Earrings from Chloé's spring 2019 collection

PARIS — The jewelry was more than eye-catching at the Paris shows this season, with bracelets running up and down arms and stone-encrusted warrior harnesses channeling a Grecian goddess vibe at Chloé, while layers of coin charms were key elements to an ethnic-infused breakout collection from Paco Rabanne.

And those are just two prominent examples of the momentum building in the category.

As luxury houses seek to broaden their audiences to secure longevity and tap into younger generations of fashion-hungry consumers, branded costume jewelry has gained newfound prominence. Jewelry accessories complete a full-look offer tailored to an Instagram era while entry-level pricing serves as a gateway to the wider universe of a high-end label. Add online shopping to the mix and it is becoming easier than ever for fashion-conscious consumers to snap up the lower-priced items.

“Most of it is in a very good price range, so it’s the first contact to a brand,” said Chloé creative director Natacha Ramsay-Levi who sees jewelry as an important means of brand expression and has used pieces infused with symbolism since her first collection for label a year ago.

“It’s become huge,” she said of the rise of the category, spurred on by multibrand retailers, over the past five years.

For the designer, who sees the role of jewelry as a talisman, or amulet — “charged with emotions,” it seemed obvious to use it as a means to convey a new message for Chloé.

Brass earrings and necklaces from her “Femininities” line evoke a symbol ubiquitous through the ages — fertility sculptures. She plans to continue the line in future collections, along with her signature Reese jewelry — bracelets, rings and earrings made from piles of interlocking rings.

Models on the catwalkChloe show, Runway, Spring Summer 2019, Paris Fashion Week, France - 27 Sep 2018

Chloé’s spring-summer show during Paris Fashion Week.  WWD/REX/Shutterstock

“Like ‘bridge’ jewelry which spans across costume jewelry and fine jewelry, also called demi-fine jewelry, costume jewelry has struck a chord not only among consumers on tighter budgets following the recent economic recession but it is also appealing to younger demographics around the world who are looking to buy jewelry more often and on trend, and wear it with other pieces,” explained Karolina Zlotkovska, beauty and fashion analyst at market research company Euromonitor International, noting the current popularity of stacking bracelets.

The analyst estimates the costume jewelry market was worth $44.7 billion last year, smaller than the fine jewelry market which she pegs at around $297 billion, but set to grow faster, at a pace of 4.3 percent each year for the next six years, compared to 3.5 percent for fine jewelry.

Zlotkovska expects the line between fine jewelry and costume jewelry to become increasingly blurred, with costume jewelry players like Swarovski getting involved in designer and high-end pieces like the Karl Lagerfeld collection first launched in spring 2017.

Meanwhile, luxury brands and fine jewelry makers are adding more affordable costume and semiprecious products to their ranges.

“International luxury fashion houses like LVMH [Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton] and Kering are embracing the opportunity by launching Louis Vuitton leather bracelets and jewelry designs from Gucci, carrying the emblematic bumble bee, for example, in various materials and at different price points,” noted Zlotkovska.

Gucci's fall 2018 campaign

An image from Gucci’s fall 2018 campaign.  Courtesy

For industry powerhouse Gucci, which pioneered fashion watches in the Seventies, jewelry infused with house references relays the extravagant styles from Alessandro Michele that have propelled the brand’s soaring popularity. Credited with breathing new life into the Italian label during his nearly four-year tenure, the former head of accessories has decidedly fanned global appetite for jewelry along the way.

“Today, it’s very successful,” noted Piero Braga, who heads the label’s timepieces and jewelry division, referring to the house’s fashion jewelry. Braga explained that Gucci hadn’t really produced much in the category before 2016, a year it was “very well received.”

“The fashion content is clearly embedded into our product,” he added.

Indeed, the essence of a label is key to the rising popularity of jewelry pieces, noted Zlotkovska.

“The brands that recognize this shift in consumer demand will benefit the most, especially international brands, as brand name plays an increasingly important role over the actual jewelry material,” she explained.

This is what Yvan Le Dour, who recently bought a share of historic French jewelry supplier Maison Hamon, is betting on.

“At the moment, there is a surge in demand for high-end costume jewelry,” said Le Dour, speaking from his office flanking the Paris workshop of the house.

“People want the gold look, but gold is expensive to work with,” he continued. With over two dozen employees, some of whom have worked there for decades, the supplier crafts intricate pieces using metal, leather and even fabric for brands such as Chanel, Saint Laurent and Lanvin.

“What interested me is that it’s a developing market, and with brands expanding, production has gained major importance,” added Le Dour. He maintains that the “made in France” stamp will increasingly serve as a selling point, particularly when it comes to appealing to the all-important Chinese consumer.

At the Hermès store on rue de Sèvres in Paris, which counted American, Chinese and French shoppers on a recent autumn weekday, jewelry accessories held court on the ground floor, encircled by a wall of scarves, a book section meant for browsing and the in-house café. Rows of colorful enamel cuffs priced in the 500-euro range, sat under glass displays near leather Kelly bracelets and sleek, horn necklaces.

“Everyone is getting into it a bit these days, but we have an offer that is unique in its diversity, be it enamel, which is quite popular, especially in the U.S., or leather accessories — which we have a particular expertise in, not to mention the quality, and then there is also horn,” Hermès chief executive Axel Dumas said.

“I’m not sure we invented the category, but we are quite strong in it,” he added.

For younger labels, like Zimmermann, an upscale Australian label offering breezy dresses for an international jet-set crowd to wear with elaborate swimwear, fashion jewelry completes a look. Beach glamour, in this case.

“I think it’s a huge thing. For us, the girls want the whole look — when they see our show, the girls definitely want the earring we put with the dress,” said Nicky Zimmermann. The designer, who works with Australian jewelry maker Ryan Storey, cited white shell earrings that “sold out everywhere” as a sign of the category’s strength for the brand.

“We always do jewelry in the shows and it’s actually becoming a big part of what we’re doing — it’s doing really well,” she said, pointing to gold orchid motif bracelets designed for a flower-infused collection inspired by Anjelica Huston in the Seventies.

For Paco Rabanne designer Julien Dossena, the label’s expanding jewelry collections serve as an introduction to the brand for younger clients who don’t have the means to splash out on pricier pieces from the apparel lines — a mesh dress can cost upwards of 3,000 euros.

“A young woman might wear these on her first outing at a club, for example,” he said, lifting a pair of earrings made with layers of fat sequins. Dossena brought in Charlotte Chesnais to build the accessories at the label, a fine jewelry designer known for bending precious metals into experimental and minimalist shapes sold under her namesake brand. At Paco Rabanne, she builds on the house’s exploration with chain mail and sequins for the accessories collections, which are set to expand.

As fashion increasingly embraces the blending of gender boundaries, jewelry is also expanding as a men’s wear category.

At upscale Parisian department store Printemps, men’s wear buyer Jason Reynaud has noted a strong increase in demand for men’s jewelry, particularly in runway shows since the fall 2018 presentations.

“Clients are increasingly inclined to wear jewelry and it’s no longer considered a uniquely women’s accessory,” said Reynaud.

“At the same time, brands are offering a more diversified offer and adapting to different types of clientele,” he added, citing demand that can range from genderless to hyper-masculine styles.

Reynaud listed Versace, Dior Homme, Le Gramme and Ambush among labels most highly sought after in the jewelry category.

Yoon Ahn, the recently appointed jewelry designer for Dior Homme, cofounded Ambush with her husband, Japanese hip-hop artist Verbal; the pair started with jewelry before adding clothing.

At the close of his debut runway show for Dior Men last June, creative director Kim Jones pulled Yoon out of the front row to share a bow at the celebrity-packed affair.

Trained as a graphic designer in Boston, the designer spoke of Constantin Brâncuși at Ambush’s spring 2019 presentation in June, held in the reproduced studio of the Romanian sculptor that sits beneath the Pompidou Center in Paris.

Ambush “Nobo” beads bracelet

The “Nobo” beads bracelet by Ambush.  Courtesy

“The philosophy he teaches about art is about the purest form, always going back to simplicity, because that’s the truest form, and that’s something I like to embody in the jewelry that I make,” Yoon said.

One of the challenges in designing fashion jewelry, creative directors say, is finding a way to convey current trends while ensuring longevity.

“The objective is to work it as a fashion message but also from a perspective that it has to be a beautiful object in itself that will last through time,” said Ramsay-Levi.

Rings from Dior Homme’s summer 2019 collection.  Courtesy/Morgan O'Donovan

This is also an ambition set by Yoon in her new role at Dior Homme.

The label’s summer 2019 jewelry line introduced the new Dior ‘Icon’ series with CD logo that has been hugely popular, along with the Cuban link with CD closures, Kaws-commissioned key chains and charms, cubic link necklaces and rainbow rhinestone pieces, the designer said.

Along with the expansion of the Dior Men’s jewelry line into a bigger section in retail space, Yoon is looking to introduce pieces that are “not based on trend but which the customers would love to collect and hold on to for years to come.”

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