarzenegger can pull it off--I can't."

Schwarzenegger would have to duck to fit his large frame through the five-foot-nine-inch doorway that leads into Kieselstein-Cord's walk-in humidor at Crocodile Hall. He converted a walk-in safe--the original 1920s mahogany door has a built-in combination lock--into his cigar vault. Five wraparound shelves are stacked with boxes of Partagas, Dunhill, Punch and Pleiades Pluton cigars. A portable humidifier maintains the moisture level.

The humidor is located in a small alcove off the Buffalo Room, a dark, wood-paneled clubby chamber punctuated by an oversized wooden fireplace flanked by two hand-carved winged lions. Above the fireplace is a stuffed buffalo head. In one corner of the room, an airplane propeller is mounted on a stand. ("I think anything aviation-wise is very pretty," he says.) It might be a Brancusi sculpture. And the room might be a hunting lodge, were it not in the middle of Manhattan.

Geographically, his home is not too far from the walk-up apartment where he started his business 27 years ago. What began on a table in his bedroom is now a company that estimates its annual revenues at $50 million. Kieselstein-Cord has 150 full-time employees, a designstudio occupying a floor of a building in the center of the garment district, a showroom in Dallas, and boutiques in Aspen, Palm Beach, Berlin, Düsseldorf and Zurich, with more to come (two Las Vegas stores in the spring and one each in Milan, Paris and Moscow in the fall).

Aside from the jewelry, handbags, luggage and belt buckles, Kieselstein-Cord designs home furnishings--lamps, tabletop accessories, a limited-edition humidor and furniture--and licenses scarves, ties and eyewear. His creations are part of the collections of the Louvre in Paris, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. He has received the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Award and has twice won the Coty American Fashion Critics Award. Steven Speilberg, Wayne Gretzky, Elton John, Oprah Winfrey and Giorgio Armani are among those who collect his work.

"Everybody loves to belong to the club," says Wendy Nirenberg, who manages the Kieselstein-Cord fine jewelry boutique at Bergdorf Goodman in New York. Kieselstein-Cord is said to bring in more revenue per square foot than any other brand at Bergdorf's. This is not surprising, considering a simple gold link bracelet starts at $5,500. A classic link necklace in gold with diamonds costs approximately $50,000. Each piece is hand-crafted, signed, dated and copyrighted.

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