Class bead game

Melanie Rickey on an accessory that wins in Hollywood and the High Street

Pared down minimalism has had its day. Last year a slip-dress had to be simple and unadorned , worn with natural make-up, and no jewellery. Now the same dress is likely to be scattered with tiny sparkling beads, accessorized with a beaded necklace, and a delicate amulet bag both -preferably designed by the fashion pack's favourite - London based Erickson Beamon. This week at the Oscar ceremony, actresses who know how to stand out in a crowd opted for sparkling beadwork on their gowns. Jodie Foster wore a pale blue Armani jacket scattered with tiny, bright beads while Julie Andrews was refracting light like a prism

In fact, embroiderers, lace-makers and beaders are rekindling their love- affair with high fashion, and craft -workers are in demand. Beading inparticular has always been used by French couturiers like Christian Lacroix who is not limited by budget as his average customer spends a minimum of pounds 10,000 on a dress. But ready-to-wear designers such as Miuccia Prada in Milan and Hussein Chalayan in London are using beads in a different way. Chalayan uses them to create Art Deco motifs on his dresses and Prada sprinkles them - fairy like - onto chiffon dresses . More recently the high street stores are joining in too.

Monsoon, the high street chain with 120 nationwide stores, sells beaded evening and day dresses made by hand in India. They look three times as expensive as their pounds 150 price tag, and sum up the current fashion to a tee, The Accessorize shops also have a trove of jewellery, bags and scarves that could easily be mistaken for designer versions; the bag featured (right), is only pounds 24.99.

Some designers have made beading their trademark. Londoner Samantha Heskia, makes her beaded bags by hand. She began selling a single design in an array of colours two years ago and is now so successful that she employs a small army to keep her stockists supplied.

Similarly at the Bead Shop in London's Covent Garden, (a favourite haunt of Alexander McQueen), business is booming. Maureen Murray, their creative director, is author of All About Beads "It's got a bit of everything: how to make it, where the beads come from, the history - which is fascinating and gorgeous pictures, " she says. Murray notes that the trend has firmly moved away from chunky, wooden, ceramic and "ethnic" beads to shiny, floral and decorative ones. "We have customers now who spend hours in here, like Jackdaws in a sweet shop seeing how different beads work together before buying them ."

An alternative to buying it new or making it yourself is, to find it second-hand. Vintage stores such as Rokit in Camden and Brighton, or any good charity shop, are good for the odd piece of beaded handiwork, but to be really frugal, why not try jumble sales?. The bag featured (right) cost 20p, and you can't get much cheaper than that.

Black and White beaded `knitting bag', 20p (honest!) from a jumble sale last week in Stoke Newington. Scour the local paper, find the sales, get rummaging, and don't let anyone push you around.

Vintage black jet beaded cardigan, pounds 29, from a selection at Rokit, 225 Camden High Street, London W1 and 23 Kensington Gardens, Brighton for enquiries call 0171 267 3046.

Black beaded shoes, pounds 229, made-to-order by Emma Hope, 33 Amwell Street, London EC1 and 12 Symons Street, London SW3 enquiries 0171 833 2367.

All About Beads, 17.99, by Maureen Murray, available from The Bead Shop, 43 Neal Street, London WC2, and all good bookshops. Beads shown below and above right are available from The Bead Shop and can cost anything from pounds 10 each for Venetian dichroic beads or pounds 1 for 2000 tiny embroidery beads, (sold by weight).

Liberty sell rugs from pounds 25, not pounds 25,000 as we said last week. Our apologies.

Turquoise beaded bag, pounds 214, by Samantha Heskia, available from Browns, 23-27 South Molton Street, London W1; A La Mode, 36 Hans Crescent, London SW1; and Tokio, 309 Brompton Road for enquiries call 0171 373 7613.

Multicoloured beaded zig-zag door curtain, pounds 29.95, from Nice Irmas, 46 Goodge Street, London W1 for enquiries call 0171 580 6921 for mail order enquiries call 0181 343 7610

PHOTOGRAPHS: TONY BUCKINGHAM.

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