Curator's Corner, 2/14/2016
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Couture Monday: Chanel's pearly whites (and pinks)

This highlighter was a sweet little surprise from Chanel.  I'm not sure why they chose to release it now, as a pearl jewelry collection was introduced in 2014, but it's a delightful nod to Coco Chanel's popularization of long, dangling strands of faux pearls as well as their use in Chanel's contemporary fashion.

Chanel Perles et Fantasies highlighter

Chanel Perles et Fantasies highlighter

The embossing on the box was a nice detail.

Chanel Perles et Fantasies highlighter

While she was not the first to make use of costume jewelry in her collections, Coco Chanel introduced the notion of mixing them with one or two real pieces. "A woman should mix fake and real.  To ask a woman to wear real jewelry only is like asking her to cover herself with real flowers instead of flowery silk prints.  She'd look faded in a few hours. I love fakes because I find such jewelry provocative, and I find it disgraceful to walk around with millions around your neck just because you're rich. The point of jewelry isn't to make a woman look rich but to adorn her; not the same thing."  Coco's idea of piling on faux jewelry alongside real gems democratized the practice of wearing jewelry, as the combination of genuine and fake allowed women to perfectly accessorize their outfits at a more affordable price.  And her costume jewelry of choice? Long strands of oversized fake pearls, sometimes mixed with chains and beads.

Coco Chanel(images from and

Coco Chanel, 1937
(image from

These strands have been an integral part of Chanel style for many years, but the couture house is constantly reinventing them and using pearls in new and innovative ways. Today I thought I'd highlight some my personal favorites from the past 10 years.

Pearls were used as hair accessories, either fairly simple (shown here at the fall 2006 couture show)...

Chanel fall 2006 couture hair

...or elaborate, as at the pre-fall 2009 show.

Chanel pre-fall 2009

Pearls can also be delicate belts, shoe decorations or even a small purse.

Chanel resort 2013, spring 2010 and pre-fall 2015

Another thing I've noticed is how Chanel plays with proportions of pearls.  Take, for example, the enormous pearls that adorned the necks and wrists of the models while also dotting the clothes themselves for the spring 2013 ready-to-wear collection, or as veritable boulders at the spring 2014 ready-to-wear show.

Chanel spring 2013 ready-to-wear

Chanel spring 2013 ready-to-wear

Chanel spring 2014 ready to wear

In sharp contrast to the relatively tidy, orderly application of pearls in the above collections, pre-fall 2012 was all about haphazardly heaping them on in multiple places - of course as necklaces and bracelets but also as belts and and sewn onto jackets.  Mixed with intricate embroidery, lamé, metalwork and gemstones, pearls lent an incredibly luxe yet sophisticated feel to the collection.  Indeed, Karl Lagerfeld wanted a collection reminiscent of traditional Indian royalty that also acknowledged India's modernity, and the use of Chanel's signature pearl strands combined with other jewels was essential in achieving this.

Chanel pre-fall 2012

Chanel pre-fall 2012
I saved my 2 favorites for last: the fall 2010 couture collection and the stunning spring 2012 ready-to-wear show.

Chanel fall 2010 couture

I really only care for pearls when they're edgy and/or disheveled, so obviously I'd kill to have the bracelet below.

Chanel fall 2010 couture

You might remember how inspired I was by the ethereal, under-the-sea vibe of these pieces, not to mention the mermaid-esque beauty look.

Chanel spring 2012 ready-to-wear

Chanel spring 2012 ready-to-wear

Chanel spring 2012 ready-to-wear(images from

Overall, I liked this palette as it's a simple representation of a rather groundbreaking and recognizable aspect of Chanel's aesthetic.  Would I have liked to see a little more detail in the pearls?  Perhaps, but sometimes with depictions of couture house icons, a more straightforward design is best.

What do you think?  And are you a pearl wearer?  As I said above, I don't like a neat little line of pearls - I need to have them messily mixed with spikes, studs, etc. to toughen them up.

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