Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.
from The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Chanel costume jewellery collections are inspiring on different levels: it’s not only a purely aesthetic matter, because there’s always much more than what appears. One of the main themes of the spring/summer 2012 collection is quite predictable (sea and pearls), but it’s the outcome that makes the difference. Models walked the runway wearing shell-inspired accessories (see the heels of these sandals or these earrings) and jewellery dripping with pearls, pearls on their hair  and faces . The fashion show, which took place at the Grand Palais in Paris last October, included the performance of Florence Welch, who sang What the Water Gave Me , a song which reinforces the main theme of the collection. It’s frustrating not to know exactly the sources of inspiration for the collection but I’m pretty sure Karl Lagerfeld may have used Shakespeare as a reference, in particular one of the most interesting plays written in the latest part of his career, The Tempest. The theme of the shipwreck and of the discovery of a new world on an apparently desert island was beautifully exploited by Alexander McQueen in his spring/summer 2003 collection; here, the theme has been analyzed with a completely different – but equally appealing – approach.
This is not the place to speak extensively about the play by Shakespeare, but the reference which comes to my mind is from the second scene of the first act, where Ariel (a spirit only visible to the protagonist, Prospero) sings a poem to Ferdinand (the son of the king of Naples), telling him that his father lies under thirty feet of water, after being killed by his treacherous brother Sebastian. The song introduces the themes of the death by water (which Shakespeare had used in Hamlet, too) and of the sea change, a “magical” metamorphosis occurring to a dead body under the sea. Ariel makes Alonso’s death beautiful by depicting his body as a piece of jewellery, “something rich and strange” made of pearls and corals. Moreover, what is special about this song is its legacy: Thomas Stearns Eliot took a verse from it and used it twice in his masterpiece, The Waste Land (1922) – in The Burial of the Dead it refers to a drowned Phoenician sailor on a tarot card; in A Game of Chess it’s included in a Shakespeare/ragtime cross-over.
Pearls have always been a symbol of Chanel, but in this case the aquatic mood is reinforced: part of the collection seems to come from an ancient treasure chest. The metal cuff above, for example, is embellished with enamel and fresh water baroque pearls.
The same concept has been used for this metal ring embellished with enamel and fresh water pearls. I love the irregular shape of the pearls and of the ring itself.
Fancy belts are another symbolic accessories of the French maison: just think of the iconic chain (and leather) belt, featured in many collections. Here, the belt is obviously made of glass pearls, accented by a double C and a pendant drop pearl.
Multi-strand necklaces are often to be found in Chanel jewellery collections, so it’s no wonder to find the same piece here. This necklace is particularly interesting: fresh water pearls have an irregular shape and are used along with glass stones and iridescent double C metal charms.
Talking of chain bracelets, the collection includes different styles – three gold metal bracelets interlaced with thin chains; a gold metal cuff embellished with interlaced thin chains; five gold metal bracelets interlaced with thin chains. The cuff bracelet, embellished with a big double C, is a bit tacky, in my opinion.
Chanel cuffs are the best pieces of jewellery collections and the same can be said for this one. The powder pink plexi is subtly sparkling and is embellished with a big double C, glass pearls and enamelled metal coral branch. Sublime, isn’t it?
Chanel earrings are usually very classic – oval pearl pendants or simple hoop earrings – so this ear jewel comes as a surprise. It’s embellished with enamel, diamanté and fresh water pearls. I think it’s lovely, finally something fresh in quite a conservative world.
As usual, the collection includes exceptional pieces. The first which has caught my attention because it’s another departure from tradition, is a harness embellished with glass pearls, worn on the catwalk by Amanda Sanchez. It totally reminds me of the impressive pearl costume that Michael Kaplan designed for Burlesque: you may remember Christina Aguilera wore it while performing Guy That Takes His Time.
The latest costume jewellery collections have brought me down, but fortunately this one hasn’t. It’s a nice summery collection with some interesting versions of classic pieces (the cuff bracelet and the multi-strand necklace), but we are also given some much-welcomed novelties. I also appreciate a lot the effort to give new life and a different twist to a theme which has often been used by Chanel, and I cannot help but hail the possible literary source of inspiration.
What are your thoughts about it? Is it exciting/covetable or is it just plain boring?
 Pearls were used as hair accessories in the fall 2006 Haute Couture collection, too.
 It’s sublime the fact that pearls were used as fake labrets.
 The song was inspired by a Frida Kahlo painting and by Virginia Woolf (who committed suicide by drowning).