Designers' hip lids let wearer feel like king or queen for a day
by: ©2006 DAVID PLECHL, Julia Watts models one of her handmade crowns. The pieces are created from scraps of antique jewelery and fabrics that have been collected by Pearl District store owner Bernadette Breu.

Have you ever envied that child at Burger King for his crown? He wears it regally; that it's made of paper takes nothing away from his feeling special.

Many have given their all to wear a crown; history is made up of their strivings. Even the symbol of our democracy, Lady Liberty, wears a corona radiata, or radiant crown.

Julia Watts and Carla Cerri of Bernadette Breu High Bohemian Antiques have come to the rescue of Portlanders who pine for their own regal trappings. Not since the introduction of Imperial Margarine have so many been suddenly crowned.

The inspiration for this enterprise came when Breu, the owner of the eponymous Pearl District store (1134 N.W. Everett St.), had a friend who needed a crown for a birthday gift.

'I asked whether the staff could pull a crown together,' Breu says. 'They did, and it was wonderful, and I said, 'Hey, you can keep making them if you want. I'm sure they would sell.' '

In four months they have sold more than a dozen. Seven went to a store in Los Angeles for resale. One went to Argentina. A scout for Martha Stewart came in and bought two. One woman commissioned both a crown and a cushion on which to display it.

Everyone wants to feel regal

Priced between $250 and $425, they have become something of the last word in distinctive and unusual gifts for those who have everything.

'People are fascinated by them,' says Watts, 33. 'They say, 'Oh, I can be queen for a day' or 'I should get this for somebody's birthday.' It seems to be if you put a crown on, all of a sudden you're the most important person in the world.'

While many people own tiaras, she notes, a crown is uncommon.

The wearing of a crown is usually reserved for the monarch. A prince technically wears a coronet, and the wife of the Prince of Wales wears no crown at all - which is why you never saw Diana and will not see Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, wearing one (until she becomes the queen consort, that is, but that's another crown altogether).

There are many styles of crowns. Roman emperors and Napoleon wore a browband known as a diadem. Feathers were the material of choice for royal Hawaiians. Watts and Cerri fashion a variety of royal headgear, from crowns made of 'jeweled' half arches to something more befitting a Russian grand duchess.

'We have so much to work with because of the things Bernadette has accumulated over the years,' says Cerri, 30. 'She keeps everything.' That includes broken jewelry, lone earrings, lace from a 1920s dress, Czech glass flowers and fanciful finials.

Silver jug gets another life

'The crowns really make themselves,' Watts explains. 'We start with the really basic structure, which can be something antique. One started out being a sterling silver jug that got opened up and had a piece welded to it. Or it can begin with a simple flower basket or antique dish or something. Some of them even start out as coat hangers. And then they sort of grow.'

Watts, who loved playing dress-up as a child and has an art degree from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, says that she and Cerri inspire each other and swap ideas, but they don't work on the same crown.

'I like to re-create the past,' says Cerri, who studied interior design at the former Bassist College (now the Art Institute of Portland). Watts' crowns are more the stuff of fairy tales, Cerri explains, while her own are more rich and masculine - like something discovered on an archaeological dig.

Once you have a crown, what can you do with it? Of course they make for a fetching table display. But can you actually wear these crowns, or are they just for show?

'Yes, you can put them on,' Watts says, 'if you're sitting. There is a way you could attach them with combs. But they're really not something you'd walk around in.'

'Imagine the queen on the throne,' Cerri adds.

'She's not jumping around disco diving,' Watts says.

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