By Carla Caruso
Fashion designers and celebrities are entering the world of accessories. CARLA CARUSO investigates the consumer's appetite for non-traditional players entering the market.
After a battle with cancer, Sydney designer Jayson Brunsdon returned to Rosemount Australian Fashion Week in April with a crash, sending models down the runway in collections adorned with pieces from his debut fine jewellery line.
There were Australiana-style gems – clusters of golden gum leaves intermixed with Tahitian pearls and Great Barrier Reef coral formations.
“I took my inspiration from memories of my mother, Dorothy, and my grandmothers, Olive and Daphne,” Brunsdon explains. “They wore pearls, great big clusters of them around their necks and wrists or dangling from their earlobes, often with sprigs of coral acquired on tropical holidays.”
The pieces, sold in Myer and Brunsdon’s boutiques, comprise resin, sterling silver, gold plating, glass beads, Swarovski crystal and pearls.
Two months on, a launch party was held at an exclusive Sydney nightspot for accessories website Trilby Phoenix to similar fanfare. This time, though, svelte models wandered about in fashion jewellery by American “celebutante” Nicole Richie, mostly famous for starring with Paris Hilton on the reality TV series The Simple Life, and for being the adopted daughter of singer Lionel Richie. Materials such as leather, chains, silk strings, feathers and gold-plated metals are used in the range.
Neither Brunsdon nor Richie is a traditional jeweller; in fact, neither has formal qualifications in the field, but both are making their mark in the accessories world. The penchant for fashion designers and celebrities to dip their toes into the jewellery realm isn’t a recent one – Parisian fashion house Chanel is as renowned for its large, costume-pearl necklaces with interlocking double-C charms as its Chanel No. 5 fragrance.
There now appears to be an increasing trend of non-traditional players entering the market. Of course, it’s all about the mighty dollar, never more succinctly summed-up than when French fashion designer Christian Lacroix told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper he was “paying for not having done what everyone else did with their logos and It-bags” when his couture business went into voluntary receivership. Accessories, including shoes, handbags and jewellery, mean extra profit for fashion designers.
New Zealand fashion designer Karen Walker, whose wares are available in Australia, is among those taking a bite of the accessories pie. Since 2003, Walker has had a sterling silver and 9-carat gold jewellery line.
“The clothing came first,” explains fashion agent Seema Duggal. “But, as Karen says, why wouldn’t you want to work with gold and diamonds?”
Walker is far from the only one. Cult Thai fashion label Sretsis has teamed up with fine jeweller Matina Amanita on a standout accessories collection, including multicoloured, bejewelled, bib-style necklaces, and Sydney women’s wear label Joveeba has just debuted a jewellery collection that features heavy gold chains, clasps and vintage finds linked with laser-cut acrylic gem-inspired shapes.
Thai fashion brand Kloset also offers a colourful, handicraft-inspired jewellery collection and New Zealand streetwear label Stolen Girlfriends Club has a unisex line, using oxidised silver, bronze and black onyx.
For celebrities, dabbling in jewellery-making can mean helping to extend their own brand by enhancing their shelf life in the public eye. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt their bank balances either.
For Sydney jeweller David Nader, who has been in the industry for 15 years, it seems to be a case of “If you can’t beat them, join them”. Nader is the man responsible for bringing the jewellery collections of Nicole Richie and supermodel-turned-TV-presenter Heidi Klum to Australia.
“Pascal Mouawad, the president of the Mouawad Group and one of the world’s leading jewellery designers, approached me about coming on board and assisting in exposing the Heidi Klum label to Australia,” Nader explains. “We have worked solidly together for the last five years.”
Heidi Klum’s jewellery collection comprises sterling silver and 14-carat gold, and features such gemstones as garnet and amethyst.
Most recently, Pascal was approached by Richie and asked to assist her in launching her own jewellery label as well.
“This is our first foray into the fashion jewellery world,” he says. “It has been both exciting and challenging. The reception of Richie’s House of Harlow 1960 collection has been phenomenal, both here and abroad.”
On the starlets, Nader says, “Klum epitomises the modern, powerful, successful and beautiful woman and Richie is a style icon.”
Accessories website Trilby Phoenix stocks Richie’s jewellery, as well as Jade Jagger’s Jezebel jewellery and Lindsay Lohan’s Leggings label. Creator Holly Baxter says celebrity worship is rife among the youth category: “If you admire a particular celebrity’s style overall, then a line they design is going to be immensely appealing – especially if they endorse the line by wearing it themselves. Nicole Richie is always seen wearing pieces from her line and looks wonderful.”
Plus, fashion jewellery is accessible for consumers, according to Baxter: “Owning a $129 House of Harlow bangle is far more achievable for young people than owning the Marchesa gown they saw on the red carpet.”
Sydney high-end jeweller Jan Logan appears unruffled by this celebrity intrusion, summing up industry opinion by saying, “We do not see fashion designers and celebrities bringing-out jewellery as competition. Traditional jewellers will always stand out from the pack due to their experience, longevity in the business and the superior quality of their product.”
Fellow Sydney jeweller Jules Collins says she welcomes anyone who can raise the popularity and fashionability of jewellery, adding that jewellers hold a pricepoint advantage over celebrity lines.
“Designer items can carry heavy price tags comparable to precious jewellery. Jewellers can offer fantastic pieces often for a lot less.”
Gold Coast jeweller John Calleija of Calleija Jewellers says anything that gets people interested in jewellery as a must-have accessory is a plus, but celebrity and designer collections will likely remain disposable fashion purchases for consumers: “Many clientele tend to buy off a well-know trusted name for their special pieces,” Calleija states.
Fashion jewellery designer Samantha Wills, who has just launched her third collection in 30 Nordstrom department stores in the US, says it is inevitable fashion designers would start bringing out accessories lines to complement their apparel ranges, adding, “The thing with doing accessories when you are an apparel brand is that the accessories element is always going to be an add-on or afterthought. For an apparel company, apparel is always the main focus and, as we are an accessories company, accessories are our main focus. We view our competitors as other accessories brands, not as apparel brands who have an accessories section.”
Perhaps an example of this type of specialised focus is Sydney fashion designer Leona Edmiston who recently discontinued her white gold and diamond jewellery line after launching it nationally through Myer last November. A spokesperson said Edmiston’s focus is “on her clothing and other accessories”, like heels and handbags.
Still, Stephen Ogden-Barnes, the program director for Monash University’s Australian Centre for Retail Studies, says one thing jewellers can learn from celebrities and fashion designers is the power of branding.
“When you visit many mainstream jewellers, the majority of jewellery doesn’t seem to be branded – other than in the jewellery box. Brands provide a point of familiarity and a form of credibility.”
It’s something that fashion designers and celebrities are well aware of, according to Ogden-Barnes: “If you’re wearing Gucci or Tiffany & Co., it says something about the product rather than just its components. In what can be a homogenous shopping experience, the number of brand offerings compared to generics can help jewellers differentiate.”
The marketing push can go both ways. High-end jewellers happily drape celebrities in gems at red carpet events to prompt exposure for their brands, including Jan Logan, and jewellers also align themselves with fashion designers – Pandora sponsored designer Josh Goot at the Rosemount Australian Fashion Week.
Fashion designers and celebrities may seemingly be encroaching on the jewellers’ turf, but their participation in the industry surely only heightens consumer perception of – and desire for – jewellery, which is a win for all jewellers. Furthermore, such competition from the fashion sector pushes jewellers to prove they are as fashion-savvy and relevant as the rest of the style pack.
Posted September 28, 2009