The pearl necklace (no innuendo please) is a bourgeois stalwart - where would chic Parisian matriarchs and dowager duchesses be without them? Hence the staid pearl sautoir is ripe fashion fodder to be twisted by rebel intellectual Rei Kawakubo - so much so, she launched an entire line of Comme des Garçons pearls in 2006. Five years on, and the line has its first mini-exhibition (please don't call it a retrospective) at Kawakubo's Dover Street Market just around the corner from us here at Bruton Place.
In the mid-eighties Vivienne Westwood bemoaned of the Italian fashion market 'They take cheap cloth and make it look expensive, and I take expensive cloth and make it look cheap. They just don't understand what I'm trying to do!' Kawakubo plays both sides of that coin: her fashion has always been about questioning the traditional codes of luxury. She was one of the first to put us in high-fashion synthetics, never mind her deep and meaningful sartorial reinvention of everything from moth-holes (A/W 1982), to flock wallpaper (A/W 1996), to the kind of scarlet-and-cerise, ruffled and flounced peepholes nothings more usually associated with shops purveying what we brits sometimes still primly call 'marital aids' (that's my take on the A/W 2008 'Amy Winehouse' collection, by the way).
Instead of making the cheap look expensive, however, Comme des Garçons Pearls make the expensive look cheap. Well, sort of. Remember kitschy, kiddie necklaces of hearts and bow-ties in pearl-beads or diamante from your pre-teen years? Kawakubo seizes on that aesthetic, but crafts hers from Japanese cultured pearls, or handpicked natural pearls from the Pacific - you'd never mistake. For traditionalists, Kawakubo offers choker styles in gobstopper-sized pearls in traditional cream or black - some swapping colour halfway through from pale pink to ivory.
'The value of creation is diminishing, and very expensive things are not interesting.' That could have been Coco talking, but in fact it's a rare quote from Kawakubo. I've described her as 'less monosyllabic than than anti-syllabic' in the past, and I stand by my convictions. It's odd to think that two of the most influential female designers of modern times - Coco Chanel and Rei Kawakubo - both chose pearls to express their sartorial rebellion. After all, it was Coco who first popularised costume jewellery back in the twenties, filching from Fulco di Verdura and jumbling real gems with paste, priceless pearls with painted glass beads, until they all appeared one and the same. Kawakubo's pearls encourage the same financial nonchalance, in itself revolutionary at a time of still-tightened belts. As for the all-important prices? They run the gamut from £1,600 for a chain necklace with pearl details, to a cool £18k for that hefty heart. Perfect for pearly queens of all pocket-sizes.