London Jeweler Simon Costin Cashes in on Creature Corpses with His Beastly Baubles

updated 08/18/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/18/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Not far from the drop-dead diamonds in New York's elegant Bergdorf Goodman, a different sort of glistening bauble stares vacantly at shocked shoppers: a gold-plated, rhinestone-studded pin made from, of all things, a fish head. In London painted rabbit skulls pop out of men's lapels, and refined hostesses are clawed at the neck by black turkey talons dripping with blood-red rhinestones.

These macabre designs are the handiwork of London jeweler Simon Costin, 24, whose hot collection just happens to be made from such memento mori as beetle scales, deer antlers, bird skulls, boa constrictor skins and the occasional scorpion corpse. "People see something glittering and then discover it's skin or bone," says Costin. "Half of their reaction is fascination, and the other half is, well, fright." Simon's reaction is pure delight: His jewelry sells for up to $4,500 and has attracted no less a personality than Barbra Streisand. In her 1985 Emotion video, the singer wore an old fox stole that Costin decorated with a crystalline rabbit head and jeweled tears. She rejected, however, his piranha tiara. "It was a bit much," admits Costin.

The son of a retired engineer and a housewife, cheerful Costin is not far from the ghoul one might imagine. "Some boys liked Westerns," he says. "I liked seeing things being preserved." A natural history buff, he dabbled in taxidermy as a youth. With a fine arts degree in tow, he merged his love of animals with his love of art last year, when he began tinkering with a fish head and wound up with a brooch. Then a buyer from fashionable Liberty of London spotted him wearing a rabbit skull and asked, "Are there any more like that at home?"

There were, and Costin, who works in a cluttered room in his parents' Forest Gate home, started designing for pay. Don't worry, his creature parts come dead on arrival. He gets some courtesy of the London Zoo, his rabbit bones from a friend and his fish heads from fishmongers—except for the really large ones, which are a gift from Harrods. Like any artist, Costin must defend his work. Not long ago, he was confronted by a nun who called his black hare head lapel pin "the devil's work." Counters Costin: "I am not death obsessed...I preserve lovely things that would otherwise rot and disappear."

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