September 19 2009
Circling the neck with a heightened sense of drama, this season’s statement pieces give new meaning to the word “collar”. In short, they’re far too oversized, fierce or fabulous to go by the simple sobriquet of “necklace”. Dreamed up by adventurous designers, they are distinct and quirky, begging closer inspection, and come fashioned from an eclectic array of materials – vintage fur, Swarovski crystals, porcelain, swirls of satin, ceramics or even glass. As such, they’ve been ushered in to become the pivotal piece of an outfit or to add wow factor to a new autumn/winter catwalk collection.
“In Britain, Erickson Beamon and Scott Stephen have both been producing couture-level statement pieces for many seasons prior to it becoming a major trend,” explains Simon Longland, Harrods’ fashion accessories general merchandise manager, who adds that, internationally, Lanvin, Marni and Louis Vuitton have led the trend. “As there is such a diverse mix of brands and designers making statement neckpieces, the inspiration cannot be pinpointed to a single period or trend. Individual designers each take their stylistic influence from various references and this creates a wide range of styles to choose from.”
Big, bold neckpieces not only accessorise a look, they transform it and create a focal point – as I saw for myself in Paris last October. Every time I ventured into a showroom appointment during Fashion Week with my American friend (who was tall, sleek and wearing all black), there was an instant reaction to the special piece around her neck, followed by an exchange of knowing glances between the two of us. Everyone seemed to be transfixed by the fawn-coloured mix of satin swirls and crystals by a little-known designer, Manila-based Bea Valdes.
Valdes, whose family has been in the fine jewellery business for three generations, began creating evening bags in 2004 but soon turned her attention to statement neckpieces. “I think it was a niche waiting to be carved,” she explains. “I could not understand why at the time everything that was more affordable was just a plastic copy of what was expensive. I remember having conversations with my mother telling her that there must be something between fine jewellery and costume jewellery.”
What she envisioned was a piece that was precious in its own right because of the craft, detail and handiwork involved. “I wanted to make something that had the impact of substantial jewellery, something that had the weight but a different sparkle to that of diamonds,” she continues. “It was like trying to create the antithesis of fine jewellery while still capturing the drama of it.” Hence, with the help of her extended family and 40 local female artisans, Valdes uses semiprecious stones, crystals, resin and glass beads to create an array of exquisite pieces (£200-£6,000), which are available by special commission or from the London-based store CoutureLab.
“When we first launched, people were unused to the scale,” says Valdes, adding that one of the pieces, Caspian (£5,292), which is based on church vestments, is over 175cm long. “I would hear a lot of women saying that they were too short or too small to carry it off – which always surprised me. I am quite small myself and love the fact that the pieces are oversized.”
Like Valdes, London-based Walid Al Damirji is also involved with CoutureLab. “He has channelled his passion for antiques into his coveted By Walid line of accessories,” says Carmen Basquets, the store’s creator, who prides herself on sniffing out unusual pieces from well-known and not-so-well-known designers. For By Walid, Al Damirji uses an array of recycled materials – 19th-century lace, Victorian jet, 1920s beading and vintage fur – to create one-of-a-kind pieces, such as his embroidered fur collars, which can take up to a week to make (£400-£950).
His motivation is simple: “I don’t like waste and I don’t like to be precious,” he says, adding that he considers a beautiful neck to be the ultimate form of refinement and has always loved the paintings of Modigliani for this reason. “My pieces are instantly recognisable and I think that in this way, I’ve glamorised the recycled look. I love the fact that they have a whiff of history about them.”
New York-based Subversive is another label that takes a magpie approach to neckpieces, with collections made from vintage findings that the designer Justin Giunta procures from warehouses and factories that have long served the jewellery business. The signature look is the Sunken Treasure collection (from $575), a tangled mix of vintage chains, charms and crystals. “Each piece is hand-crafted,” explains Giunta, who offers a unique alternative to mass production with his eclectic pieces.
Meanwhile, Juniper Rose’s debut Falconiere collection (from $550) is much more romantic than her previous work for Earl Jeans and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s children’s collection. “I like to look at vintage, but not recent vintage,” explains the New York-based designer, citing French-made ornate suits of armour as a recent obsession. And such influences are apparent in pieces that Rose considers quasi-clothing, that combine chains and chain mail with Swarovski crystals and semiprecious stones.
“Buying a beautiful statement necklace or neckpiece is an effortless and affordable way of updating your winter wardrobe and adds a touch of individuality and glamour to the simplest piece of knitwear or a jacket,” says Erin Mullaney, buying director at Browns, who this season has chosen By Walid pieces as well as the Marni crystal neckpieces (from £350) that were styled layer upon layer at Consuelo Castiglioni’s Milan show in February. “It brings last season’s clothes up to date and makes an outfit more modern.”
Marni isn’t the only well-known name to put crystals around the neck in this fashion. Jaeger London, too, made a statement with its Shattered Glass jewellery collection that launched in July. Its trophy piece is the ribbon necklace (£1,500), fashioned from large asymmetric shards of Swarovski crystal hand-crafted into beautifully imperfect pieces by Australian jewellery designer Jenny Manik Mercian. And each season Atelier Swarovski pushes the boundaries of fashion jewellery with its designer collaborations. This season it was Giles’s turn. He created Shannon, a striking collection featuring two neckpieces (from £375) crafted from grey felt and Swarovski crystal that caught the flash of the cameras at his autumn/winter show.
Some up-and-coming designers, however, take a more conceptual approach to neckwear – witness the porcelain shirt collars by Paris-based Uncommon Matters, which lend a surreal smartness to any plain-coloured ensemble. “I found it interesting to play with the body and reinterpret clothing elements,” explains its designer, Amélie Riech. She says she is currently “addicted” to the material used for the aptly named Handle With Care collection (from £300). The fact that porcelain is complex and uncertain – “You never really know what will come out of the oven” – hasn’t deterred her. After all, her family has been handling the material for generations as porcelain painters for Meissen in Germany.
Another Paris-based designer working with ceramic is Marion Vidal. “It’s a stately material which has a very fragile appearance,” she explains. Inspired by the art deco movement’s distinctive palette of cool colours, she combines ceramic beads with textiles, stainless steel and wood to make pretty, unusual neckpieces (from £110).
“I always draw upon my love of the work of Eduardo Paolozzi, pop art and art deco,” says RCA graduate Holly Fulton, who has been tagged as one to watch since her Fashion East launch in February. Her jewellery collection (from £280), which makes its debut in Browns Focus this autumn, is crafted from an assemblage of metals, crystal and plastics, and is designed to work together with her dramatic clothing. Jemma Dyas, buyer at Browns Focus, however, says the jewellery will “add impact to any outfit, be it dressing up a basic T-shirt or updating a simple cocktail dress”.
In fact, when wearing most of these statement pieces, the quieter the clothes, the better. But even the noisiest clothing is sure to be silenced when worn alongside the latest Superfertile collection. “All my designs start with a message,” says London-based Kali Arulpragasam, for whom a desire to question the obsession with celebrities and instead focus on those who had made an entirely different contribution to the modern world inspired The Real Superstars collection. Weird but wonderful, it celebrates 10 international inventors – including ATM and Pin impresario John Shepherd-Barron – by making metal casts of their craniums. “It’s not as easy as finding a stone and making a pendant or a ring out of it,” she says of the process of procuring images of the inventors, often contacting them in person. Arulpragasam suggests teaming her neckpieces with solid colours, evening gowns or T-shirts and jeans. But she also cautions that her bold metal pieces (from £150) demand attention – and she’s absolutely right about that.