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PaperCity Houston December 2021

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When the jeweler's Hollywood boutique opened on Sunset Boulevard that same year, it was an immediate success. Flato already knew many Hollywood stars and social A-listers from his time in New York, including Cole Porter, who had commissioned Flato's iconic aquamarine-and-ruby buckle necklace for his wife (the one that graces the cover of the definitive 2010 book by Elizabeth Irvine Bray, Paul Flato: Jeweler to the Stars). It was not long before his stunning jewels were regularly seen on actresses Vivien Leigh, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Marlene Dietrich, and Rita Hayworth, both on and off the screen. Flato was becoming a boldfaced name, mentioned weekly in Hedda Hopper's society columns, featured in every i m p o r t a n t f a s h i o n publication, and a regular at all the most exclusive Hollywood parties. By 1941, he was at the top of his game, but within two short years, he would see it all crumble, as years of living beyond his means, sloppy business practices, and unpaid accounts caught up with him. Flato possessed impeccable taste and enjoyed conspicuous consumption of the finest things in life — but was not prepared to acknowledge the hefty bills that eventually came due. Even in the early years, Flato's apartment was decorated with exquisite antiques and he walked exotic pets on jeweled leashes through Central Park. His butler often hid his wallet to keep him from picking up the check wherever he went, and doling out extravagant tips he could not afford. This glamorous lifestyle was an integral part of the professional image Flato cultivated, but it was impossible to maintain. He often had cash-flow problems, as valuable items were handled on consignment, loaned, or traded based on little more than a handshake. The fact that his wealthy clients were often slow or neglectful when it came to paying their bills didn't help. By 1940, he was owed so much money that he resorted to his characteristic Texan humor by sending "Wanted" posters to his most derelict customers, which depicted the jeweler with a ten-gallon hat, two pistols, and the tagline "Pay up — or else …" Flato's business had already begun to suffer when Pearl Harbor was bombed in December 1941, and the beginning of the United States' involvement in World War II. Precious metals were suddenly scarce, even wealthy Americans reprioritized their buying habits, a n d f a s h i o n s b e c a m e l e s s extravagant. All of his money problems came to a head in 1943 when he was accused of lying about the theft of a $60,000 diamond, which was eventually found. He was exonerated of the theft, but not in time to save his business or to keep him out of prison. An investigation of his finances revealed that he had taken out loans against jewels on consignment and other business practices that amounted to fraud charges and hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of debt. The years following his first release from Sing Sing prison in 1945 were not easy (this was not his final brush with the authorities), but throughout it, Flato maintained his charming adventurer's spirit and many close friendships. By 1970, Flato left the U.S. behind for good and began the final chapter of his career in Mexico City. He opened a shop in the fashionable Zona Rosa shopping district, not far from the American Embassy, where his daring, modernist designs, many in heavy gold and bold semiprecious gems, were wildly popular throughout the 1970s and '80s. A trip to the cosmopolitan capital was not complete without a visit to Flato's showroom, and he once more rose to both professional and social prominence, due to his Flato's jewels were used as cues of wealth, social status, and morals. This 18K gold, platinum, and diamond necklace, once owned by Norma Shearer, was designed by George Headley in 1938 for Paul Flato. Portrait of Paul Flato, circa 1937 (Continued) (Continued from page 89) 90

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