If you thought it was time for great-granny’s necklaces to be repurposed into something more modern, think again. Of the 99 looks in the stupendously beautiful Dior pre-fall collection that Maria Grazia Chiuri showed in Mumbai in March, all were accessorised with pearls. Not dinky little seeds, nor baroque gobs. No avant-garde settings. Pearls don’t need messing with to seem relevant, Chiuri points out. ‘They’re a symbol of a new type of feminism. A contradictory use of a stereotype. Men also love pearl necklaces.’
Chiuri took eight- and three-strand pearl necklaces – as classic as anything a dowager might wear – binding the strands together with glass and metal rods, which makes them all the more striking. These she paired with everything from white ribbed vests to bead-encrusted shifts, cotton blouses to silk shirts and long, fluid evening gowns.
It all looked remarkably modern. The lucent creaminess of pearls never gets tired. And there’s something about the way those chokers made the models hold their heads high, juxtaposed with the luxe fabrics, drapey cuts and spicy colours, that seemed so fresh.
Chiuri has always been passionate about pearls, she says – in her own wardrobe as well as for her work. With her dramatic sweeps of brown-black shadow around her dark eyes and her bold peroxide bob, Chiuri has a way of mixing pearls with her slightly punk attitude (those knuckle-duster rings) and tomboy uniform.
‘I love all pearls, including grey and baroque ones,’ she says. ‘I’ve worn all sorts of pearl necklaces. Nowadays, I always wear two rings: one with a white pearl and one with a grey pearl.’ She wore pearls at her wedding too, and says, ‘I can picture my mother with the pearl choker she wore to round off any outfit, from morning to night.’
It’s interesting how often there’s a sentimental memory attached to pearls. Maybe that’s because so many women over the centuries have worn them. The most expensive pearls sold at auction were part of a necklace that belonged to Marie Antoinette, snapped up for $36.8 million in 2018 at Sotheby’s, but small cultured-pearl earrings are highly affordable – the ideal christening or confirmation present. Perhaps that’s why they’ve sometimes seemed less sexy than diamonds.
Christian Dior adored pearls, and his first jewellery collections in the late 1940s were a delicate riposte to the clunkier baroque pieces then popular. Six decades on, Raf Simons had one of his first hits with the Tribales pearl earrings when he was creative director for Dior. It is a design Chiuri continues to play with.
But these new pearls are something else: lush, unashamedly large, almost glowing, they held their own in a country famous for its rubies and emeralds. Then again, pearls are part of India’s style heritage. Researching this collection, Chiuri says she came across images of women such as the Maharani of Indore that got her thinking about how pearls work for all occasions. From there came chokers ‘that would elevate any outfit with that lustrous and timeless beauty’. They’re not just for best, she stresses. ‘Pearls are living things. They need to be worn next to the skin as much as possible.’ I’m in.