Jewellery on the catwalks has been as genderless as the fashion recently — and just as bold.
Consider the huge Gucci medallions and bulls’ head necklaces that Alessandro Michele styled over everything from unisex sweatshirts to floaty white dresses in his spring 2018 collection this fall, as well as the orange and pink beads that male models wore with blazers and with shorts (and, sometimes, with both together).
At the season’s menswear shows, Dior Homme’s sharp suits were teamed with ribbon bracelets, skull and dice brooches and more.
“Women are wearing more masculine things and men are more comfortable in wearing jewellery,” said Lorenz Bäumer, the Parisian jeweller who riffed on the surfing lifestyle to create a diamond surfboard pendant in a neutral pearl grey.
Jelena Behrend, the Serbian-born designer who hammers her unisex pieces by hand in her atelier on the Lower East Side of New York City, said that jewellery can change attire and attitude as well as gender. “A simple tee and black jeans is pretty basic,” she said, “but with one statement earring or necklace, a boy can look current, or with an oversized, chunky bracelet and statement pinkie ring, a girl has a boy look.”
An assortment of rings at the New York studio of jewellery designer Jelena Behrend.
Tastes in colour, material and design also are merging, designers say. Women are opting for more texture and matte finishes while men increasingly prefer sparkle and high polish, said Behrend, whose link chains and diamond earrings are stocked by Browns, the London luxury boutique. (And while the pieces were intended to be sold as women’s jewellery, an email from the store said that men have been buying them, too.)
The London jeweller Sabine Roemer recently toned down a feminine rose gold ring by adding black diamonds for a male client and customised a round tanzanite ring for a woman “so the design is softer than sharp male lines,” she said.
The gender blurring has prompted some designers to think again. Luz Camino, who works in Madrid, said she has been re-evaluating her design process because men are wearing her plique-à-jour enamel brooches of flowers or shooting stars. “As I am drawing something,” she said, “if it isn’t feminine I will now think maybe this will be nice for a man too, so I will follow the idea through instead of stopping it as I have done previously.”
For Baumer, technology has been key. “Three-D printing allows open volumes you can’t do in any other way,” he said, “and creates the most interesting volume shapes as it allows me to see the inside of the ring even before we make it.” He was referring to his Mikado rings, which combine, he said, masculine angles with feminine open spaces.
Yet the trend presents challenges. “Merchandising is a nightmare,” the London jeweller Stephen Webster said of his first unisex collection, Thames by Stephen Webster, which he introduced in September in collaboration with Blondey McCoy, a 20-year-old skateboarder and model.
The 15-piece collection, aimed at 20-somethings, included razor blade motifs and a cutout that could be a star but also could be a cross.
“We have to carry more sizes particularly for rings and more stock as you can’t make a genderless collection geared to one gender,” Webster said. “I also had to focus more on what I put out there, reducing the number of pieces in the collection and doing a lot more upfront thinking about design as well as financial implications.” (Normally, the designer said, he does 25-piece collections, of which about 10 pieces become core designs.)
It also took some changes in retailing, Webster said. In addition to being sold online and at his own boutiques, the Thames collection is available at Palace, the skate streetwear store in London and New York, as “streetwear is genderless and what is disrupting fashion at the moment so customers know they are going in somewhere that is not gender specific.”
A spider brooch with abalone pearl by Lorenz Bäumer.
As in fashion, genderless jewellery is not new. Seashell beads were worn by both cave men and cave women, Renaissance portraits show aristocrats of both genders wearing jewellery to communicate their status and power and, in India, the maharajahs’ jewellery usually outshone that of the maharanis.
The current and future spending power of millennials is also behind the change in designers’ thinking.
Along with reports showing that young buyers are affecting luxury sales, the Accelerating Acceptance report issued in March by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation shows that more young Americans are rejecting traditional gender labels, with 20 percent of the 18- to 34-year-olds questioned in the 2016 study identifying themselves as socially fluid, queer, bisexual or pansexual and 12 percent identifying as transgender or gender nonconforming.
The jewellery universe’s high-end brands also are taking notice.
At Bulgari, Lucia Silvestri, the company’s creative director, said the geometric B.Zero1 ring has sold across gender lines.
In the spring, Chopard plans to add larger and heavier pieces in titanium and more brushed finishes to its Ice Cube collection from the 1990s to offer a wider choice to an under-40 buyer “who might not have the money yet for high jewellery — but a lot do and will do in the future,” said Caroline Scheufele, the company’s artistic director and co-president.
And Giampiero Bodino, the Milan-based jeweller, is designing his first genderless collection for presentation next fall.
But Wallace Chan, the Hong Kong master jeweller whose recent pieces have reflected his childhood fascination with butterflies, said technological advances like 3-D printing and artificial intelligence soon will put the control in the wearers’ hands: “It won’t be the jewellery designer who designs what you wear in seven or eight years’ time but the person themselves.”
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