History has no shortage of famous brooch wearers. Queen Elizabeth rules in this domain as gatekeeper of an extraordinary array, in diamonds, rubies, sapphires, turquoise, and emeralds. Some are historic heirlooms inherited from former monarchs, like Queen Victoria’s beloved giant sapphire Prince Albert Brooch; others are treasured gifts from her parents King George VI and the Queen Mother (the Flower Basket Brooch), or from her late husband Prince Philip (the ruby-encrusted Scarab Brooch).
Then there was Wallis Simpson: while she was said to have had questionable taste in decor and art, such was hardly the case with her magnificent jewels—she would never be queen but she could at least be bedecked like one. When it came to her brooches, especially, the Duchess of Windsor notably adopted a “bigger is better” approach.
Over on this side of the pond is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, whose eclectic pin collection (from flea market finds to diamond and gold talismans) numbers in the hundreds and who brilliantly began co-opting the accessory as diplomatic weaponry in 1993, when Saddam Hussein called her a snake—and so she wore a serpent brooch to her next meeting with the Iraqis.
For spring/summer 2021, a season that will undoubtedly be defined by many variations on post-pandemic revenge dressing, brooches are enjoying a revival. And, most importantly, they are shedding their reputations as being reserved for women of a certain age. “The attitude toward brooches has definitely relaxed,” says jeweler Jill Heller. “They’re no longer your grandmother’s accessory.” Men have been leading the pack as of late. At the 2020 Oscars, Timothée Chalamet pinned a vintage ruby and diamond Cartier to his Prada bomber, while Antonio Banderas decorated his satin lapel with diamonds. This year, Regé-Jean Page, Jared Leto, Trevor Noah, and Anthony Anderson followed suit at various events. And let’s not forget Lady Gaga at the inauguration, for which she crowned her Schiaparelli Couture number with a glorious, symbolic, and giant, gilded dove.
The market has responded. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, who has been showing brooches for a few years, was joined this season by the likes of Alessandra Rich, Patou, and Erdem. Demand for vintage has been hot, too, especially for Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels gems.
Brooches, though, have been a sartorial staple since the Bronze Age, when they were used as a practical means for securing clothing—and they have become ever more versatile over time. The Belle Epoque, for example, saw the rise in large stomachers and high jewelers consequently came up with elaborate brooches to adorn them. In the 1920s, the trend was to pin brooches on the era’s popular cloche hats. “Brooches had evolved into staple statement pieces for everyday life, not just for special occasions, which added flair, drama and wit to even the simplest ensembles,” says Anthony Barzilay Freund, editorial director and director of fine art at 1stDibs.
As for their applications in 2021? Anything goes. “There are no real rules when it comes to wearing brooches,” Heller says. “Brooches look the coolest when styled unexpectedly. Placing them on your lapel is perfectly fine, but I love to use them as a closure for a sexier top, or to cinch the waist of a skirt. Or, put them on a white t-shirt.”
But this being the season for maximalism, do take the “more is more” approach. Why stop at one when you can have several? Says Heller, “A cluster of brooches is the new charm necklace.”
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