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Van Cleef & Arpels’ ad on the back cover of the February 2012 issue of Art News is the latest in a sad legacy of the haute couture jewelry design world. The ad displays an exquisitely crafted platinum and bejeweled “zipper” necklace. It’s an impressive piece of work, advertised to coincide with the publication’s theme of “Where Fashion Meets Art”.
Where fashion meets art these days seems to result in a lot of stolen concepts. We have noticed a growing trend in couture jewelry over the last several years to co-op designs and concepts developed in the art jewelry and DIY arena. This is driven by luxury goods manufacturers’ need to be seen as fashion forward. But we have also noticed a strong trend of alternative materials, pioneered by art jewelry designers, being adopted by fashion jewelry houses as a way to appear cutting edge and keep their profit margins.
If this trend were confined to the use of a material it would be fair game, but frequently it extends to the designs as well.
The Van Cleef & Arpels Zip necklace is squarely taken from a design concept that was created in the art jewelry world several years ago and demonstrates just how creatively bankrupt this venerable old firm is. The necklace is a dazzling piece of craftsmanship, no doubt. And yes, Van Cleef & Arpels, anything a DIY crafter can do, you can do better – except create an original idea in the first place.
The Zip necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels is a gaudy example of yet another couture trend. Namely, taking street fashion, tarting it up with precious metals and gems, and presenting it with the delusion that it has any authenticity whatsoever. In this particular instance the original concept is rooted in repurposing a common object with no intrinsic value as ornament. The concept’s authenticity is its creator’s vision to see beyond the utilitarian function of a common zipper and reframe it’s context. Van Cleef & Arpels is clearly attempting to hitch a ride on that authenticity, but by copying the original idea in precious materials they show just how tone-deaf and out of touch with the concept they really are.
We are reminded of a fashion trend popular during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. Women of the time would tie a red cotton cord around their necks to symbolize their solidarity with the revolution. The red cord was a symbol and reminder for all who saw it that the guillotine awaited all who opposed the revolution – mainly the aristocracy.
In a panic and desperate to show that they were “with the people”, many upper class women began wearing a red cord too. But befitting their station, many of them bejeweled their red cords, in effect accentuating the class separation and economic disparity that sparked the revolution in the first place. In the end this turned out to be the biggest fashion faux pas of all time.
Van Cleef & Arpels can clearly bring prodigious craftsmanship to the table. Matching that with authentic design creativity would go a long way towards re-establishing the house as a place where “fashion meets art”.