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Why it’s Showtime for Big, Bold, and Very Brilliant Costume Jewelry

It’s showtime, as the spotlight lands on big, bold, and very brilliant costume jewelry.

Yasmine Sabri wears earrings, Oscar De La Renta

When Lady Gaga performed the US National Anthem at President Biden’s inauguration, her dreams for her country’s future sang out loud and clear. ­That message was delivered not so much in her words as in the gilded dove of peace pinned to her gown. With a customary olive branch in its beak, this sculptural, golden bird captured the spirit of the moment, reflecting how the pop star – and many of those watching – were looking forward to a period of healing for a divided nation.

Lady Gaga at the 2021 US Presidential inauguration. Photo: Getty Images

­The brooch was designed for the occasion by Daniel Roseberry, the American-born artistic director of Schiaparelli, a couture house that has dealt in drama since its founder, Elsa Schiaparelli, first delighted Paris with her fantastical, surrealist creations in the 1920s. “Jewelry is there to heighten the fantasy of haute couture

“You wouldn’t be able to wear or afford something that big if it were made in real gold,” says jewelry historian and author Vivienne Becker of Gaga’s brooch. Becker, who has always had a soft spot for costume – or haute couture, as fans prefer to call it – jewelry, notes how fitting it is that such a piece should define a day representing peace and democracy. “It’s not about wealth or status, it’s a wholly democratic art form,” she explains. ­ The likes of Schiaparelli may have popularized costume jewelry in pre-war Europe, but it was in America during the 1950s, Becker says, where it truly boomed, as women entered the workforce and began to want inexpensive versions of the jewels hitherto worn only by the rich and famous.

Iris Apfel. Photo: Getty Images

Such appeal has yet to fade. Take, for instance, the omnipresence of costume pieces in the brilliant wardrobe of nonagenarian style icon Iris Apfel. “­ There’s so much joy in wearing costume jewelry,” says Giovanna Engelbert, global creative director at Swarovski. “It’s not a display of wealth but an expression of who you are. It can be chic and bold, or effortless and relaxed, depending on how you’re feeling,” she explains over Zoom, bedecked in multiple necklaces and kaleidoscopic crystal bracelets from her debut collection Wonderlab. “You might be dressed casually, but you can just throw on some jewelry to be more out there,” she laughs.

Ring, Swarovski

Necklace, Panconesi

Also pushing the boundaries of costume jewelry is Marco Panconesi, who designs his own line alongside collections for Fendi and Fenty. He says, “I’m constantly in conversation with jewelry history in my research. I integrate old techniques and apply them to contemporary fashion.” Panconesi’s latest work is inspired by the exuberance of his garden in Morocco, where he lived during last spring’s lockdown. He took the complex 18th century technique of en tremblant, in which diamonds were set on tiny springs to quiver with the wearer’s every move, and transferred it to semi- and non-precious gems of his own creation. Reflecting the wild colors and textures of Moroccan flora, these hybrid gems sparkle from dramatic, oversized ear cuffs and necklaces. He says, “It’s not about cut, color or the number of carats. It’s a metamorphosis whereby even humble materials take on an emotional value that can be enjoyed by the wearer and the onlooker.” Costume jewelry is also an important chance to convey brand DNA. Take, for instance, the giant, interlocking Gs of Matthew M Williams’s gender-neutral chains at Givenchy, or Simone Rocha’s constant reinterpretations of the pearl in chandelier earrings, hairnets, and dress trims.

Earrings, Giorgio Armani

For Maria Sole Ferragamo, scion of the Italian luxury accessories dynasty, costume jewelry is also a way to be more eco-conscious, although she is careful not to describe her brand, SO-LE Studio, as sustainable. “Sustainability should be taken for granted at this point,” she says. Her collections are made in small, exclusive quantities, owing to the limited supply of offcuts she uses, and combine architectural form with featherlight repurposed leather. “I want to use beautiful materials that are already there, it’s a creative stimulus to me,” she explains. “We don’t need all this stuff. We do need beauty, so that’s what I strive to create.” Currently, the pleasure derived from beauty and the escapism provided by limitless imagination feel particularly poignant. As Schiaparelli said, “In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous.”

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Originally published in the April 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

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