Guys And Pearls

…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

Must Fashion Use Religious Iconography To Be Cool?

Or is it, as usual, a lapse in the simple process called thought?

First it was Rihanna and now it’s Supreme. The skate brand that apparently can do no wrong has taken upon themselves to use the image of one of Thailand’s most revered monks on the back a camouflaged shirt, described in their website as ‘Blessings Ripstop Shirt’ (above). The icon is of the monk Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon, a well-loved figure, who died in 2015, aged 91. According to media reports, Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism, as well as Wat Ban Rai, the famed Nakhon Ratchasima temple with an elephant-head facade, in which the revered monk was based, asserted that Supreme made no contact with either regarding the use of the image, as well as the sacred text around it. Supreme, as it appeared, made no attempt to be respectful.

It isn’t clear how the use of clearly religious figures and scripts enhances Supreme’s design potency. Their designers—too indolent to research or understand—probably found the effect of the visuals exotic. But for the many in Thailand and outside, who hold the late monk in deep reverence, what Supreme has done is akin to sacrilege. Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon, even in death, is deeply venerated and is almost synonymous with Wat Ban Rai, where there is a museum dedicated to his life and teachings. While his image has been used for charitable purposes, for example, it is unthinkable in Thailand to employ it, even stylised, in such a commercial manner, in particular against a camouflage background, one associated with war. Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon is not Che Guevara.

Is nothing off-limits? Apparently not.

Just days earlier, Rihanna caused an uproar among the Hindu communities of the world when she posted on her Instagram page a photo (so inappropriate, we wouldn’t run it here) of herself totally topless, except for a folded left arm, placed to offer a modicum of modesty, and a host of jewellery to provide fashion interest, among them a pendant of the Hindu god Lord Ganesha. This sat provocatively on her belly button, under a length of tattoo that underscores her breasts. The photo appeared barely a week after reports of Rihanna jointly “pausing” her Fenty fashion line with LVMH. To generate more publicity? It seems that because the torso tattoo is of the Egyptian god Isis (inked, as reported, to honour the singer-in-haitus’s grandmother), Riri thought it was okay to go with Lord Ganesha, totally ignoring the fact that for the 1.2 billion Hindus in the world, he is highly venerable. Or has veneration and respect totally lost their meaning?

Apparently yes.

Photo: supremenewyork.com

Time To Wear A Merlion

For the month of National Day, you need not sport only two specific colours to show your patriotic self

 

Pandora Merlions Aug 2020

Apart from the colours red and white, what else can you wear to salute the nation? Pandora has a charming answer: the Merlion.

Made of sterling silver, the charm looks similar to how the Merlion is commonly depicted, not the the cartoon version—which may enhance its appeal. For eyes, they are set with clear, brilliant-cut cubic zirconia, and for the mane and fish scales of the body, they are shaped with amazing detail, more so for something this small.

National Day has, for years, meant the donning of clothing in red and white. These are, frankly, rather difficult colours to wear well in one outfit. Perhaps something more iconic is a better pick, and, on our island of few beastly legends, what is better than this mythical creature?

Pandora Merlion charm, SGD55, is available at Pandora stores. Product photo: Pandora

Clash Or Crush?

As subversive as the name of these rings may sound, Cartier’s and Chanel’s anti-pretty bands are, in fact, graceful and totally wearable

 

Clash or Crush

By Mao Shan Wang

Even for those who are not big on jewellery, rings have a special appeal. They’re usually discreet and, if not encrusted with gemstones, possibly wallet friendly. In a jewellery store, I tend to look at rings more often than I would other bigger, attention-grabbing pieces of bijoux. I avoid bracelets and bangles since my grandmother, blessed her soul, often told me how thieves would sever my wrists to strip me of whatever sparklies I might have on. It’s the same with necklaces, apparently—except decapitation, I’m sure you’ll agree, has a more frightening and gruesome ring—pun definitely not intended.

If you are in the market for a ring that is not a wedding band or not dependent on the generosity or wealth of a suitor, two with names that rhyme can be considered: Cartier’s Clash de Cartier and Chanel’s Coco Crash. Whether it’s a Clash (incidentally, also the name of a series of Comme des Garçons perfume) or Crash, both names are rather synonymous, and suggest confrontation with the conventional. Yet, to me, both are designed to appeal to those with a weakness for fine things, rather than tug at your predilection for those that tend to divide opinions. They hark back to symbolisms and visual signatures of the past without vitiating the respective brand’s sights that are cast further into the future.

Clash and Crush, both include bracelets and earrings, but, as mentioned earlier, I am drawn to the rings. Clash de Cartier, which recently had a pop-up event to promote the entire jewellery line, offers a more intricate design, which looks like cuff-links held together by studs you’d more likely find on MCM bags than on a piece of jewellery. The studs, which include the pyramidal and the conical, are evocative of a punk tradition, which Cartier admits to arousing, without calling out the name of a certain band from the height of the punk rock era. To me, that earns the Clash extra points, as well as its potential, forgive my imagination, as an defensive/offensive weapon.

Chanel’s Coco Crush ring is based on the house’s signature quilt, first introduced by Coco Chanel herself in 1955. The diamond quilting was initially used for handbags—specifically the 2.55—before it started to appear on wallets, shoes, jackets, watch straps, eyewear, even as imprint on cosmetics, such as compact powders. It has become a symbol of aspiration; one that is over-subscribed, which may be desirable for the many who find pleasure in the immediately identifiable, but, to me, has less of a draw because the obvious brings consumption too close to conspicuous. Or, perhaps it just requires persuasion to put me on a quilt trip.

Cartier Clash de Cartier gold ring, SGD4,250, is available at Cartier. Chanel Coco Crush gold ring, from SGD2,940, is available at Chanel. Product photos: respective brands

Bamboo Strong, Bamboo Square

In the Chinese classic The Twenty-Four Filial Examplars (二十四孝), compiled and written by the Yuan dynasty scholar Guo Jujing (郭居敬), one exemplary act of parental love was from the military-man-turned-magistrate Meng Zong (孟宗), who also made literary appearances in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义). Meng Zong was so filial that no less than five stories described the selfless acts he did for his mother. Among them (and the most famous) was the incident in which he was able to move the heavens so much that he was bestowed a life-saving gift.

Meng Zong’s mother, as the story went, was suddenly seriously ill and had requested for bamboo shoot soup to make her feel better (some Chinese texts told of 笋尖湯 or soup of bamboo shoot tips). Always giving his mother what she wanted, Meng Zong set forth to look for bamboo shoots. There was, however, a problem: it was the middle of winter. Undeterred, Meng Zong continued his search, but it was to no avail. Thinking of his ill mother’s wishes unfulfilled, the fellow cried. But it was no ordinary tears of disappointment. According to one account, “tears began to fall in rivers to the ground”.

Such a watercourse must have been visible to the gods above. In no time, Meng Zong stumbled upon shoots among the bamboos and was able to gather enough to make his mother’s desired soup, which, consequently, made her well. The story not only impressed the neighbours who believed that filial resolve moved heaven to ask earth for a favour, it produced the four-character Chinese idiom 哭竹生笋 or crying to the bamboo sprouts shoots.

c-blu-stacked-ringSilver stacked bamboo ring

Creator of the new jewellery brand Chinoiserie Blu, Way Tay, did not have to cry into bamboos to encourage the shoot of his label to sprout, but it has been a near-tears experience. The birth of C Blu (as the brand is affectionately called among members of the media) is the result of hard work, not miracles—diligence and drudgery in equal measure as Mr Tay is not a jewellery designer by profession.

Until jewellery design came a-calling, he was (and still is) a graphic designer. Mr Tay, a graduate of Massachusetts College of Arts & Design, runs a successful creative and PR agency he co-founded in 2002, yet he gives in to the passion that has consumed him for a long time: making beautiful tactile things. The journey began two years ago, meandered through courses in computer-aided design, metal-smithing, jewellery design, as well as understanding of gem stones, before coming to the naissance of C Blu.

“From young,” Mr Tay said, connecting the dots between the two-dimensionality of his prior work and the three of the present, “I was always making and building with Plasticine. In school, I took sculpting classes and made models that were derived from 2-D drawings during ‘live’ drawing classes.” The recall is made with palpable pride just as the showing of his new jewellery collection is made with considerable satisfaction—the contented father and his commendable brood.

SONY DSCGold-plated silver bamboo square within a square pendant

Launched last Wednesday, C Blu’s debut is a small collection of five pieces in either rhodium- or 18k-gold-plated silver, all inspired by the panda’s favourite food: bamboo. Essentially a grass, the evergreen bamboo has 700 years of history and is sometimes the stuff of myth, which perhaps explains the endless fascination it elicits among designers.

In fact, the bamboo, although a plant of Asian origin, has been copped by European brands, such Gucci, who has made the bamboo handle and the toggle closure identifiable details of its signature bag. So successful has the bamboo been for the brand that bamboo-shaped jewellery— bangles, no less—are in store too.

The bamboo’s linearity and distinct Orientalism are especially well-suited to jewellery design and they show. From the storied American house of Tiffany to the trendy British jeweller Dinny Hall, and in China, from the Hermès-backed Shang Xia to the Richemont-owned Shanghai Tang, bamboo is not to be missed. Mr Tay is well aware of the bamboo’s popularity among designers, noting that it, too, appears in the works of Bali-based John Hardy, but he is unfazed by the possibility that it may be a design cliché. “A designer’s challenge,” he maintained, “is always to innovate from a basic concept and create something unique or unexpected. Otherwise, one can always say everything has been done.”

c-blu-banglesChinoiserie Blu’s distinctive pieces, the square bangles

Furthermore, “the point of difference is in our design and pricing. Our pieces bridge the market and target those looking for high quality, hand-made jewellery, in limited pieces, with a very accessible price range. This is a new luxe available to all,” he enthused. Accessibility, while a necessary starting point for a competitive business and a purse-tight customer base, is, perhaps, secondary to design. C Blu’s refined pieces are striking at first encounter because they speak a relatable modern vernacular, even if the source of inspiration is as old as flowers.

The square is the main shape of the entire collection. Using this rather than the obvious and omnipresent circle could bode well for the brand. The square, to the Chinese, is, interestingly, not quite the same geometrically as it is perceived in the West. In the Chinese language, a four-sided shape is known by the basic word fang (方) and a square is known as zheng fang (正方), while the rectangle is chang fang (长方). The word zheng also means straight and denotes uprightness, both qualities associated with the bamboo.

c-blu-pull-quoteThe pieces, sensuous to the touch, are all individually handmade in Singapore of three-percent palladium-enriched sterling silver (an alloy known for its strength that, for some jewellers, is the same as that of 14k white gold, and, in the case of jewellery, appreciated for its definition and durability) to better mimic the toughness of bamboo, and rhodium-plated to maintain shine and prevent tarnishing.

Despite bamboo and the West’s unceasing love affair, Way Tay is certain his interpretation won’t cut the plant’s inherent aesthetic appeal or, conversely, exoticise its charms. “When luxury brands create products with Chinese motifs,” he laments, “they become cool and are in demand, but when local brands do the same, it takes time for the market to accept. That’s the irony.” Undaunted, he says, “I hope to re-shape the thinking and perception in this area through Chinoiserie Blu.” As with Meng Zong, the gods may just be looking kindly down from above.

Chinoiserie Blu’s debut ‘Bamboo 1 Square’ collection, from USD70, is available at chinoiserieblu.com. Photos: Jim Sim

Offline Emojis, Wearable Smileys

By Mao Shan Wang

SOTD got me into a smiley (and smiling) mood. No sooner had I downloaded the Comme des Garçons Holiday Emoji than I realised I wanted a smiley to wear, not to send via an app installed in my smartphone. I don’t want something on a T-shirt—an easy-to-fade digital print—either, but a physical thing that can swing and be twiddled with, like a pendant.

This matter of keeping the fingers busy is the unfortunate result of a childhood habit of pinching and twisting the corners of my pillow case, a preoccupation left curiously unchecked by my mother. The love of smileys is an on-going affair with adorable circular things delineated in an age when cuteness was a lot simpler, if not innocent. We don’t easily lose the fixations of our growing-up years, do we?

I first saw this Ruifier smiley bracelet on the wrist of a friend’s mother who had just returned from a “conjugal refresh” in London. I thought it looked totally charming on her, especially when she had paired it with a Breguet watch that looked like it was born in the Belle Epoque. For many her age, a jade bangle is the preferred wrist adornment. But as SOTD had pointed out before, women of a certain maturity are susceptible to cute. Smileys really don’t recognise age or marital status just as they know no gender.

Ruifier is marketed as a “fashion and fine jewellery brand”, which I surmise, is for grown-ups with mature taste, but its designs are contrary to anything as staid as those of, say, Tiffany’s (even when Holly Golightly’s favourite jeweller has fine-tuned their image with the help of Grace Coddington). It’s reported that G Dragon is a fan: that should cast an interesting light on the label. There’s no denying that fine, as with luxury, these days has to look accessible even when they may be unattainable. Ruifier’s smiley accessories may perhaps look entry-point to some, but they belie the brand’s high-end quality and points of sale.

Conceived by founder, Central Saint Martin’s alumna Rachel Shaw (a Londoner of Asian descent), Ruifier jewellery seems to extol the belief that a smile is infectious. A happy countenance is, in fact, Ms Shaw’s design constant. Especially alluring are the rings set with either eyes (represented by Xs) or lip (represented by a stretched U), and when the two are worn together or “stacked”, as the brand describes it, they form an expression of catching gladness. I definitely second that emotion.

Ruifier bracelets and other jewellery are available at Club 21 e-store and Pedder on Scotts. Photo: Ruifier

They Come in Pairs

northskull-london-mantz-necklace

A single pendant is a lonely pendant, and a lonely pendant is likely to remain so. As Charlotte Brontë once said, “The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.” So that loneliness does not become the pendant, the British men’s jewellery label Northskull London makes sure theirs come paired.

It might be said of the buying of jewellery for a man that few would consider the undertaking to be as worthy of encouragement as the buying of a PlayStation for him. And since the world still has no “courage to raise sons like daughters” (although daughters are raised more like sons), as Gloria Steinem noted, we are less inclined to bestow upon men the gift of jewellery.

The thing is, even if your friend is no Niffler (Fantastic Beasts and Harry Porter fans know what we mean), pieces for the neck, wrist, and fingers need not be the stuff of feminine charm to make them guy stuff. Military dog tags, although not ornamental by function, are jewellery nonetheless, and some dramatically impact the life and identity of the wearer, among them James Howlett, aka Logan, aka Wolverine.

This Northskull London twosome is, in fact, like ID tags in that they come as a pair, although not identical. Two silver-plated discs (the brand calls them “medals”), one with an arrow cutout and the other a chevron pattern, meet, not as Jekyll and Hyde, but fraternal twins. In them, we see long-term, handsome friendship with T-shirts.

Only seven years old, Northskull London already calls themselves “the world’s leading retailers of men’s jewellery”. Marketing speak aside, the brand does offer some very appealing pieces for men. Their Legacy signet ring, for example, is reason enough to not wait till the nuptials to consider dressing the finger—any finger.

Northskull London Mantz necklace and pendants, SGD420, is available at Pedder on Scotts. Photo: Northskull London