Why everyone looks to Fred Leighton’s Rebecca Selva for styling advice

Rebecca Selva's unique way of making century-old jewels appear timely, relevant, and cool has made her an indispensable international jewellery advisor. Here, she reflects on bedazzling your favourite celebrities - from Billie Eilish to Tommy Dorfman - and the timeless appeal of vintage gems

By Jill Newman

Rebecca Selva is working around the clock, fielding text messages and frantic calls from stylists, celebrities, and fashion designers who are seeking her suggestions on what jewellery they or their clients should wear to the Gilded Age-themed Met Gala this year. Actress  Tommy Dorfman’s stylist called looking for something to go with a striking green rubber Christopher Kane dress with cut-out details. Never one to deliver expected accessories, Selva creatively mixes up vintage pieces — ranging from Edwardian to Art Deco, and everything in between — with contemporary outfits on women of every age. She juxtaposed Dorfman’s modern dress with Georgian green paste hair  combs worn on her head to form a tiara. Those hair combs transformed Dorfman’s minimalist look into a head-turning modern-day Greek Goddess.  

To pair with Billie Eilish’s Gucci corseted satin gown (made entirely with upcycled materials), Selva suggested glamorous layers of vintage diamond necklaces, along with a 20th century diamond swag brooch, pendant earrings and rings. They weren’t just beautiful, but the glittering antique jewels were also in keeping with the singer’s eco-friendly ethos (you could, of course, also call vintage jewels recycled). 

It’s Selva’s creative styling and unique way of making century-old jewels appear timely, relevant, and cool that has made her an indispensable international jewellery advisor. For her, it’s never about dressing people in the flashiest diamonds and gems; it’s about curating the most beautiful look with pieces that don’t overpower but enhance a woman’s glamour, individuality, and confidence.  Sometimes that means reimagining a vintage brooch as a hair comb or transforming a bracelet into a necklace, and other times it means finding the perfect Georgian diamond line choker to pair with a strapless gown, a necklace that will appear like a string of light around the neck. 

“Some young clients come in the store and fall in love with a 19th century design and have no idea it’s vintage,” says Selva, who is Chief Creative Officer and Public Relations Director for Fred Leighton and its sister brand Kwiat. “Once they learn its history, they are blown away and appreciate it even more.”  

During a time when the stakes are especially high to dress A-listers on  the countless red-carpet events, Fred Leighton doesn’t pay celebrities to wear its jewellery. Over the years, Selva has forged  meaningful relationships with stylists and celebrities who value her advice. After all, she’s responsible for curating Leighton’s vast collection of thousands of jewels, which range from signed Cartier and Suzanne Belperron designs to the most exquisite examples of unsigned Victorian-era mourning jewels and bold ‘70s-style gold  pieces. She’s also not afraid to take apart jewels to create something new because, as she says, “jewellery is meant to be worn in different ways to suit the times.” To that end, for this year’s Oscar’s she took  apart a 19th-century tiara and used the diamond-studded stars in earrings and rings for Billie Eilish’s romantic and unforgettable look. Selva has worked at Fred Leighton for 30 years, and she is a familiar and welcoming presence at the Madison Avenue store.  

Tommy Dorfman’s Georgian hair combs worn on her head to form a tiara at the Met Gala 2022

Originally established in the 1960s as a Bohemian-style clothing store in New York’s Greenwich village, Fred Leighton moved to its present location on the Upper East Side in the 1970s. In 2010, the Kwiat family purchased the business and, since then, Selva has worked closely  with Greg Kwait, the company’s CEO, to track down exceptional vintage jewellery the world over. “We share a passion for finding beautiful jewellery, regardless of the pedigree,” says Selva. She also helped develop Fred Leighton’s capsule collection of hardstone  pendants in a vintage style and has integrated Kwiat’s elegant diamond jewellery into the store’s mix. Side by side, Leighton’s period pieces sing next to Kwiat’s elegant diamond jewels.

Selva still recalls her first big red carpet request when, in 1998, designer Miuccia Prada called looking for jewels to  complement the blue empire-waist dress that she had designed for Nicole Kidman. Selva delivered an 19th century opal choker, and the resulting unexpected mix of vintage jewels and a modern dress on the red carpet served as a turning point. Today, people expect to see stylish vintage jewels on women of all ages on the red carpet, but that wasn’t always the case. Selva helped champion vintage jewellery in a modern context by showing it in new, versatile ways that appealed to a much broader range of women, and now, men. Beyond the red carpet is the real action.

Red carpet moments get lots of publicity, but Selva has cultivated collectors and helped women around the  world gain a great appreciation for period jewels and build important collections. She’s observed as younger clients look to express their individuality they are increasingly searching for unique vintage jewellery. “Suddenly the streamlined Georgian-era riviere necklaces and pendant earrings look so right with today’s fashion and style.”

Like this? Read our interview with fine jeweller Logan Hollowell

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From latest collections, extraordinary designers and celebrity trends, we'll keep you up to date with today's ideas and stories.