Léa Stein (born February 11, 1936) is a French artist and accessories maker, known for her compressed plastic buttons, brooches and bracelets. She is often hailed as "the most notable and innovative designer of plastic jewelry of the 20th century".
Stein entered the fashion industry in 1957 working in textiles, and by 1965 had developed an interest in plastic. She worked with her husband, chemist Fernand Steinberger, to develop a process of layering very thin sheets of cellulose acetate (or rhodoid) and laminating them to form a "multi-coloured sandwich of plastic". Each 'sandwich' was baked for a long time, then cooled and cut into shapes. The process could take as long as six months.
This technique allowed Stein to insert different fabrics (such as brocades and lace), colors and textures into the plastic.
Stein's brooches feature animals, cars, household items, celebrities and people in a distinctive style, sometimes resembling Art Deco (which leads some people to mistakenly date her work to the 1920s). Each brooch has a name, sometimes as simple as 'Fox' or more descriptive like 'Quarrelsome' the cat. Each design might come in dozens of different colors and patterns.
The brooches were made in two periods: vintage (1969 to 1981) and modern (1991 —). Each brooch has a distinctive v-shaped metal clasp inscribed with 'Lea Stein Paris'. Some collectors suggest that the clasp determines which era it was made in. Vintage brooches had the clasps heat mounted into the plastic; in modern brooches, the clasps are riveted on. Some early brooches had v-shaped clasps without the 'Lea Stein' inscription. However, other collectors suggest this is not true. The only way to discern vintage from modern is to have an extensive knowledge of Stein's designs.
The most valuable items in Stein's collection are the serigraphy pins and buckles, a plastic / celluloid version of Victorian miniatures.
- 'Evolution of Plastics as Art', The Korea Times, 28 November 2007, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/art/2008/11/148_14529.html
- Œil - Issues 615-617 2009 - Page 129 "Pour les années 1980, elle offre notamment des broches exceptionnelles en marqueterie de plastique de Léa Stein et des broches pavées de strass et de pierres de couleurs de Butler Se Wilson."
- World Collectors Magazine, Issue 29, http://www.worldcollectorsnet.com/magazine/iss29p3/
- 'The Whimsical Jewellery of Lea Stein', Helen Graham, Carter's Antiques and Collectables, March 2002
- Warman's Jewelry: Identification and Price Guide - Page 125 Kathy Flood - 2010 "The plastic that Lea Stein made famous, cellulose acetete, has been called Secoid and Rhodoid. This chapter presents four chemical formulas that had a huge impact on the jewelry world: celluloid, Bakelite, Lucite, and later modern plastics ..."
- Leigh Leshner Collecting Art Plastic Jewelry: Identification and Price Guide 2011 -- Page 17 "In 1954, Lea Stein, a French designer, began producing a whimsical line of jewelry made with multiple layers of celluloid. Ms. Stein ... The pins had a metal pin-back that was heat mounted and signed "Lea Stein: Paris" in block letters. She was ..."
- Fiona Shoop Buying and Selling Antiques: Insider Knowledge and Trade Tips to ... - Page 258 - 2004 "Lea Stein - French designer of stylish, plastic animal brooches and less stylish (but very easy to sell) unsigned ... Avoid the earrings which use unfinished cat and fox heads and are modern in usage, but Lea Stein sells - stick to the cats and ."
- Des broches pour le plaisir! 2007 "S'ils constituent l'essentiel de son trésor, il comprend quand même l'une ou l'autre broche de créateurs, comme Léa Stein qui créa pour Chanel dans les années '50/'60 une série de broches en plastique superposé représentant souvent des animaux et dont le prix peut osciller de 50 à 150 euros. Les sujets sont variés - de l'escarpin à la raquette de tennis en passant par la poêle à frire, les fruits rouges, les formes géométriques, les anges (pour Noël), les strass et paillettes pour le soir."
- Peigne Léa Stein à la tortue "Petit peigne décoré d'une tortue en plastique de couleur selon une technologie et un design mis au point par Léa Stein. Cette célèbre styliste parisienne des années 70 ne signait malheureusement pas ses peignes."