When it comes to jewellery, it’s often less about novelty and branding, and more about discretion. This is fashion as talisman.

Getting someone to buy into a brand takes time, investment and trust. We’ve seen some extraordinary shenanigans on the runway from heritage brands of late – grand marques jumping into bed with partners previously considered rivals, now happy to advertise their indiscretion with logos as big as the top line on an optician’s chart. But when it comes to jewellery, it’s often less about novelty and branding, and more about discretion. This is fashion as talisman – there might be nothing overtly Yves about a pair of YSL earrings or matching gold-plated necklace, but there’s a sense of mysticism, exoticism and the roaming eye of the man that gives resonance to the designs. They are absolutely embedded in the brand. When Saint Laurent was working at Dior in the 1950s, he was moving in a world that was staid. He gently veered the house into modernity. When he founded his own house in 1961, he would shift gear. But he took that Dior customer with him, and when he threw Rive Gauche ready-to-wear radicalism at them in the early 1970s, they were ready. He had bona fides. And he created jewellery that accented his globe-trotting aesthetic.

‘Yves Saint Laurent had bona fides. And he created jewellery that accented his globe-trotting aesthetic’

Brand magic isn’t about alchemy. It’s about knowing that something is already precious to begin with, because it’s from a house known for provenance. It is impossible to comprehend the ratio of fake Chanel product to authentic, but that reality has done little to detract from the allure of the brand. Last year, the exhibition “Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto” was staged in Paris, and will be reinstalled in Melbourne later this year. Chanel had a genuine agenda – she was one of the first truly feminist designers, creating a bridge between women’s liberation and ultimate luxury. Her designs were about ease and comfort, but also power. Throw meticulous craftsmanship into the mix, and you have a brand and iconic logo that is bullet proof. Wearing a small Chanel piece is a badge for something significant. It was that gravitas that allowed Karl Lagerfeld to be irreverent with the house codes for the latter part of his career, without diluting the core values.

‘Wearing a small Chanel piece is a badge for something significant’

There’s a misconception among many that heritage brands are in some way stuffy, and that without today’s fashion anarchists deconstructing them they wouldn’t be relevant. But fashion history records that those well known, largely Paris-based houses, were founded by iconoclasts. In 2019, the Brooklyn Museum staged a retrospective of Pierre Cardin’s work, with an exhibition entitled “Future Fashion”. The Cardin name was, for a while, the most licensed in fashion history. At one point there were nearly 1,000 licences, pimping the name out across decidedly unhaute objects, from coffee makers to tins of sardines. It became so ridiculous as to resemble a pop art joke. But Cardin’s work remains visionary. “He was a Modernist fashion designer,” says Matthew Yokobosky, Senior Curator at the Brooklyn Museum. “His designs paralleled those in other fields such as architecture, and even NASA. Cardin was unafraid to incorporate new materials and shapes into his designs, and so the press rightly labelled him a design maverick in the ’60s and ’70s, which paved the way for new designers to take even greater risks today.” While his space-age outfits now look retro futurist to the max, and difficult to wear, the jewellery he created to complement them looks low-key fabulous, full of strong graphics using resins and silver. They are of their time, but timeless. Which is one of the ways that jewellery supports a brand’s legacy – it is shorthand for the aesthetic. And you can disseminate it far and wide, with or without a logo. We all know that Hermès stands for the epitome of handcraft in luxury fashion, and a simple bracelet or pair of earrings serves as a kind of insider code that you know it.

‘We all know that Hermès stands for the epitome of handcraft in luxury fashion, and a simple bracelet or pair of earrings serves as a kind of insider code that you know it’

The most seductive brands have drama in their backstories – hence the hunger for Ridley Scott’s Gucci movie coming out this year. The house of Dior is as classic as they come, but the founder’s life story was extraordinary. He was deeply superstitious and eccentric. For a while, the late SEX, Seditionaries and World’s End entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren worked on a film project and a stage musical based on his life, entitled “Fashion Beast”. It never came to fruition, instead ending up as a graphic novel in collaboration with esoteric author Alan Moore. It would still make a great movie. John Galliano’s stint at Dior merely updated a lot of the founder’s eccentricity. A lot of Dior jewellery is superficially classic, but it’s literally twisted. And always glamorous. It is elevated and red carpet, but it’s also subtly punk in its identity.

Hubert de Givenchy was considered the “enfant terrible of Haute Couture” when he first appeared in the 1950s, bringing the same level of detail and quality to separates as his peers were to ballgowns. He went on to introduce couture and costume jewellery in the 1960s, copying Chanel’s business and design model of incorporating his logo into many of the designs. It speaks volumes about the kudos of the house that it became such a sensation. His dresses didn’t come with any outward branding, but he was happy to forge it out of gold and put it around someone’s neck. And many women wanted to make a highly visible statement about their taste. The goal for any luxury brand is for their logo to transcend marketing. The graphic itself should speak of luxury.

‘The goal for any luxury brand is for their logo to transcend marketing. The graphic itself should speak of luxury’

Fundamentally, brand jewellery is about creating a kind of magic. And a Fendi or Celine piece can transform an outfit, whether it be from Zara or by Gabriela Hearst. The Chanel or YSL logo on a genuine and beautiful pair of earrings, belt or set of pearls casts a spell over everything else you have on. As McLaren said of his work in fashion: “What is the magic? That's the only thing you ultimately care about, how can you make something magical? The Sex Pistols were, for a moment, very magical. Magical because you didn't know how it worked. There's always this phrase which I've kept with me for maybe 25 years, which Christian Dior said: ‘Fashion is the last repository of the marvellous and the designer is the last possessor of the wand of Cinderella's fairy godmother’.”

Main Image: Elena Dijour-stock.adobe.com

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