…no longer like chalk and cheese
When Pharrell Williams wore pearls and not just a strand, but, as Coco Chanel preferred, “ropes and ropes” of them, many guys here thought him to be an advanced specimen of American culture. Mr Williams, a known heterosexual fashionista and a regular Chanel jacket wearer too, has not taken the Harry Styles route and worn a dress, but his penchant for jewellery is far more ardent than an average woman’s. Lest this becomes a binary gender issue, we should point out that the wearing of multi-strands of necklaces is not unique to Mr Williams. Mr Styles wears them too. It was prevalent among male hip-hop stars, going back to the ’70s, when rap was born, when Kurtis Blow, considered the first commercially successful rapper to have a record deal with a major label, wore strands of gold chains on the cover of his 1980 debut eponymous album. Since then, almost all hip-hop stars, from LL Cool J to Notorious B.I.G to Jay Z, have put multiple necklaces on their necks. But strands of pearls were slow to catch on.
And when they did, we didn’t think it’d be this fast. Here, social media posts of society chaps wearing a strand of pearls at various gatherings in the past few months were not signal enough of an impending trend since they are fashion types (“guru” for one of them, we were corrected), forward enough to not suggest anything extraordinary. But on one blistering day, on a barely-cool west-bound MRT train of the East-West line, we spotted a young fellow—not particularly spiffy—with a strand of white pearls set against the black crew-neck T-shirt he was wearing. The neatness of the row of pearls was broken by the colour-matched white cable of his earphones. He was not attired to augment the inherent elegance of the pearls. If not for the pearls, you wouldn’t give him a look. Two weeks later, a similar get-up was seen on a chap on an escalator in Bugis+. The pearls were, again, at odds with the fellow’s oversized Palace tee and Carhartt bum bag. But he seemed unconcerned with the jewellery and the skate aesthetic being as compatible as meat in a vegetarian meal.
Perhaps that’s the whole point of pearls these days: to not fit in. Surely they can be styled to bear street cred, just as much as they can be part of any guy’s tailored best. Just look at the pearl collection of Comme des Garçons, conceived with the 128-year-old Japanese house of Mikimoto (above) since last season. It could be discerned that Rei Kawakubo has introduced something punk and subversive into otherwise very conventional strands of pearls. CDG does not indicate which gender the jewellery is targeted at, but in the joint marketing campaigns by the two brands, male models wore the pearls, with one fellow sporting a double-strand over a tie and under a suit jacket with peaked lapels. The aesthetic base is still elegant, but the saltwater akoya pearls seemed to turn away from the conventional, like wildly patterned socks under pin-striped trouser legs. CDG, as we know, doesn’t really do anything vanilla. With a ‘classic’ material such as pearls, they’d want to introduce a counterpoint to the poshness. So there are the sterling silver hardware, such as chains (which are rather Virgil Abloh, even Yoon Ahn, and have been similarly employed at Maison Margiela), studs, and safety pins, all used as decorative trims, like in CDG’s RTW, but presently looking less fierce than they had been.
The circular pearl strand we have been seeing guys now wear could, therefore, be influenced by CDG. They are not long strands as in Pharrell Williams’s Chanel nor are they those made more masculine with black Tahitian pearls. These small off-white spheres circle the neck in a rather delicate fashion, like ruffs, but not quite twee as the latter. It’s been hard to design and market pearls to men. In 2002, Australian Olympic swimming star Ian Thorpe collaborated with compatriot brand Autore to create a high-profile line of neck and wrist wear featuring South Sea pearls—mostly just one bead apiece—for both men and women. Single pearl worn like a pendant might perhaps have been more acceptable back then, when David Beckham was known to be partial to one, or when Pierce Brosnan wore a solo bead on the cover of Italian Vanity Fair in 2005. It isn’t certain how Mr Thorpe’s pearls panned out, but some observers thought the line was premature. Few people now remember Mr Thorpe’s association with pearl jewellery. The line was eventually discontinued a few years later. Even the Olympian would not have guessed that men will graduated from one pearl to a whole strand.
Photo: (top) Zhao Xiangji and (product) Comme des Garçons