Don’t save your shell jewellery and accessories for summer holidays, wear them now, says Penny McCormick
Main Image; Brandon Maxwell’s fishtail sequined skirt channels #mermaidcore
“Fine jeweller designers Seaman Schepps and his apprentice Aldo Del Noce immediately come to mind when I think of stunning shell jewellery,” says Claire-Laurence Mestrallet, Head of Jewellery & Watches at Adam’s. “Several of their pieces dating from the 1950s and 1960s have come up at auctions – what sets them apart is that they used real shells.” Schepps’ turban shell clip earrings were worn by style icons such as Jackie O and the Duchess of Windsor, the shells o? en wrapped with gold wire and sometimes set with precious stones. Kenneth Jay Lane and Alexis Bittar would later copy these designs in their exuberant costume jewellery collections.
Mestrallet explains: “Schepps and Del Noce’s shell jewellery was large enough to be easily seen and the soft glow of the shell complemented every complexion.” Clearly, shell jewellery and accessories are not new. The ocean and its treasures has always inspired jewellery and fashion designers, from Elsa Peretti’s iconic Starfish pendants at Tiffany & Co, to the marine motifs (nets, reefs, seaweed, coral, shells) of say Alexander McQueen’s Plato Atlantis show in 2010, or Ricardo Tisci’s SS21 collection for Burberry, highlighting climate change.
What is different is that we’re not saving them for summer holidays (and a flattering tan), but incorporating them into day and eveningwear, regardless of the weather. Fashion’s current love a affair with the 1990s may also explain why ocean-inspired jewellery is trending. “Merologists” might cite another, more symbolic, reason too. Since reading Hans Christian Anderson’s classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid (Walt Disney’s remake of this classic tale is to be released in May) you may not have given much thought to these mythical creatures. In her book The Mermaid Handbook: An Alluring Treasury of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes and Projects, Carolyn Turgeon points out how mermaids and their iconography have a history of surfacing alongside major social and cultural changes. She cites French designer Jean Patou’s mermaid evening dress which appeared in Vogue, in 1933 as an example.
This year, #mermaidcore is trending and, at numerous award ceremonies, actresses including Jessica Chastain, Margot Robbie and Michelle Williams amped up their inner aquatic siren, wearing gossamer chiffon, iridescent, or paillette-encrusted gowns which shimmered like fish scales. Some also embraced #mermaidcore make-up, characterised by slicked-back (or wet) hair, ? fluffy brows and glossy cheeks and lids. For civilians, Brandon Maxwell’s SS23 collection presented a more wearable take on the trend, pairing a sassy boyish blazer over a plain white tank with a shimmering sequined skirt complete with fishtail hemline. Covetable and complementary coastal-inspired accessories that glister and enchant are also proliferating, like Simkhai’s gold Bridget clutch. I’ve always liked Lulu Guinness’ shell clutches with an embroidered message – “The world is your oyster” – and a pearl inside.
Unless you’re Iris Apfel, Prada’s oversized shell choker, particularly striking worn with a simple black dress, may be a stretch. Happily Irish jewellery designers are making easy-to-wear shell jewellery. Martina Hamilton’s Seashore collection in gold or silver evokes days wandering Sligo’s Wild Atlantic shore, especially the shimmer of sunlight in rock pools and tidal eddies. “I try to encapsulate fleeting moments of reflection for the eye, and for heart and mind,” she explains. Lynsey de Burca’s new Muir (meaning sea in Irish) collection of textured cluster link pendants, earrings and necklaces was inspired by the shape of razor clams found on the west coast. See also Jennifer Kinnear’s Ocean collection which includes shells, sea urchins and crab claw jewellery in silver and gold. (I also like her Grace O’Malley collection – its Compass pendant not unlike Dior’s iconic and more expensive Rose des Vents necklace). How to wear these pieces? Adding a pair of iridescent hoop earrings with a denim shirt, carrying a pearlescent clutch or handbag to add colour to an all-black outfit, or simply using a star? sh clip to accessorise a messy bun are easy ways to channel the trend, if not unleash your siren spirit …