Back in February this year, the pop singer Lady Gaga, known for her often outlandish costumes, attended a gala in Manhattan clad in a pearl-encrusted bikini, cropped jacket, hat and platform boots. Designed by the artist Terence Koh, the outfit also featured hundreds of miniature pearls glued to the singer’s face.
“Gaga never discusses [the] meaning of her things so we would rather keep our intentions our little secret,” Koh said at the time. But while Gaga kept mum, her outfit spoke volumes: just a few days later, as the autumn/winter collections got under way in New York, it became clear that pearls were destined to be the trend of the season.
Indeed, as classic formal wear – camel coats, skirt suits and three-piece trouser suits – regained prominence, so did that classic accessory, the pearl, as seen everywhere from J.Crew to Christian Dior.
At the latter, artistic director for costume jewellery Camille Miceli even produced a collection consisting entirely of pearls (prices from £870). But these aren’t your grandmother’s best any more.
“The idea of subverting the pearl is really modern,” says Thakoon Panichgul, new creative director of the Japanese jewellery brand Tasaki. His designs include a pair of diamond earrings turned upside down with the pearl on the back of the lobe (prices from £800). “It’s not about wearing it to a wedding or with twinsets.”
Linda Fargo, women’s fashion director at US department store Bergdorf Goodman, says: “We’ve had numerous seasons of oversized stones, so the style pendulum has swung in favour of these pretty little white gems – they are the newer jewel.”
While in the past pearls may have conjured up visions of uptight Stepford wives or former First Lady Barbara Bush, who famously wore giant faux pearls, today’s styles are more akin to those worn by Michelle Obama: fashion-forward pieces by jewellery designers Tom Binns and Fenton Fallon. “Pearls have always been the anchor of my collections,” says Dana Lorenz, founder of Fenton Fallon (prices from £30). “It’s the philosophy of taking conservative ideas in jewellery and giving them edge.”
To celebrate its recent 150th anniversary, fine jewellers Chopard launched an animal-themed collection (prices on application) that included a one-of-a-kind “ram” necklace, purchased by a client almost as soon as she saw it. “A single strand of pearls, while classic, is not what the majority of our clients are looking for today,” says company co-president Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele.
Jeweller Faraone Mennella’s new London store in Chelsea will feature the brand’s first-ever couture piece made entirely of pearls, Aspasia, a necklace comprising natural green, gold and Tahitian pearls that match the colour of the 150-carat green beryl stone used as the clasp and centrepiece. And this month Mikimoto has introduced a 100-inch strand of pearls – its longest ever (price on application).
But pearls’ appeal goes beyond jewellery. Designer Alexander Wang, for example, created an autumn collection that included pearls embroidered on to a velvet suit.
Then there was Shakira, who wore a Roberto Cavalli top and denim belt embroidered with multi-coloured pearls as she closed the Fifa World Cup in the summer.
“Note that these are not your inherited prim string of pearls, though those are wonderful keepsakes too,” says Bergdorf Goodman’s Fargo. The store’s current pearl offerings include a Nicholas Kirkwood satin pump with pearl platform and a CD Greene off-white gown boasting an all-pearl bodice with pearl straps. “They feel best when used in fresh ways: chaotically draped at Vera Wang, or on crocheted fingerless gloves at Oscar de la Renta,” she says.
Meanwhile, Extending the Runway: Tatiana Sorokko Style, an exhibition currently at the Phoenix Art Museum featuring garments from the former model’s wardrobe, includes a Pierre Balmain tunic with baroque pearls and a 1920s flapper dress covered with pearls. “Pearls aren’t just for women of a certain age,” Sorokko says. “They transcend age.”