Kawaii Sanrio characters such as Hello Kitty and My Melody dangle at the end of earrings. Clay charms feature bold yin and yang symbols in juxtaposing neon and pastel shades. Mask straps are decorated with pastel gummy bear motifs and resin daisies with smiley-face centres. These pieces are all strung with colourful beads and white-lettered cubes – the type that young girls from the 1990s had an abundance of in their craft boxes and jewellery kits. The consumers of these accessories, however, are not little girls, but grown women who are buying into one of this year's biggest fashion trends – kitschy jewellery.
Beads from high-end and home-grown brands
While Instagram may be the hub for this sort of jewellery, these trinkets aren’t homey craft projects. Luxury brands, too, are cashing in on the kitsch craze. Case in point: Balenciaga’s single painted lamb earring, which retails for a cool Dh1,000.
Marc Jacobs has a piece dubbed the Toy Box, a beaded necklace with painted, crystal-studded “MARC” lettering, surrounded by rainbow-hued pony beads, going for Dh530 on Farfetch.
“That kitsch element that was once reserved for cruise collections and summer days is no longer exclusive to a specific season. The jewellery aesthetic is taking a very naive road, with more room for playfulness,” says Osama Chabbi, a private client stylist at Farfetch. “There's a DIY aspect to it that feels very traditional, and I think that relatability is why it's so successful.”
By trading in diamonds and other gemstones for cheap-and-cheerful pony beads and other materials that are less expensive – but still every bit as statement-making – high-end designers are standing in the same corner as home-grown accessories brands that are putting their own stamp on the trend.
Over the summer, Dubai stylist Chloe Louise Bosher launched Shinebop, a brand centred on beading. "As a young girl, I always asked for bead sets for presents, and would sit in my room for hours creating pieces and making things up as I went along. This time, it started because we were in lockdown and I was looking for something to do," she tells The National.
Bosher makes necklaces, earrings and straps for sunglasses and face masks, in mermaid-esque pastels, and with clear and pearly beads, flower and butterfly charms, and customisable letters. “It's bringing back that 1990s dress-up vibe, when we used to stack up colours, and mix and match styles,” she says.
Pandemic affecting the psychology of jewellery
In turn, the pandemic has caused consumers to rethink how they spend their money. “Although the region is very designer-centric, women are still sensitive to simple pieces that are deeply emotive. The pieces feel very personal, and suddenly the sentimental value has become more tempting than the cost,” says Chabbi. The pandemic has also bolstered the #supportlocal movement, inspiring shoppers to buy from smaller, home-grown businesses, adds Bosher.
Affordability is another key selling point of this trending jewellery style, say Abu Dhabi sisters Nardeen and Sandy Samer, who recently launched Les Soeurs, a handmade accessories start-up specialising in colourful beads and cutesy charms.
Sandy adds that as with other crafting processes, working with beads can help channel calmness. “Since we are working with colours, it gives us a sense of relaxation, and it enhances our feelings of productivity.” Nardeen adds: “When you wear your favourite colours, you feel positive and get good vibes."
“Good vibes” is a fitting way to describe the energy radiating from the Instagram profiles of the brands leading this jewellery movement, each with a distinct aesthetic. At Picnic Blanket, dainty strawberries and lemons crafted from minuscule beads are strung alongside pearls, crystals and heart-shaped beads. A necklace by Charlotte Rose Studio spells out “Love Me”, bordered by clay bunny and mushroom-shaped charms. At Acid Banana, strands of pony beads are completed with mah-jong tiles, gaudy green donkeys and repurposed Chanel buttons.
“Clothes and accessories have the power to uplift our spirit and boost our self-confidence. This is so important for our mental well-being,” says UAE handbag and accessories designer Soraya Hennessy, who designs straps for sunglasses with intricate, beaded floral detailing. Her pieces are handcrafted by artisans in Colombia, and one of her recent chains spells out “Love not hate” in beadwork. “It’s a deeper, positive message, which hopefully resonates with many today,” she says.
The Covid-19 pandemic, then, has had a two-fold effect on this trend, inspiring consumers to buy colourful, uplifting accessories, as well as pushing designers to think out of the box to adapt to the new normal. Hennessy, for instance, realised there was a market for chains outside of just sunglasses straps. “The pandemic has pushed designers to offer functionality with fashion. That’s why our sunglass chains have a removable gold clasp that allows you to attach the chain to your face mask,” she explains.
Bosher also found mask straps to be a popular product when she got a customer request to make her globe phone strap into a mask strap. "I never thought I was going to go down the route of making pandemic-usable products,” she says.
Functionality aside, it’s the childlike vibe of these colourful accessories that are pulling at the heartstrings of consumers, who are projecting their nostalgia for “better days” on to the fashion they wear. “Happy and playful items are definitely needed right now to bring back some joy,” says Bosher, crediting the bleakness of the pandemic for the surge in demand for add-ons that are bright, bold and blithesome.
“The past few months have pushed us collectively to dive into our subconscious memories, and I believe this has resulted in our purchases having a lot more depth,” says Chabbi. “We're buying things that connect us to our inner selves and, of course, our childhood is a huge part of this – there’s a certain innocence that comes with this type of jewellery. It feels very optimistic.”