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Jewellery Nestling in New Real Estate on the Body

Luxury body jewellery is piquing the interest of consumers and global retailers alike.
Givenchy Autumn/Winter 2015 by Riccardo Tisci | Source: Courtesy
  • Alice Carleton

LONDON, United Kingdom — In recent seasons, the jewellery shown on fashion runways, from Givenchy, to Calvin Klein, has moved far beyond ears, fingers, wrists and necks to nestle in new real estate on the body.

Of course, it's not the first time designers have offered high-end takes on body jewellery, a category that calls to mind punk and bohemian subcultures. For more than a decade, jeweller Shaun Leane collaborated with Alexander McQueen on provocative show pieces including spine corsets and crown of thorn headpieces. But today's outré bijoux are resonating commercially like never before at a number of global fashion retailers.

"The first pieces we bought within this trend were the Givenchy," says buying director Natalie Kingham of the septum rings from Riccardo Tisci's Autumn/Winter 2015 show. "We saw a strong response with a sell-out success."

These dramatic teardrop faux-piercings that hang over the lips signalled a shift — experimental runway jewellery no longer only functions as show pieces, but also performs on the shop floor. “With so much more visibility of show looks and coverage on social media, the customer is increasingly educated and aware, which has created more desire for the pieces shown on the runway,” Kingham explains. “Our customer is willing to take more risks.”

As with ready-to-wear, not all of the jewellery shown on the catwalk goes into production. The glue-on eyebrow rings at Rodarte's Spring/Summer 2015 show and the "profile moulds" (a slender piece of silver wire that lays over the wearer's parting, down the face and tucks under the chin) at Dion Lee's Spring/Summer 2016 show both hit the cutting room floor. However, Sarah & Sebastian, the Sydney jewellery label behind the "profile moulds", receives two to three bespoke orders per week for smaller 14 karat gold facial pieces that outline the mouth and rest on the lip, which retail for $545. "The digital world allows, if not encourages, individuals to stand out from the crowd," co-designer Sarah Gittoes says. "It's no longer enough to play it safe when it comes to personal style."

The heightened demand for body jewellery on the runway is a boon for jewellery brands working in the space. "I knew I had succeeded when Louis Vuitton had body chains on their runway last year," says Jacquie Aiche, a Los Angeles-based designer whose stockists include Saks Fifth Avenue and, referring to the delicate chains peaking out from V-neck dresses at Nicolas Ghesquière's Resort 2015 show at the Place du Palais in Monaco. The bohemian jeweller, who started selling diamond pave body chains (priced from $1,725 to $12,750) out of her Beverly Hills garage eight years ago, saw unit sales in the five figures and a nearly 100 percent increase in units sold in 2015.

At Net-a-Porter, which increased its range of fine jewellery styles by 27 percent in 2015, and saw fine jewellery sales climb by 21 percent the same year, fine jewellery buyer Sophie Quy has encouraged brands to add more body jewellery to their offerings. “I definitely spotted an opportunity after Givenchy, so I worked with some of our other brands to make clip-on nose rings,” she says. Net-a-Porter currently sells currently five different styles of septum ring from Givenchy, Ileana Makri, and Rosantica, ranging in price from $48 to $850. “We see our customers really wanting to buy into this trend — from the nose ring, which is a bit more of a statement, to the body chains and anklets which are easier to wear,” Quy adds, pointing to Alexander McQueen’s sold-out multi-strand crystal and pearl embellished body harnesses.

Maria Tash, who opened her first piercing parlour on New York’s St. Mark’s Place in 1993, has observed the evolution of body jewellery. Her own fine jewellery line, Venus by Maria Tash, is stocked by Net-a-Porter and, and includes fine gauge gold and diamond rings for lobe, cartilage, tragus, and nose piercings. “When you say ‘body jewellery’ it conjures up steel rings and bars that are hanging out like antennae,” says Tash. “It's changed now: body jewellery is so pretty and nice you wouldn’t differentiate it from fine jewellery put somewhere else.”

Quy observes that customers “are having fun and getting more ear piercings. We sell Maria Tash’s pieces as singles and have seen an incredible response. More is definitely more here!” And uptown, Bergdorf Goodman hosted a piercing event with the jewellery line Sydney Evan earlier this month. “We also are seeing more women re-piercing and piercing secondary or tertiary holes for earrings,” reports Elizabeth von der Goltz, Bergdorf’s senior vice president and general merchandise manager of fine apparel, designer sportswear, contemporary, jewellery and beauty.

While more unusually-placed body adornments may appeal to a fashion-savvy clientele, department stores are also reporting a rise in demand for non-traditional jewellery that occupies conventional real estate — the ear. Barneys New York’s range includes an $800 18 karat white gold and diamond pave nose clip by New York-based Brazilian jeweller Ana Khouri, among a range of 31 designs including ear cuffs that loop over the cartilage and climber earrings that appear to crawl up the ear. “We’ve seen over a 50 percent increase in sales from last year in [non-traditional jewellery] from designers like Repossi and Ana Khouri,” says Jennifer Sunwoo, Barneys’ senior vice president of womenswear. “Unique pieces, such as the broad offering of non-traditional jewellery for the ear, allow for stronger statements, even for those with the most basic piercings.”

According to Lianna Mann, vice president of womenswear, home and jewellery at Lane Crawford, the "edgy trend" begun by Givenchy has trickled down to more "everyday styling with body jewellery among our customers." Ear cuffs from Lynn Ban, Repossi and Delfina Delettrez have been the best sellers at the Hong Kong-based retailer, she says.

"I used to observe how my aunt wore her engagement ring on a little gold chain attached to her neck," says contemporary jeweller Delfina Delettrez, a fourth-generation member of the Fendi family. "I try to figure out how a body can hide a mechanism, how a jewel can stick on the body." At Paris Couture Week last July, she debuted a range of 18 karat gold and diamond engagement septum rings, priced from €2,000 to €8,000 and sold exclusively at her flagship on London’s Mount Street. It’s undoubtedly a niche item — in the last six months she has sold fewer than 10 units. In 2015 the label doubled its points of sale to 70 doors and increased sales by over 50 percent to €2.5 million, with engagement jewellery — including prosthetic-like full-finger “HANDroid” pieces that wrap the finger in two, four, or six diamonds — accounting for 20 percent of the business.

Delettrez's next focus is something more traditional: brooches. An unexpected trend from the Autumn/Winter runways, has since bought pieces from Lanvin, Oscar de la Renta and Loewe, while Net-a-Porter has taken on Gucci, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana, Christopher Kane, and Alexander McQueen brooches. Unlike piercings, brooches are a more malleable piece that can occupy any real estate on the body. "It's the itinerant sort of jewel with infinite possibilities," says Delettrez.

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