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Essay: Bracelet by Yves Saint Laurent

by Penny Martin on 1 February 2004

Penny Martin reads into the symbolism of a bejewelled cuff from Tom Ford's penultimate Yves Saint Laurent collection.

Penny Martin reads into the symbolism of a bejewelled cuff from Tom Ford's penultimate Yves Saint Laurent collection.

Like the live beetles the Surrealists are said to have pinned to their lapels, this cuff from Tom Ford's penultimate Yves Saint Laurent collection is positively crawling with garish colour and historical resonance. In a Spring/Summer season of all things Depression-era, the Texan designer also made reference to the 1930s. It was perhaps most explicit in his accessories line, however, that this was no mawkish homage to the desperation of the dust bowl, but a more characteristic nod to the Hollywood studio system of the period. Bias-cut gowns of liquid silk and sequinned chiffon were accompanied by these lavish paste and diamanté 'corsages', recalling the boom in costume jewellery of the decade, at which point the desire for the glamour of conspicuous consumption was met with ubiquitous, mass-produced glass 'gems' in non-precious metal settings.

Rather than aping the work of past-masters, this cuff tells a very modern, perspicuous tale about art, artifice and the state of the contemporary fashion industry.

Paradoxically, it is the two key elements of the YSL cuff that suggest inexpensive construction that also disclose the piece's highly prestigious aesthetic provenance, which extends back to two of the finest jewellery designers of the twentieth century. The two 'rubies' at the bracelet's top and centre–no more than hastily painted rhinestones–and the rather patchy enamelling on the leaves respectively evoke the Bohemian crystals used by virtuoso jeweller Miriam Haskell in the 1930s and the enamelling techniques implemented by visionary fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1950s and 60s.

Ford is no slave to the prescriptive force of history, though, and rather than aping the work of past-masters, the cuff tells a very modern, perspicuous tale about art, artifice and the state of the contemporary fashion industry. Not really a sensuous thing to be stroked, treasured, or even inherited, the floral, jewelled bracelet is a striking visual statement to be viewed from a distance or in a photograph: garment as image, not object.

Jewelled floral bracelet by Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche at Yves Saint Laurent +4420 7493 1800

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