By Claudie Benjamin
Lara Kornbluh, owner of Icon Style at 104 West 70th Street, has years of experience and deep knowledge of the wide range of vintage jewelry she sells. That’s true also of the carefully curated garments that range from eyeglass frames to shoes. All are fully restored or in an excellent state of repair.
What Lara does not ascribe to is the recent definition of items that may go back to just 20 years ago. Everything in her shop has the essence of long past decades. The underlying eco-friendly secret message here is that the wearer is giving new life to an item, perhaps a brooch, once worn by a sedate grandmother is now purchased from Icon Style as a statement boutonnière for a man who cares about distinctive style. While some customers do “dress period” from head to toe. Many others are interested in creatively mixing vintage with contemporary fashions.
Interestingly, Lara notes that the current trend draws customers to pieces whose value is likely to be a good investment. Why? Lara thinks that in times of great change and uncertainty people are interested in things of enduring value. You can’t miss the beautiful example of this kind of vintage find she is wearing. “It is circa 1915 Belle Epoque meets Edwardian, in 14K white gold, with 3 cts of old European cut diamonds.”
Quite a few pieces from different eras are grouped by theme. Serpents, Egyptian revival, and figural pieces of hands and eyes with associated meanings, for example. In contrast, there are the less esoteric cameos. Both themes entice collectors, although interest for these particular items waxes and wanes. These past Covid months and continuing at the moment are what Lara calls “Zoom statement” items. Her meaning is that if a person is on a Zoom call, noteworthy jewelry calls attention to the wearer and reflects on their character, style and what they have to say.
Lara says she sells her best finds to her customers and only keeps the occasional irresistible piece. Her own 1950s rhinestone edged eyeglasses are one example of where she gave into temptation. The best way to describe them is that – they’re too good!
Styling is an important part of Lara’s business. She works with both individual customers on finding jewelry that works for them as well as with stylists for TV shows. This challenge is fun as rewarding fir Lara whose affinity for discovery has taken her around the world. She says, regarding vintage, it’s usual for one person in her network of finders to say, “Oh this is so Lara,” and then to give her a call.
Lara’s interest in vintage jewelry “is not a new love.” Her expertise in vintage jewelry grew out of a passion even in high school for what used to be called “thrift-shopping” she says. Then in college she trained to become a metalsmith, exhibiting in galleries and selling her work.
Eventually, she transitioned to selling vintage jewelry at the 26th Street Flea Market and then for years in the flea market on 77th Street and Columbus Avenue. Her first foray into having a brick and mortar store came when she rented the back of Maya Schaper’s Cheese and Antique Shop (closed in 2006). After two years in the shared space she opened Icon Style.
The physical environment of her shop is a remarkable example of adaptive reuse. When Lara leased the shop almost ten years ago, its previous tenant for decades until 2012 had been Frank Cammarata, the owner of Goodrich Pharmacy. Cammarata said he believes the remarkable apothecary cases and fixtures are at least 100 years old but he only can vouch for their history from when he first started working at the original Goodrich Pharmacy in 1974. This was before he became a licensed pharmacist. The Goodrich Pharmacy at 65th Street and Columbus Avenue fell victim to the development of Lincoln Center, he explains. Its walls also housed a soda fountain, Cammarata recalls. The place was open until midnight.
Goodrich then moved the pharmacy, shelving and all, to a large store at the corner of 70th Street and Columbus. Renovations to the building in 1980 resulted in another move of the Goodrich Pharmacy to a much smaller store around the corner in the same building, where Cammarata ran a much loved neighborhood pharmacy for decades until he retired. Lara moved her business into the space in 2013. “She did a wonderful job restoring the wooden apothecary cases. Really outstanding,” says Cammarata.
When Lara entered the scene, she added chandeliers and filled the shelves with an incredible variety of intriguing collectibles, creating the glittering jewel box the shop is now.