Badges of distinction

Words by Lauren Cochrane
Photography by Lasse Fløde / Styling by Cristina Holmes

What do we picture when we think of rock’n’roll jewellery? Nose piercings perhaps, or a cacophony of earrings up the wearer’s lobe, mixed with tattoos and eyeliner and a choker around the neck; a cluster of chunky silver rings from Chrome Hearts, as worn by Karl Lagerfeld with black fingerless gloves; trashy hoop earrings such as those worn by Cyndi Lauper and Madonna in the 80s, with bangles up to the elbow. Certainly not a brooch.


Nevertheless, the humble brooch – more usually found on your grandmother’s lapel than on catwalk models – has been rediscovered. Chanel, Céline, Loewe and Balenciaga have all featured them. In the case of Balenciaga, models wore lots of jewellery, trad brooches included. The initials of the founder, Cristóbal Balenciaga, were rendered in diamanté and, with a tiny sceptre worthy of the Queen, pinned on delicately cut checked coats. On paper, this might read like conservative dressing circa 1963, yet it was given a twist by the 31-year-old American designer Alexander Wang. In his world, brooches still have that ladylike aspect; however, when they’re combined with ear cuffs, flat chunky boots and, in the case of most models, a scowl, they looked almost subversive.

 This juxtaposition of old-fashioned and modern modes of dressing – a neat trick that suits fashion now – has brought back the brooch in a way that those under the retirement age can connect with. The brooch’s newfound place is part of a wider trend, a rediscovery of the jewellery box, as it were. Once an afterthought, jewellery is taking the place of handbags as the kicker of any outfit, the one piece that defines how a woman wants to be perceived. Céline demonstrated this effect with the humble hair clip last season. The round gold pins worn in the hair of models became a much-imitated cult item.

Now brooches are occupying a similar position. On the catwalk they were often worn in slightly odd places or made from odd materials. It’s this off-kilter thing that makes it work, making them less Barbara Cartland and more Little Edie from Grey Gardens. See Dolce & Gabbana and Prada, where jewelled brooches were worn in the models’ hair, or Céline, where they were clipped onto shoes, in one of those trademark touches of Phoebe Philo wonkiness. Plenty of Prada’s dresses came with either the kind of classic sparkly brooches that are familiar from rootling around in elderly relatives’ jewellery boxes, or oversized Perspex flowers in primary brights. They all clashed – in a Miuccia-approved sickly-sweet way – with the pastel mid-century shades of the clothes.

Givenchy, meanwhile, arguably got the prize for weirdest use of brooches. In a collection that fused the unlikely inspirations of Mexican chola culture with Victorian jet jewellery, models sported brooch-like sparkles on their cheeks, paired with giant nose rings and long, gothic gowns. It’s a long way from a sparkly thistle to brighten up a sensible coat.

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