“A woman needs strings and strings of pearls,” said Coco Chanel. This statement sums up the power of that “pearly concretion, generally greyish-white in colour, with brilliant reflections and more or less spheroidal in shape, which usually forms inside the shells of various molluscs, especially mother-of-pearl”, as defined by the RAE, which has fascinated and continues to fascinate civilizations from every corner of the globe.
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But what is its true origin? What was your influence on the fashion world? How has it evolved over time? We analyze with Ana Llorente, UDIT fashion professorthe importance of the pearl in our history.
“ pearls were attractive, first because, unlike gemstones mined from the earth, it is produced by a living organism. In fact, its very existence is a phenomenon of nature that has generated many legends about its origin and power in different cultures and moments in history.
Greek mythology associated them with the tears of the goddess Venus. In China, it was said to have formed from dewdrops that were swallowed by oysters as they fell into the sea. At certain points in the Middle Ages, they had an apotropaic power for armies in Europe, or were similarly bound for purity and longevity.
On the other hand, some types of pearls, such as teardrop-shaped ones, were desired not only for their beauty, but also for their beauty for a long time they were associated with the exotic, because they came from distant places. All this surrounded them with poetry. On this level, it does not seem accidental to me that in a portrait that Johannes Vermeer painted in 1665 and which we know as Pearl girlthis earring becomes a focal point and a mysterious illusion in depth, because it lacks the outline and the hook to hang on the girl’s ear,” the expert explains.
The appearance of pearls in the fashion world is therefore not new. “If we go back in time, we know that in the Longshan culture of China, just before the first Xia dynasty, pearls They were used as ornaments among the privileged classes. From there, both in the East and the West, they have been worshiped for millennia.
But we can conclude that it is the court dress of 16th-century Europe that makes it a trend, so much so that in the history of jewelry this age is characterized as age of pearls. It was a very active period for this sector.
For example, some artists such as Hans Holbein the Younger designed necklaces, pendants or headdresses for the Tudors, which are later represented in court portraits. These images are a testimony to how the pearl, apart from precious stones, stood out among rich coatings and accessories.
This is also the moment when the rarity of the Pilgrim’s Pearl was discovered in the waters of Panama, acquired by Felipe II in 1597, and which we know was destined to be in the hands of Elizabeth Taylor when Richard Burton acquired it in 1597. 1969 for $37,000.
But if we talk about the history of modern fashion, an interesting moment for pearls lives in the first third of the 20th century. Interestingly, artificial pearls take center stage with whom a seamstress such as Paul Poiret dressed some of her evening gowns. Long pearl necklaces with several strands, together with earrings in the same material, will be the jewel of the 20s. flip-flops. Even so, they were mostly counterfeits, due to the difficulty of obtaining cultured pearls, as a century earlier, in the 19th century, the demand for pearl jewelry had become so great that oyster supplies began to dwindle.
It is in the 1920s that we also meet Gabrielle Chanel who was an ambassador for what was her favorite accessory, to the point of turning a pearl necklace into an icon of elegance. Already in the fifties pearls became cheaper, and with them they became an everyday part of the outfit of the most bourgeois woman.
This meant that around the 1970s and 1980s, pearls, especially in earrings and necklaces, were seen as an accessory. preppy and very classic, but recently, as we know, from the so-called pearl code They went for a more urban look, ordinary and even avant-garde,” adds the expert.
This is without a doubt the universal jewel of the royal world. They were and still are chosen for official ceremonies, and especially for funerals, being a decoration refined, discreet and respectful.
Carolina de Monica, Queen Isabel II, Lady Di, Queen Letizia, Máxima of the Netherlands… these are just some of the rulers who bet or bet on them.
“There are several reasons that for me also connect to the question of why they have aroused so much fascination. But to simplify: pearls were very expensive due to the difficulties of obtaining them over the centuries.
I refer to what constitutes a dangerous job and a mesmerizing tradition even today in places like the Arabian Peninsula: the so-called “pearl fishers” to whom the composer Georges Bizet, unsurprisingly, dedicated his first masterpiece.
It should be taken into account that a ton of oysters can yield only three or four quality pearls. There were also pearls from freshwater and shallow molluscs. These were easier to lift, but these pearl beds they were often reserved for royalty.
The thing is, only a few could get them. Something similar to what happened to the famous purple discovered by the Phoenicians. In addition, already in the 1st century BC. C., Julius Caesar passed a law restricting the use of pearls to the ruling classes only. From then on, they formed part of the exhibition rights, the purpose of which was to preserve their exclusive use for the royal family and the nobility. This made them the heroes of iconic jewels, it just so happens with hanging pearls “Il Lupo” by Ludovico el Moro, Duke of Milan.
It should also be understood that having a pearl represented geopolitical and colonial power of European courts. No wonder Spain organized expeditions to Central and South America to supply the court with pearls. Let’s not forget that the Pilgrim’s Pearl was found in the waters of Panama. And the British did the same in India and Australia.”
A pearl for designers
In recent years, the pearl has acquired a new symbolism, thanks in part to digitization and changes related to new fashion trends. “Growth pearl core is relatively recent.
As of 2017, the phenomenon has (partially) abandoned its association with style preppyor just a dusted keepsake from grandma’s jewelry box and add a certain gloss and secular poetics for street styles in garment linings or handbags, eyewear appliqués or conservative necklaces and earrings. The goal is to market them to a wider demographic and to that end, the pearl has been set apart from the usual styling ecosystem.
Even men are using them again, as shown by Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes and Pharrel Williams, breaking with their general attachment to which the pearl was condemned in the 19th century when only women used it. In fact pearl code This is a recent fashion key no gender.
However, when translated into everyday or street style, playing with contrast (even in the case of formal wear), the pearl does not give up its timeless, exclusive and classic essence.
I think Simon Rocha is a good example of how he holds these concepts. From the spring/summer 2020 collection to newer ones, such as the spring/summer 2023 collection, she will not avoid displaying pearls in accessories, as well as iridescent fabrics in her stylizations.
But for me, the two key things are Marc Jacobs and Harry Styles. As we remember, the latter appeared at the MET Gala 2019, dedicated to Camp, in the style of Gucci, combining a transparent blouse with a bow, high-heeled shoes and a single earring. with a hanging pearl which, on the other hand, seems to be a nod to Vermeer’s work.
The jewel is again an interesting focal point, as in the picture. Our eyes are drawn to it, partly because the pearl has a traditional and conservative aura. If we deprive it of this essence, the appearance will not have the same meaning. The same happened with the jacket, which was joined by a violet sweater and a Gucci shirt with a goofy or low collar. ugly shoes de Marni and a pearl necklace.
But Marc Jacobs was the first to deal with these stylistic maneuvers. In fact, it’s about emphasizing the timeless nature of the iconic pearl necklace, both in a perfect combination with classic sweaters and button-up shirts, as well as in more risky combinations – says the expert.
in pop culture
The impact and power of the pearl are also felt thanks to its ubiquity in audiovisual works. We remember her, both elegant and sweet, from movies and mythical series.
IN Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Skylar Dandridge, played by Drew Barrymore, wears an ornate pearl necklace in keeping with her personality. Cher in her spectacular role as a lady Tea with Mussolini (1999), also wears a string of pearls around her neck, like Barbara Stanwyck, w thorny bird (1977) and of course Audrey Hepburn, w Breakfast with diamonds (1961).
Around Sarah Jessica Parker’s neck sex in new york and on the head like a diadem Leighton Meester wr gossip Girl, pearls also play a complementary role preppy, denoting effortlessly refined aesthetics. The pearl shines with its own light and is perhaps its greatest strength.