Coco Chanel Makes Costume Jewelry Chic
It was the early 1920s, and Coco Chanel had already captivated the fashion world with radical, sporty silhouettes that freed women’s physical form. And, of course, with the little black dress, or petit robe noir. Eager to astound her loyal followers once again, Mademoiselle Chanel made opulent costume jewels her next endeavor. By combining faux and precious materials in an unprecedented way, Chanel costume jewelry, or bijouterie, would forever alter the course of fashion history. The inheritor of Coco Chanel’s legacy seemed an impossible role to fill, that is, until Karl Lagerfeld stepped in.
Instead of abandoning her legacy for his own, Karl Lagerfeld considered himself the “channeler” of Coco. Embracing the iconic motifs of Chanel jewelry – from dripping pearls ropes to the Maltese cross – Karl Lagerfeld modernized the house’s designs, while ensuring that they remained recognizably Chanel. Imbued with a modern spirit, Lagerfeld’s earliest jewelry designs would remain his most iconic from the 1980s and 90s.
Vintage Chanel Earrings: Coveted For Contrast And Excess
Chanel costume earrings are best recognized for the visual interest created by their contrast and excess, which fit right in with the opulent designs of the 1980s and 90s. Often accompanied by a matching ring or cuff bracelet, Chanel earrings are the ideal finishing touch to any outfit. Though earrings started to become more of a focus of Chanel costume jewelry collections in the 1990s, interestingly, it wasn’t until the 2000s that the brand introduced pierced earring designs. Today, Lagerfeld’s Baroque-inspired clip-ons are coveted by the most dedicated vintage hunters.
Vintage Chanel Cuff: Lagerfeld's Reinvented Staple
From 1933 onwards, Chanel had a close yet largely undocumented friendship with Duke Fulco di Verdura. A Sicilian aristocrat and jet-setting playboy, Verdura was an unlikely partner for self-made businesswoman, Coco Chanel. Evidently, out of the unexpected came revolution, as Verdura would help shape the future of Chanel jewelry. With a shared passion for Baroque and organic, unbridled shapes, Verdura and Chanel disregarded the classic criteria of sophisticated taste. As such, it was Verdura who designed the first silver cuff bracelet for Chanel, decorating it with a Maltese cross made of multi-colored, semi-precious stones, and mounted on white enamel. A thoughtful reimagination of classic garments, this Chanel bracelet was designed to replace a traditional shirt cuff. Coco Chanel personally adored these bracelets and would wear them constantly, notably stacking multiple mismatched cuffs on her wrists. Of all the Chanel bracelets ever crafted, the cuff is an undeniable icon that Lagerfeld made a reinvented staple of his earliest collections.
Vintage Chanel Necklace: Coco's Most Prized Possession
There is no piece of jewelry more directly tied to the image of Coco Chanel than the opulent layering of pearl ropes. The perfect accent to her minimalist style, Coco always sported pearls, even for the most casual of occasions. As the “channeler” of Coco, Karl Lagerfeld looked to past designs for inspiration, and embracing Chanel’s most iconic motifs – from pearls to interlocking CCs – was how he did it. In his decadent necklace designs from the 1980s, Lagerfeld not only reintroduced the layering of pearls, but used accents of Gripoix glass to make them truly stand out.
Vintage Chanel Brooch: Gripoix Glass
When Coco Chanel first approached Gripoix, the French design house, she was looking for reproductions of Byzantine jewelry. “Let everyone think that this jewelry is not new, but found somewhere on an excavation site nearby Rue Camborne,” Chanel requested. A loyal customer for decades, Chanel formed a special relationship with Suzanne Gripoix. As a result, Gripoix developed a novel, irregular glass pearl just for Chanel, dubbing it Gripoix Glass. This unique creation would quickly be cemented as a brand signature, and the brooch featured was worn by supermodel Shalom Harlow in a Chanel 1995 ad campaign. Strikingly unique, Lagerfeld playfully modernized this glass design with the iconic Chanel chain. Whether pinned to the lapel of a tweed jacket or on your 2.55 Flap Bag, the Chanel brooch is an accessory essential, tastefully elevating any fashionable ensemble.