Isabel Canovas (b. 1945) is described by many jewelry and fashion aficionados as, “a true visionary.” Her jewelry was made in limited quantities and her creations have become vintage rarity, highly collectible, and valuable.
Isabel was born in 1945 in Paris on the “Night of Kings” and was the daughter of Genevieve Corre, and Blas Canovas. He was a Spanish fabric designer known as a couture textile designer. Consequently, Isabel was exposed to haute couture from an early age. Ultimately, she became a fashion designer, stylist, and jeweler.
Her first professional experience was with the Hermes Company. She then worked at Louis Vuitton in the 1970s. After her ten year tenure as a head designer for Christian Dior, she opened her own boutique with her husband, Michael de Cornelius. It was located on fashionable Avenue Montaigne in Paris and opened in 1982, when she was age 37. Her luxurious take on accessories was widely popular and she opened a shop on Madison Avenue in New York City in 1985 and in 1988 at 27 Hermosilla, in Madrid, Spain.
Her boutiques were luxury accessory outlets. The Paris store showcased Canovas’ bold and artistic accessories, all of which were priced at the higher end of the luxury market – rivaling even Hérmes’ prices. This did not appear to put anyone off her brand, and Isabel Canovas’ designs not only sold well but they also began being seen and featured in top fashion magazines.
Canovas’ creations were available across two continents and grew in popularity with the ultra-rich. For ten years she created limited series of fashion accessories that set a new standard and helped mold European fashion. She is most known for her bijoux de fantaisie (costume jewelry). Her creations were whimsical, elaborate, and constructed using the best materials France had to offer.
Her most famous jewelry lines include Circus, African and tribal designs, as well as pieces inspired by nature. In keeping with traditional French branding of the time, she labeled her products with her full name, “Isabel Canovas”, or added the name to certain decorations. Therefore, each of her clown brooches have a name, for example, Alex and Quito with her name marked on the back side.
Isabel’s creations captured the attention of Vogue, Figaro Madame and The New York Times Magazine. Her revolutionary collections were inspired by her travels especially to Africa, Russia, Spain, and Venice.
Her work also incorporated animals, fruits and vegetables, flowers and the aforementioned circus. It is undisputed that her work, vision, and talent opened the door to other designers such as Maud Frizon, Paloma Picasso, Frances Patiky Stein and Dominique Aurientis. Almost all Canovas’ creations sport a bold look that convey French style for the women who wear them,
Isabel’s customers knew that she never discounted or loaned pieces to anyone, no matter the potential celebrity value. This marketing strategy also assured her customers that Canovas’ accessories would not devalue with time.
Her editions for each season were in small numbers and often the collections were theme based. She garnered much acclaim including the “T Award” from Telva Magazine for best international designer, and multiple Dafnis gold metal awards.
While it is possible to find moderate designs within her archive, the truly special pieces tend to fall into the more outrageous end of the fashion spectrum. Nonetheless, even New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art owns something by Isabel Canovas: they chose a pair of shoes that look like peeled bananas.
Unfortunately, after building an international clientele for ten years, Isabel closed her boutiques in the early 1990's. Today, her pieces are highly collectible due to their scarcity, quality and craftsmanship.