DESIGNERS ARE RENEWING THEIR FAITH IN RELIGION-BASED JEWELRY.
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
If adornment is a reflection of the soul, then what does the rising revival of crosses, stars of David and pendants bearing everything from Catholic saints to the Kaballah’s tree of life to Krishna reveal about fashion’s state of self?
Out of personal interest and client requests, jewelry designers are filling their collections with religion-based symbols. The offerings are as diverse as the reasons. Jewelry line Segal-Martin turns to stone-studded crosses. Orly Baruch pairs pendants from otherwise disparate faiths for their spiritual link and fashion appeal. As with the mania for power beads, Interest appears to be growing first among the yoga-going fashion pack. “It’s really the early- to mid-Thirties set who’s getting in tune with their personal identity,” said Christie Martin, co-owner of Nina at Fred Segal and Segal-Martin. “I compare it to getting tattoos. They want something that’s meaningful to them, and that says something personal about who they are.”
As for whether the trend will spread to high school girls depends on their spending power. Aesthetics are as or more important than religious significance, and that means the materials and designer name can determine the price.
Retailer Tracey Friedman believes the Buddhist symbols tend to attract a more junior customer. As vice president of the five-unit mini-chain Ice, whose units are in Fred Segal Santa Monica; South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, Calif.; and inside the Forum Shops, Las Vegas, Friedman believes many of her customers are ready to don a “significant” piece.
“Jewelry as a whole is not as exciting as it was last year with all the beads,” she said. “If you’re going to wear one piece, that’s the category to fall into. We’ve done really well with Orly Baruch’s crosses, St. Christophers and Madonnas.” Ice is also stocking up on Susan Roden’s tiny handmade crosses, as well as renewing Greece-based Constantino’s range of filigree Goth, Celtic and styles of crosses.
For designer Loree Rodkin, the trend is about aesthetics. “I love the architectural beauty of religious objects,” she said of her magnificent platinum and diamond-encrusted crosses, which retail from $2,000 to $20,000 and account for 40 percent of business. Her 11-year-old collection of precious heraldic jewelry is worn by Cher, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Elton John. “I’m Jewish. It’s not about Christianity for me. But there’s an emotional quality that speaks to me. There’s a great passion and history [associated] with the cross. I want my jewelry to look like a relic, a treasure that’s been found.”
Another aspect of the religious-icon-as jewelry’s appeal: There’s something inherently unexpected about extending a sacred symbol into popular culture. Madonna may have explained away the piles of rosaries to her Catholic roots, but she also knew she was titillating convention.
Orly Baruch readily admitted the pop icon inspired her to introduce crosses in 1998. Since then, jewelry decorated with religion-based symbols accounts for 60 percent of the line of semiprecious gems paired with silver or gold, which wholesales from $29 for a simple sterling cross to $350 for a more elaborate gold and semiprecious necklace. Pendants of St. Christopher and angels, Stars of David and the Torah hang from silver charm bracelets. Multiple crosses dangle from chokers.
It’s not about religion, insisted Baruch, who’s represented by Le Trend Accessories in the California Mart and San Francisco. “In the last couple of seasons, I’ve seen a definite growth in this kind of jewelry. In the last year alone, it has increased 60 percent. People are looking for something different. Maybe it is a sign of the times, of something spiritual. I hope that is true.”
If the latest trend signifies anything, some say it’s a greater tolerance for people and their beliefs and a sense of unifying spiritual forces. An interdenominational necklace serves as a sort of metaphorical link of the range of human beliefs and experiences — regardless of the conflicting basic tenants. A Christian sporting Ganesh (a Hindi god), or Buddhist wearing a cross can seem like a gesture at odds with the individual’s religion. But for the wearer, it’s apparently about taking something aesthetically pleasing that happens to have a soulful connection beyond its literal meaning.
“I’m Jewish, and I’ll wear a crucifix or a Buddha because it’s more of a universal thing,” admitted Andrea Fohrman, who codesigns Chicago-based Delilah Jewelry with partner Jill Alberts. Halls in Kansas City and Barneys New York are among the retailers carrying the line. “We do yoga,” added Fohrman. “We read the Kaballah and [about] Buddhism. There’s more acceptance of everything now and to share these things. We all have more in common than we think.”
Even as the trend grows, Fohrman and others noted not all retailers are embracing it. Department stores tend to focus on other collections in the line, said designers.
At Barneys New York, there are Stars of David, crucifixes, Hindu icons and other religious symbols, noted Julie Gilhart, vice president of fashion merchandise marketing. “We’ve definitely seen the emergence as Barneys has developed relationships with new jewelers, and many of them have an aspect of this in their collections.”
Asked whether the retailer had trepidations of carrying religious-based accessories, Gilhart quickly responded “no.”
“As long as it’s beautiful and not offensive, we want to provide our customers with something that has a meaning to it. This trend is based on women and men wanting something that they can connect with, and an easy way to do that is through jewelry.”
At Nina at Fred Segal in Santa Monica, Calif., the retailer’s famously fashion-forward clients are clamoring for Segal-Martin’s crosses made from smoky topaz, rose quartz, pearls and silver.
“There’s been a resurgence of interest in crosses and rosaries in the last couple of months, and [religious] icons in the past year or so,” agreed Nina Segal, who is co-owner and co-designer of Segal-Martin’s line with Christie Martin. They recently began wholesaling and are represented by Ben-Amun’s Fabulous showroom in the CalMart. Those not buying the finished house brand designs of Segal-Martin are buying up beads and other materials to string and wire their own, said Segal. The store offers classes in jewelry making. A hot seller: an 18-karat Ganesh pendant, which retails at around $225.
The line ranges from $70 for silver and pearl cross dangle earrings to a flat pearl and smoky topaz cross for $550. For winter, Segal-Martin introduced rosaries of Chinese cultured pearls and sterling silver, wholesaling for $122, and green garnet with silver, $84. “We got so many orders from retailers,” said Martin.
Whether the wearer completely subscribes to the meaning of a stone or a symbol is relative. There’s certainly something comforting for many in just rubbing a stone or cupping a cross.
Fans of Wanda Lobito’s upside-down St. Anthony pendant believe wearing it couldn’t hurt. Worn feet up, the saint is supposed to aid in finding a boyfriend, according to some Catholics.
The Santa Fe designer launched 11 years ago with sacred hearts made of lapis and turquoise. The lucky love charm of St. Anthony is among a collection of reliquary pendants that also sells very well featuring saints, angels, Ganesh and the Virgin of Guadalupe behind stained glass. The line wholesales from $22 to $85. “There’s so much positive energy invested in these symbols,” said Lobito. “It’s like a personal altar you can take with you anywhere.”