Style file: Pearls of wisdom

The gemstones have been liberated from twinsets as a host of designers put a punkish, youthful twist on the Home Counties classic, says Stephanie Hirschmiller

At first glance, the Sloane Ranger set, Home Counties grannies and Karl Lagerfeld may seem to have little in common. However, there is a connecting thread – strung with delicate pearls.

For spring/summer 2014, pearls have shed their prim and proper image and been given a dose of punk attitude. Lagerfeld was a chief proponent: the girls in pearls that stomped down the Chanel catwalk channelled the insouciance of Parisian art students on the Left Bank. Pearl embellishments ranged from tiny seed beads woven into fabrics and delicate camellia-shaped buttons, to super-sized necklaces tipped with a duo of golf-ball sized pearls.

Chanel was not the only source of punkish Pearly Queens. Simone Rocha is known for paying stylish tribute to her Chinese and Irish grandmothers. This season, pensioner pearls got her twisted treatment – fashioned into giant collars, embellishing knee-high stockings and bordering asymmetric slashes on  drop-waisted skirts for a look that was punk and regal in equal measure.

 

“I was attracted to the pearl because it is so classic and refined,” says Rocha, adding that she “wanted to challenge that by making it into something playful and current, through placement and embellishment”. Her muse? The former Irish President, Mary Robinson. “I was standing behind her in Dublin airport and she was wearing pearls over a polo neck, which was very cool,” she says.

Pearls are also something of a signature for the shoemaker Nicholas Kirkwood, who places them around platform soles, or as oversized orbs suspended on the underside or backs of the heels, lending them a surreal quality. Pearls and surrealism have always gone hand in hand; Salvador Dalí was fascinated by Vermeer’s Woman With A Pearl Necklace and referred to the pearl as “the very ghost of the skull”. Enter the modern surrealist Delfina Delettrez, whose pearl rings and ear-cuffs with floating or “phantom” settings are a hit. This season, too, Meadham Kirchhoff collaborated with bespoke spectacle-maker Tom Davies on limited-edition sunglasses, their seemingly melting frames dripping with rare pearls.

There are also prints of pearls thanks to Opening Ceremony, a brand which is launching a capsule range inspired by the artist René Magritte. Star of the show?  A sartorial reproduction of his famous work, Scheherazade, its eerie disembodied features surrounded by a sea of pearls.

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