It's time to lighten up

Sophisticated women flock to the Angela Hale Gallery, like sugar- starved schoolgirls, to drape themselves in crystals.

Although the women who abandon their taxis outside Tiffany's - many of whom are fresh off planes from Japan, Australia, Saudi and the US - can afford a clutch of the Old Bond Street store's finest sparklers, they have other things on their mind. They head past Tiffany's glittering windows and head towards the Royal Arcade, home to the Angela Hale Gallery.

These days fashion-conscious women are not interested in diamonds; not even if they are the size of conkers. Neither are they too concerned about wearing real silver or solid gold. What they want is exquisitely designed, quirky costume jewellery. And the Angela Hale Gallery is the place to get it.

Little by little, in the two years since she moved her business from Covent Garden to the Royal Arcade, Angela Hale's reputation as supplier of covetable trinkets to the rich, famous, beautiful and fashionable has soared, and the role call of A-list celebrity clients is growing: Kate Moss bought an art deco-style photograph frame for Johnny Depp; Carrie Fisher, Julie Christie and Theresa Russell all wear Hale's jewellery around their necks and Anna Harvey, Vogue's deputy editor, bought Angela Hale ear-rings for Princess Diana. More recently, the Queen's personal shopper came in to admire the collection of contemporary and vintage evening bags.

Then there are the celebrity men - whether they are blessed with excellent taste or just sent by their partners is not clear. Ben Elton is a regular, Danny de Vito sends his assistant to buy Christmas presents here, Paul McCartney buys pieces for his daughter, Stella, and Neil Kinnock stocks up for Glenys.

And, of course, no celebrity client list would be complete without Madonna. In fact, the material girl, who sent her stylist to the shop on her behalf, didn't quite make the buyer's list for one of Hale's necklaces. "She was a bit cheeky, actually, or at least her stylist was," Hale says. "She came in and chose all these things - about pounds 1,000 worth of stock - and laid them on the counter and said they had gone over budget on the video they were shooting, so could she have it all free!" The necklaces went back into the glass cabinets and the stylist left empty-handed, as did Paloma Picasso who fell in love with Hale's own favourite vintage handbag but failed to induce her to part with it.

Hale has an excellent eye for design and colour and manages to keep her stock just the right side of kitsch. "I'm a bit of a Magpie really, I love anything that twinkles or glitters," she says, as a way of explaining her sourcing methods and buying technique.

A life-long fascination with old movies and a childhood spent dressing up in her Italian mother's glamorous party frocks and jewellery helped to hone her judgement, as did her early work as a photographer and later a career in the fashion industry as Issey Miyake's London PA.

Many of the items she sells are made exclusively for the gallery and are the result of discussions with designers on colours and themes, "although I do tend to let them get on with it - they know what I like".

"When I was based in Covent Garden the jewellery was rather more showy and kitsch," Hale recalls. "But I knew when I moved here that I'd need to select more sophisticated pieces." So she decided to concentrate on what she would want to wear: delicate necklaces dripping with crystal beads in every conceivable colour, sweet flower-encrusted chokers, tiny drop ear-rings and fantastically ornate brooches.

Some pieces look antique, others more contemporary; but all have a vintage feel and it would be hard to know whether or not they were handed down by great-aunt Alice or were lucky antique-market finds. In fact everything, except the selection of vintage handbags, is contemporary, although many of the designs take their cues from the past: the rich detailing of Victorian and Edwardian jewellery, the sinuous curves of art nouveau or the bold lines of art deco. Despite their mixed origins, the necklaces, ear-rings, brooches, evening bags and photograph frames sit together as one collection. And Hale is its best advertisement; with her vintage wardrobe, glossy jet-black bob, immaculate make-up and fabulous curves she exudes the movie-starlet glamour of Forties and Fifties Hollywood, and the jewellery suits this look perfectly.

But, she admits, timing has also had its part to play in her success and points, in particular, to a change in attitude towards jewellery. "I think people are no longer buying for investment as they were in the Eighties. They are thinking about design." They are also thinking about service, and when she first opened the shop she knew she wanted to offer customers not only unique jewellery but a personal service, too. "I didn't want it to be yet another place that was all concrete and chrome, like so many chain stores. I wanted to give my clients an old-fashioned service. My customers are loyal, they come back time after time and some even bring clothes in to check that things match. I also get customers who come around here straight from Michaeljohn, the hairdressers, to buy new hair combs and clips or ear-rings - you know, they've had their hair cut and they think, `Oh, I've got ears!"'

Although many items are one-offs, Hale is careful to keep a good selection of pieces from limited collections in supply. Which is wise given present demand. Women skip over the threshold like sugar-starved kids entering a sweet shop, they cluster around the counter, picking up an ear-ring here, sizing up a necklace there.

These customers, it must be emphasised, are not teenagers or early twentysomethings - although Hale's shop attracts plenty of those, too - but women who are smartly dressed and whose manner prior to entering is that of calm sophistication. However, one flash of a pale-pink crystal ear-ring and these Donna Karan devotees regress, becoming squabbling schoolgirls as they jostle with one another to get to the counter.

Without embarrassment or any sense of self-consciousness they wrap the delicate ropes of crystal around their necks and wrists and pose for themselves, not discreetly in the oval mirror on the shop's counter, but in the large flower-decked mirror behind the counter. Hale has grown accustomed to this and deftly side-steps as yet another customer loses her inhibitions.

One woman scoops up three necklaces - for all their intricate detail, from about pounds 100 a piece they are not expensive - and promises, as she pays, to return in a month to stock up on more items for the autumn. There is no reason to doubt her, for she has just confessed that she spent her entire two-week holiday in the south of France dreaming about the necklaces she has just bought. This is not unusual. "I have one customer who flies in from Saudi on a regular basis and it's like Supermarket Sweep when she's in here," laughs Hale, recalling her last visit when she bought up her entire stock of crystal-encrusted hair slides.

It is now five years since she first opened the Covent Garden shop and just two since moving to the Royal Arcade, and Hale is doing well. Although for some customers there will be disappointment that word has got out about this treasure trove of costume jewellery, it is unlikely to put them off. The necklaces are too pretty and the ear-rings, which start at about pounds 30, too tempting. Diamonds, it seems, are no longer a girl's best friend; Angela Hale is.

The Angela Hale Gallery (0171-495 1920) is at 5 The Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, London.

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