PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston December 2021

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against a backdrop of cattle raids, gunfights, and the vast Southwest Texas landscape. In his memoirs, Flato recalls an illicit visit to a gypsy encampment, where the eight-year- old became entranced by an old man making gold jewelry in the back of a wagon. This led to careful examinations of everything from his mother's fine diamond jewelry to his father's traditional Mexican silver-mounted and jeweled saddle. Those early years in Texas produced a brilliant, c h a r i s m a t i c , a n d handsome young man with an artist's eye; a taste for s o p h i s t i c a t e d , wealthy women; and a talent for knowing e x a c t l y w h a t kind of jewels would draw their attention. Flato arrived in New York in 1920, where he spent a year at Columbia University making important social connections that would be instrumental in his meteoric rise in the field of fine jewelry. After dropping out of college and thus losing his allowance, he was quickly apprenticed to jeweler Edmond Frisch at 576 Fifth Avenue. After just a few years, he opened his own jewelry salon at One East 57th Street. It was the Roaring Twenties, and Flato was a charming, opportunistic designer with a strong sense of style — perfectly poised to meet the demands of the fashionable elite as they emerged from the horrors of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. By the end of the decade, Flato had become an important name in the fashion world. He built up a significant business at home and abroad and married the first of three glamorous, wealthy wives: a Connecticut debutante, Catharine Carter, mother of his two oldest daughters, Cathie and Barbie. Eventually, Flato's infidelity and money problems took a toll on the marriage, but even after their divorce in 1933, the Carter family held no grudges. Many years later, when asked why she had married Flato, Catharine would say, "Because he was so fun, how could I not?" The girls lived with their mother in Connecticut but remained close to their father and his family in Texas. Barbie and Cathie visited often, spending summers with extended Flato relations in Fort Worth and making trips to see their grandparents in Kingsville. Barbie a t t e n d e d T h e University of Texas a t A u s t i n and married C h a r l e s McCluer, whose f a m i l y o w n e d M c C l u e r ' s Luggage in d o w n t o w n F o r t W o r t h . Barbie and Charles eventually settled in Fort Worth, where Charles opened a thriving dermatology practice. The McCluer family, as well as daughter Cathie Flato Dennis, who settled in Dallas, would play a pivotal role in the jeweler's later years. A Grand Jewelry House Is Born Flato employed the finest designers and produced stunning modern pieces in a variety of avant-garde styles combining an expertise in pearls, gems, and innovative metalworking techniques with a superb eye and an understanding of what makes a true statement piece. But he knew that meant little without the attention of the right people. Flato made sure both his personal social exploits and his jewels were constantly mentioned in the society pages of the day. Debutantes, hostesses, actresses, and opera singers clamored to be photographed or mentioned in the papers wearing the distinctive Jewels by Flato. In 1938, legendary director George Cukor approached Flato to design the jewelry for his upcoming romantic comedy Holiday, starring Katharine Hepburn, Doris Nolan, and Cary Grant. This would be the first time that the name of a jeweler would receive credit on a Hollywood film — a pivotal point in Flato's rise. This was the first of multiple films that featured Flato's dramatic jewelry: Zaza, The Lady Is Willing, That Certain Feeling, Hired Wife, Two-Faced Woman, and Blood and Sand all used Flato's jewels as cues of wealth, social status, and morals. It didn't hurt that the actresses adored his jewels and added them to their personal collections. Soon everyone who was someone in Hollywood had to have a custom piece of jewelry, compact, or personal item designed by Flato. Top: Marlene Dietrich with Fred McMurray in The Lady is Willing, 1942, wearing a scene-stealing Flato diamond necklace. Above: Paul Flato with Lily Pons, wearing his apple bracelet, 1936. Center: Aquamarine, diamond and white-gold brooch, 1935. Opposite page: Aquamarine-and-ruby buckle necklace commissioned by Cole Porter for his wife, Linda, circa 1939; it was willed to Ava Astaire. (Continued) 89

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