When Madonna started wearing layers of crosses in the early ’80s, she popularized a fashion item that, unlike most, simultaneously radiates vibes both stylish and spiritual. But even for the most irreligious of fashion-conscious Jews, donning an obvious Christian symbol was just too taboo.
These days, however, it seems that it’s time for the Star of David to shine.
Upscale department stores like Barneys New York on Manhattan’s Upper East Side have only recently started featuring Jewish-themed jewelry in their display cases. Crafted by such couture designers as Francisca Botelho and Finn, the pieces feature hamsas —protective hands that are said to ward off the evil eye — in addition to the more traditional Stars of David. Though few in number, the pieces definitely stand out from their neighboring Christian counterparts.
Yet whether the store is attempting to lure more Jews into its classy interior is unclear. A rep for the chic chain declined to comment, saying only that the store buys its jewelry based on “style not religious theme.”
Which begs the question: does that mean it’s in vogue to be a Jew? Madonna, with her Kabbalah fixation, new Hebrew moniker and red-string-wearing ways, certainly seems to think so.
But some jewelry outlets don’t credit the Material Girl with bringing Judaism’s message to the masses. Orly Ohebsion, owner of Moondance Jewelry Gallery in Santa Monica, Calif., thinks that her customers are simply looking for something with deeper meaning to wear around their necks.
“I moved to Los Angeles in 1990,” said the Israel-born Ohebsion. “Quickly after I came here I couldn’t help but realize that Americans were missing a certain spirituality and sense of community.” Her store sells trinkets she hopes will be both meaningful and fun for the wearer. “We sell plenty of hamsas and evil eyes to non-Jews. I think those symbols cross religious lines.”
Moondance, whose patrons have included Jodie Foster, Halle Berry and Debra Messing, carries lines by a number of star jewelers that make pieces that appeal to a Jewish clientele. The store includes designs by Botelho; the New York-based Me&Ro (which also integrates Sanskrit in its works), and Rosanne Karmes, the California designer behind SYdney Evan.
“The world has been in a completely chaotic state since 9/11,” said Karmes, who named her line after her two children, seven-year-old daughter Sydney and six-year-old son Evan. “Hamsas and evil eyes are protective. Anyone can wear them — Jew or not. They just make people feel good.”
Karmes, whose line also includes bejeweled Chai pendants as well as crosses, thinks that Americans are looking to wear clothing and accessories that reflect their hopes for a more tranquil world. “I’ve also been selling more peace signs lately. Everything I make gives off a positive energy.”
But the Los Angeles-raised designer, whose celebrity clients include Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and Lindsay Lohan (the latter owns a yellow-gold hamsa on a 20-inch chain), understands that even though people have been gravitating towards her tribe-friendly charms, she can’t skimp on her sometimes elaborate designs. “Trying to make a Jewish Star look cool isn’t an easy task,” she said.
Leah Hochbaum is a freelance writer living in New York.