In a fashion world that French courtiers have dominated, it was the Italians who brought something special to the fashion market-map in the late ’40s. From her first appearance in Vogue in 1948 and through to her death in 1986, she took costume jewelry making to couture status, and the name ‘Coppola e Toppo” would become synonymous with ‘pièce de résistance’ (or pezzo forte in Italiano). 

Lyda Toppo was born in Venice in 1915. After World War II, following her graduation from the Academy of Fine Arts, she began her fashion journey working for a tailoring house in Milan and she would briefly have short stints as a nurse and bookkeeper. 

A marriage to the handsome and wealthy Ferruccio Toppo meant Lyda could focus her time on what would be her true passion; making jewelry. Inspired by Czech jeweler and mentor, Ada Pollitzer, her intent from the start was to make big, bold, unconventional pieces with only the finest of materials. Her early pieces were named and stamped for her dog, Mickey, and are now incredibly rare collectors pieces.   

Coppola e Toppo became the “icing on the cake” - the finishing touch of outfits - and what set her work apart was her combination of traditional Italian materials from different parts of the peninsula, such as pearls made of Venetian Murano glass and coral from Torre del Greco that when combined would create eye-catching ombre color graduations. In an approach to jewelry making that has no equal, she would mix, shape, and create the complex facets and leave highly crafted bijoux items in her wake. After jewelry, nothing was out of the realm; bags, scarves, belts, umbrellas, and cigarette cases all became beaded beauties. 

She recruited her brother Bruno as business and marketing manager and together, they re-named the company “Coppola e Toppo,” and her unusual, yet extremely modern and timeless beaded bold creations attracted not only the attention of the French, but, before long, the world. 

Encouraged by Elsa Schiaparelli, commissioned by Valentino, Gucci, and Pucci, brought in by Balenciaga and Balmain, and across the water, the big department stores in New York, Saks Fifth Ave and Bergdorf Goodman, took note and were soon stoked with their own Coppola creations, bringing Italian flair to the necks of more than just New York mobster molls. Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and Maia Callas would all own and adorn her precious pieces. 

She also created exclusive and experimental pieces for fashion photoshoots by Gian Paolo Barbieri, both of whom pushed the boundaries of where fashion meets art. For nearly 60 years he would be at the forefront of the melting pot of international and art photography. Lyda would create one-of-a-kind pieces to be photographed such as this piece, shot in 1966, which employed potatoes covered in UV paint to hint at Space Age fashion and Lyda’s love for artisanal techniques on the simplest of objects. 

After her death, Italian front-row fashion journalist Maria Pezzi wrote of Lyda, “She had a total sense of fashion and exceptional aesthetic taste. Hers was an artisanal work by now long gone… It is certain that Italian fashion, from the beginning based on imagination, risk, and personality, found in Lyda a great ambassador.”

Today, a new era of Coppola e Toppo has emerged. In 2020, Pietro Paolo Longhitano and Rossella Jardini announced the rebirth of the fashion house with re-imaginings of iconic pieces. They began with the reborn “Lyda” bag which she had previously created for Valentino in 1968 and they dedicated the piece to her.

The relaunch refreshes the memory of one of the greatest jewelers in fashion history, and Lyda left not only a legacy of exquisitely made accessories but she also left us with a piece of sage advice:

Although, and I’m sure you’ll agree, nothing says classy other than copious amounts of Coppola e Toppo.