Tough times means more innovation and jewellery is reacting.
When Gucci was forced to turn to bamboo in a bout of post-war austerity it showed that being thrifty can also be a keen design statement. As we find ourselves in harsh times again designers are once more turning to a mish-mash of materials to create jewels that are right on trend, write Juliet Hutton-Squire and Maia Adams of Adorn Insight.
It is no secret that these are financially straightened times. As a result, in all but the very highest echelons of the luxury industry, brands are searching for ways to reduce manufacturing costs whilst satisfying the demands of consumers also looking to make their money go further.
As the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention and, true to form, creatives across a raft of industries are exploring the potential of cost-effective materials that might not have previously featured in their repertoire.
In a season that had more than its fair share of catwalk mash-ups, Pedro Lourenco pushed the concept further than most with a SS12 collection that showcased models dressed in outfits comprising of leather-and-lurex tops, wood-and-cord platform sandals, and – most extraordinarily – what looked like Astroturf skirts. Fendi followed suit with a sumptuous pick ‘n’ mix offering of fur capes, tartan tops and mixed-knit woollen skirts set off with chunky cuffs of contrasting oval stones and straight lines, and shiny and matte metals.
Fashion illustration too has developed a penchant for collage. Illustrator Nikki Farquharson creates cool pop art-inspired scenarios by superimposing photographed girls over graphic hand-drawn patterns, while Marieke Vermeulen from the Netherlands has taken an image of a model shot by legendary New York photographer Steven Meisel and flooded it with buttons, ribbons, embroidery, tassels and even tiny plastic skulls to make a completely new image. And in a project published in I Love You magazine artist Ashkan Honarvar used Vanitas symbols and decoupage techniques to create mixed media collages that “search for the equilibrium between life and death”.
Even the automotive industry – not normally known for its lo-fi approach to promotion– has its own example of mixed-media marketing in the form of a new advertisement for the Citroën C3. In an ingenious stop-motion movie, director Peter Sluszka recreates a whimsical driving experience through a series of constantly evolving mixed-media models.
All this goes to show that although times may be hard, by thinking outside the box and exploring materials beyond the norm, the results can be both pretty and profitable.
This mixed media approach can, of course, be translated for jewellery. Read on for our three favourite ways to blur the materials lines with jewellery design.
The now-iconic Gucci bamboo motif came into being when post-war austerity rations forced Gucci’s artisans to come up with accessories that reduced costs whilst retaining the brand’s signature luxury appearance.
With affordable Japanese bamboo in plentiful supply, a little experimentation led to the characterful wood becoming integral to some of the brand’s most successful, not to mention lucrative, designs.
This version (see below left) of the oft-reincarnated Bamboo Bracelet combines a sterling silver snake chain to which an aged palladium finish has been applied, with richly hued bamboo sections applied in such a way as to make the finished piece both luxe and versatile.
Gucci’s luxury brand stablemate Fendi has also delved into the mixed-media pool this season and has come up trumps with its Chameleon Cuff – an architecturally informed gold metal bracelet that is in-keeping with the current vogue for hinging and locking bracelets.
Setting smoke-hued stingray panels in a linear framework, and overlaying these with Tiger’s eye, lemon chalcedony, coral and Aventurine cabochons, the contrast between precious metal and natural elements makes for a contemporary update of a classically structured piece.
Exploring new ways to tap into a wider market, fine jeweller Vanessa Kandiyoti has unveiled her Empowerment collection – a diffusion line of crystal-embellished leather bracelets that allow entry-level customers to buy into her brand. Barcelona-based Antonio Ben Chimol casts his net even wider, using a wide range of non-traditional – almost elemental – materials including steel, glass, leather and sand to create pure pieces – jewellery that crosses the fashion-art divide, the prime focus of which is to explore the materials themselves.
The pick ‘n mix approach to materials is opening up a raft of potential for jewellery designers in both the costume and fine jewellery sectors, most especially when it comes to designs in glass.
Italy’s leading lady of fashion world Miuccia Prada’s fascination with the dazzling properties of faceted crystal resulted in the recent launch of Prada’s capsule jewellery collection, in which oversized glass crystal gems layer up around classic floral centerpieces oozing show-stopping style with a nod to the 1950s – a decade synonymous with glamour and the use of new materials. Sister brand Miu Miu’s Jewels Collection also hails crystal as king in a showcase of pearl and rhinestone colliers for which glass pearl beads layer over glistening strands of faux gem clusters.
Moving away from a world of crystal bling towards another where concept is king, US based artist jeweller Donald Friedlich’s Magnification series exploits the properties of glass using optics to heavily magnify the clothing on which it is worn so the weave of the fabric becomes the image in the jewellery. The pieces, which Friedlich refers to as "site adaptive”, bridge three areas of craft media: jewellery, glass and textile imagery.
With a nod to the past, Italian design trio Le Sibille explore the ancient, and now little-used, Egyptian craft of micro mosaic which entails arranging tiny glass discs to create a picture that is then set in handcrafted gold.
Also using traditional techniques, British jewellers Alice Cicolini and Solange Azagury-Partridge dip into the potential of colourful enamels. Cicolini’s Silk Route collection references the ancient art of Persian Meenakari as applied to contemporary designs while Azagury-Partridge’s Stoned collection uses the French technique of plique-à-jour to create transparent enamel jewels that have been cast to resemble three-dimensional gemstones.
Literal interpretations of buttons and bows have long inspired jewellers but contemporary adaptations of haberdashery staples are elevating craft detailing to quirky cachet status. Referencing the trend for all things homespun, the granny chic aesthetic shows no sign of abating, whilst a DIY approach to creation is serving up innumerous design solutions that take homespun details – trimmings and finishings to name just two – and transform them into coolly collectable jewellery pieces.
When Versace’s much anticipated collaboration with H&M hit the stores at the end of last year, it did so with a casino-kitsch collection blazoned with tropical sunsets and a riot of fringed adornment and colourful embroidered stitching accents.
Jewellery too is exploring this amped-up homespun look with costume jewellers Akong London and Joomi Lim – who lead the pack when it comes to a multi-tiered approach to tassels and trims – using layers of haberdashery finds to inject movement and colour into their frivolous statement pieces.
Also within the costume arena, Aurélie Bidermann, Bex Rox and Venessa Arizaga weave, wrap and crochet silk cord and thread into contrasting metallic loops of an open curb chain, introducing a more psychedelic edge to their otherwise simple styles. Playing to the current season’s interest in androgyny (and making the perfect complement to the sharp-cut tuxedo, which celebrated its 150th birthday in 2011) Balmain has transformed an ordinary rhinestone crystal cuff into a showstopper by edging it with leather stitching.
Staying with leather, UK based designer Tomasz Donocik’s Chesterfield collection explores the idea of Russian grandeur and stately leather furniture. His iconic cuff, set with precious gemstones, is a striking example of a mixed-media approach that straddles both contemporary edginess and classic design.
EDITORS’ NOTES: Mixing and matching fabrics and patterns is common in the fashion industry and it’s great to see jewellers embracing the trend. We’ve thought for a long time that jewellers can learn a lot from the fashion industry and this is just the beginning.
Juliet Hutton-Squire and Maia Adams are the founders of jewellery trends analysis agency Adorn Insight. adorninsight.com