As a child, Elizabeth Pettit de Montfitchet never liked to play with dolls. Instead, she hoarded discarded rocks from the geology department at Washington University in St. Louis, where her father studied, and kept them in a large box under her bed.
“They were my prized possessions,” she recalled. “I was enamored with stones.”
Her lifelong fascination has been put to good use. Encouraged by her good friend, Joanne King Herring, she began designing distinctive necklaces a few years ago. She often designs double necklaces of several strands, using large pieces of coral, jade, pearls or diamonds dotted with exotic objects like Tiffany glass, Moroccan beads, or Swarovski crystals.
“I don’t like small,” she said.
Herring wore a de Montfitchet creation when she went to Hollywood to discuss the script for Charlie Wilson's War, the 2007 movie about Herring’s involvement in convincing Texas Congressman Wilson to provide U.S. aid to Afghan rebels fighting Soviet Union occupation in the late 1970s. Herring later gave Julia Roberts, who portrayed her in the movie, a de Montfitchet necklace.
“That looks good enough to eat,” the actress replied.
At the urging of friends, de Montfitchet came up with the name Baroness Elizabeth for the jewelry line. "It instantly opens the door to conversation,” her pal Bubba McNeely explained.
De Montfitchet claims her family is descended from European royalty, so the Baroness tag is genuine. “But I use it only for the marketing side,” she said.
A few months ago, McNeely introduced her to Cesar Galindo, the native Houstonian known for creating sophisticated evening gowns and cocktail dresses. The duo joined forces for a show at the Ceron salon in which de Montfitchet paired her jewelry with 20 gowns that Galindo brought in from New York, where his design studio is located.
“They had never seen each other’s stuff. But nearly everything of hers matched something of his,” McNeely said. “It was a match made in heaven.”
They’re joining forces again this week at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Galindo is showing his spring 2010 collection Thursday night – the opening night of fashion week -- and de Montfitchet is supplying the jewelry. In addition to her regular collection, she made 10 pieces for the show, using the colors of red, black and gold.
“There’s a lot of color for the (spring) season and chokers are more pronounced,” she said. “Think of a Great Dane with a choker. They are big, big.”
De Montfichet will be in New York for the show, along with a posse of Houstonians since the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau is sponsoring Galindo’s show as way to tout the Bayou City in the Big Apple.
The bureau believes that highlighting Houston’s fashion connections is a good sales tool. Showcasing Houston designers targets the city as a sophisticated and creative place, said Lindsey Brown, CVB director of marketing and public relations.
“If we lose conventions, most of the time it’s because of destination appeal,” Brown said. “Most people don’t know what to expect. They don’t know anything about Houston or how it is different. We’re trying to give Houston an image.”
Already this year, the bureau has held successful events in Washington, D.C., and Chicago featuring Galindo, Project Runway winner Chloe Dao (who owns Lot 8 in Rice Village), Elaine Turner (also in the Village), Hamilton Shirts and former Page Parkes model Annebet Duvall, co-founder of the trendy Doucette Duvall fashion line.
Brown said that more than 150 media representatives and convention planning officials have said they will attend the Galindo runway show at M2 lounge in Chelsea. Before the show starts, they will sample Messina Hof wine, Saint Arnold beer and a signature Houston drink made from Partida tequila provided by Anvil Bar while a music video by the Tom Tom’s touting the Bayou City will play on screens throughout the bar.
“The band really showcases Houston’s diversity. They look like the “United Colors of Benetton,” Brown said. “We’re always trying to change perceptions.”