News of Minnie Mouse’s first makeover for 70 years may have been unexpected. That the designer providing her new look was none other than Alber Elbaz was more amazing still: had the creative director of one of Paris’s most esteemed fashion houses really teamed up with Walt Disney?
Yet the collaboration shouldn’t have been a complete surprise, for at the Paris autumn/winter 2013/14 shows what set the designers’ vision apart from previous seasons was less the colours or styles so much as a generous dollop of humour. ‘Paris has its own definitions in the dictionnaire de la mode,’ exclaimed Roland Mouret at his show, and he was right. For, in a refreshing departure from what we’ve come to expect from this fashion city, this season Paris is all about witty surprises.
Say it with words
And what better way to inject it than with a must-have piece of jewellery? At Lanvin, Elbaz sent models down the catwalk draped in heavyweight multiple-chain necklaces entwined with strands of pearls. Chunky silver and gold links spiralled their necks and were anchored with coloured enamel and pearl studded plaques containing exclamations such as ‘Help’ or ‘Love’, while ‘Happy’ and ‘Cool’ were spelled out in wiry gold writing. ‘I need stories, I need words,’ explained Elbaz of his apparent fondness for a bon mot.
It’s not just Elbaz: designers the length and breadth of rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré are embracing the irreverent, quirky and clever when it comes to jewellery. No longer is Paris the preserve of an elite group of haute joaillerie names; fashion designers are making jewellery more accessible, with lower price points and less traditional approaches.
Take Saint Laurent. In his autumn/winter 2013/14 collection Heidi Slimane tinkered with 1990s grunge, an era that couldn’t bear less relevance to traditional jewellery design if it tried. Saint Laurent’s jewellery-as-customisation showcased rows of pearls wrapped around wrists, necks and even biker boots, all interwoven with chains, tiny charms, little spikes and those coloured cotton threads used for friendship bracelets. This followed on from its De Force collection, whose sturdy black and white leather cuffs are punctured with round or triangular brass studs for an edgy hit of punk, while the reassuringly solid Le Deux Clous bracelet (with two studs) and Le Trois Clous bangle (with three) are made from gold vermeil and have knuckle-duster appeal. If you like your jewellery to make a statement, these pieces won’t pull any punches.
Irreverence was alive and well at Givenchy, too, where creative director Ricardo Tisci found his muse in gypsy style. A witty take on the charm bracelet saw giant coin-like discs swinging from chunky link bracelets, as if someone has crossed the model’s palms with silver. For Tisci, a satirical take on conservative jewellery styles was part and parcel of what he described as ‘one of the most fun collections I’ve done’.
Even Dior, whose pieces regularly set the tone when it comes to traditional notions of elegance and glamour, accessorised its autumn/winter 2013/14 collection with an eclectic approach. A single solid silver earring or a fistful of outsized cocktail rings were the carefully calculated accompaniments to Raf Simons’ signature dalliance with minimalism and colour. And, while jewellery may form only a small part of its repertoire, its current investment in quirky irreverence is sending reverberations through the fashion industry as a whole.
Jewellery influenced by deconstructed street style is also gaining a following, with smaller brands increasingly taking their inspiration from the ground up. At concept store Colette, new brand Enswear parodies the street culture by which it is inspired through designs such as a two-finger ring engraved with the word ‘Sauvage’ (‘wild’) and the witty Chevalière Lisse, a droll take on the signet ring that’s weighted with irony. At Dinh Van, razorblades are referenced in necklaces and paperclips in oval-link bracelets and rings. There’s also a tongue-in-cheek Menottes collection featuring silver and gold bracelets, rings and cufflinks that all incorporate a clasp inspired by a pair of handcuffs.
Pieces like these are such a far cry from the fine jewellery that has anchored our style for so long that one might question whether they qualify as jewellery at all? ‘The world is changing and so is the way women are dressing,’ argues Elbaz. That means the time has never been better for a radical shake up of our jewellery boxes. Diamonds might be for ever, but these exuberant pieces are for right now.