Playing Dress-Up With Van Cleef & Arpels

The Set in Style app.

I started work as an intern at Smithsonian magazine last week. My first assignment was to write a blog post on ballooning. My second was to dress myself up in designer jewelry. I think, so far, that I like this job.

The only downside is that the jewelry was of the digital variety. A new Facebook application from Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City was created in honor of the museum's exhibition, "Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels," which explores 20th century jewelry design. It features about 350 breathtaking pieces of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, ranging from watches to tiaras. The app allows users to choose photos from their profiles and virtually add a little (or a lot) of sparkle.

The first order of business was to try the app out for myself. Now, I'm normally not a big jewelry person. I don't like shiny. I prefer woven bracelets to diamonds and I would choose a wooden charm over one of those Tiffany & Co. hearts any day. But I'm not going to say no when someone offers to let me try on a tiara.

So I did. I (virtually) tried on the tiara (formerly of the Princess Grace of Monaco, now of Intern Julie of, a gold necklace, some diamond earrings, a ruby brooch. Let's be honest—I tried on almost every one of the 28 pieces of jewelry offered in my digital jewelry box. (They paid me to do this!)  I didn't take an official picture wearing any of it because I suspected the app would then post it to my wall and I would have died of embarrassment.

I did, however, consider subjecting some of my friends to such ridicule, since the app allowed me to adorn their photos with some pretty ostentatious bling. I resisted, but just barely.

My second task (even though that first one was so exhausting) was to call up the Cooper-Hewitt and interview the people who came up with the idea for the app.

"There are a lot of people nationwide who have been blogging about this show. and reading the press about it, and wanting to know more, but have not been able to visit," said Caroline Baumann, associate director of the museum. "So this is a wonderful opportunity for those people to experience the show and have a little bit of play as well."

Jennifer Northrop, director of communications and marketing at Cooper-Hewitt, was actually the one who came up with the idea for the app. She said that as you walk through the exhibition, you immediately want to try on every piece, and she wanted to somehow find a way to allow people to do that.

"Of course there's no way we're going to let people try on a Van Cleef & Arpels tiara," Northrop said. "So the next step was really, how can we do this virtually? How can we have this experience shared by tons of people?"

Me with my tiara.

By the way, Northrop said the tiara was her favorite piece too, match only by her affection for a gold and ruby necklace that resembles a very glamorous and very expensive zipper.

So although my vanity is denying you what I'm sure would be a very amusing official photo of me decked out in Van Cleef & Arpels, I will leave you with an awkward screenshot, with my poor younger brother in it because I couldn't crop him out. Do you think the tiara's too big? I'm not worried. I'm sure I'll grow into it.

The "Set in Style: the Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels" exhibition is currently open and will be at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum through July 4.

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