June’s gemstone of the month, the pearl, has long been treasured by man for its beautiful rarity. Once flaunted by only those of royalty and nobility, pearl jewellery has made its way into the jewellery boxes of most women today. How have pearls made their way through history? Here, three women icons have shaped the significance of the pearl gemstone and made their mark on pearl fashion by simply wearing it.
While much has been debated about her complicated past, her methods for entering the business of fashion and even her sympathies during the wars, french fashion designer Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, better known simply as Coco Chanel, is what you call legendary. A brilliant businesswoman who not only established a successful fashion house that lives on till today, Chanel has empowered generations of women through her rule-defying creations.
In the 1920s and 30s, Chanel epitomised the post-war modern woman. Believed to have taken inspiration from menswear which was casual yet elegant, she challenged the then-traditional corseted structure of women’s clothing, redefining femininity with simpler and much more practical garments. Her vision proved to be successful, as women responded and her boutiques multiplied.
Illustration showing three women in day outfits by "Gabrielle Channel" (sic) consisting of belted tunic jackets and full jersey skirts published in Les Elegances parisiennes, March 1917 / Wikimedia Commons
While Coco Chanel transformed women’s wear with the luxury of simplicity, she also famously made the 'little black dress' fashionable.
Inès de La Fressange in Paris Vogue 1984 / Karl Lagerfeld
Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista for Chanel Spring/Summer 1991 / Karl Lagerfeld
Paris Fashion Week Spring 2020 / Imaxtree
Of course, an element that completed that Chanel-style simplicity was the donning of pearls. And Coco Chanel was the definitive icon who decked it out. Chanel herself was rarely spotted without accessorising her creations with bold pearl jewellery, to which she launched her own jewellery line in 1932 mixing genuine precious stones with faux and cultured pearls.
As her use of costume jewellery with statement pearls became a staple in the Chanel lookbook, it inspired fashionable modern women to include the gemstones in their wardrobes (whether faux or real). For many decades, Coco's influence lives on.
Still from Breakfast at Tiffany's
In the classic ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, the film opens with what is possibly one of actress Audrey Hepburn’s most recognisable cinematic moments. Her character Holly Golightly dons a sleek black Givenchy gown with opera gloves, a glittering little tiara sits in her neat coiffure, and a decadent multi-row pearl necklace completes her million-dollar look. Gazing into the jeweller’s shop window with danish pastry and coffee in hand, Audrey’s quirky character immortalised a movie costume like never before in 1961.
Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly
Arguably, while Coco Chanel invented the little black dress, no one has worn a black dress better than Hollywood icon Audrey. On its own, the Givenchy dress was beautifully simple, but accessorised as it was, it became iconic in its own fashionable right. Boosting her career as a Hollywood star, Audrey became a lifelong fashion and beauty icon admired by women who wanted to emulate a look just like hers. And just like that, pearls were revered once again for its glamourous appeal.
Contrary to her on-screen persona, Audrey was more of a minimalist in her real life fashion choices, sporting simple ensembles that continue to be classic chic even in today’s context. What she did often complement her outfits with were simple pearl earrings and a pearl strung necklace. Her son Luca Dotti said that she loved pearl earrings for their warmth against her skin and how they were natural gems, opposing the notion of spending a fortune on diamonds and gold.
Audrey Hepburn in pink Givenchy dress, 1955 / Norman Parkinson
Besides being a timeless beauty icon, Audrey was also esteemed for her lovely personality and humanitarian efforts throughout her life. She lives on in the hearts of many, as a favourite role model celebrity, for her beauty which shone inside and out.
One of Hollywood’s most elegant actresses who became the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly’s life story seems to be nothing short of a fairytale. A peer of Audrey Hepburn, Grace left the silver screen at the height of her stardom to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco. The world watched a real life fairytale materialise, and her monumental wedding continues to influence bridal fashion today.
Grace Kelly & Audrey Hepburn at The Academy Awards 1956 / Getty Images
Grace Kelly in the Hitchcock film 'Rear Window'
Grace Kelly in pearl jewellery / Heritage Auctions
While Audrey Hepburn favoured minimalist clothing, Grace Kelly sought more sophisticated pieces. Always poised, Grace dresses with immaculate classic 1950s refinement; her on-screen and off-screen looks are seemingly one of the same.
As for jewellery, it is no doubt that Grace’s favourite jewel was the pearl. As she once proclaimed, “I favour pearls on screen and in my private life.”
Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace
Grace Kelly on her wedding day / Wikimedia Commons, Getty Images
H.S.H Princess Grace of Monaco's wedding jewellery present from Prince Rainier / Van Cleef & Arpels
Her declaration proved true. For when Prince Rainier took Grace to select her wedding present at Van Cleef & Arpels, the set of diamond encrusted pearl jewellery she selected would later become a royal suite she would wear for many occasions throughout her life. The French jeweller that created in turn was granted the royal warrant as the official supplier to the principality of Monaco.
Grace Kelly in her Van Cleef & Arpels wedding jewels / Colourised by Mario Unger
An icon she would continue to be, the princess's adoration for her signature pearls continue to inspire women, especially in achieving that glamorous 50s Hollywood look.