By LINDA DYETT
I’m besotted lately with chains—jewelry chains–not just slung around the neck, but draping, crossing, crisscrossing, cascading, and dipping down the body. We’re seeing them in gold, silver, brass, studded with charms and gems.
There’s something mesmerizing about this jewelry. Not only does it glorify our curves and silhouettes, but placed on the collarbone area, the shoulders, the decollete, the midriff, the back generally, and the vertebrae in particular, it shifts our perspective about which body parts can be beautiful, which have a voluptuous quotient. Sections of skin that are otherwise neglected suddenly become foregrounded.
Or as the New York jeweler Karma El Khalil puts it: when it comes to the usual baubles–necklaces, bracelets, earrings, brooches–“the body is the star.” But with items like elongated lariats that transform into directional arrows as they plunge down the cleavage, with delicate harness chains draped over the shoulders and spilling out at multiple angles, and with sinuous waist and hip chains, “the body becomes the frame for the jewelry.” Sections of skin that are otherwise neglected are suddenly foregrounded.
Thierry Orban for Christian Dior Couture as seen in British Vogue
Now who should be wearing body chains and other jewelry armature? Kyle Roderick, a Los Angeles-based writer, editor and consultant for fashion and jewelry retailers, maintains that these items look best on young bodies not yet feeling the effects of “gravity, the aging process, loss of muscle tone, and weight gain.” El Khalil, in tune with today’s body positivity movement, takes issue with that. This jewelry is for any body, she maintains.
Karma El Khalil
But why am I writing about jewelry for a lingerie website? Aside from the fact that some body chains need to be tried on, fitted, and checked for size (and where better to do that than with a lingerie specialist?), I believe jewelry and undergarments hold a similar allure: they both touch the skin. And I see lingerie dealers not only offering these items for sale, but strategically positioning them in display areas for styling purposes. They’re eye-catchers, quickly adding an element of luxury to the retail environment.
For many wearers, the display of such jewelry will be limited to intimate occasions (I get that) and beach-going. For others, it will peek out temptingly beneath clothing. But having a simple chain around the waist (so evocative of belly dancing), even if no one but the wearer notices or touches it, has a magical effect.
“There’s a hidden aspect to wearing this kind of jewelry,” El Khalil says. “It is luxurious and also mysterious. The very act of adorning the body is sensual. And when hidden in private, it becomes sensual for the wearer only. For me, that makes it more precious and at the same time more powerful.”
Pandora’s Closet by AJ
And of course body chains can be draped over clothes. The House of Chanel, for one, has been known to attach belly chains to its skirt suits, bikinis, and jeans. Chains and armatures look especially enticing covering stretch-wear, which allows the shape and silhouette to show through perfectly well.
But I admit—body chains can connote … for lack of a better term … bondage. Okay, they have that frisson, but when the chains are delicate or superbly designed, they also convey sensual elegance.
Body ornamentation has a long history. As noted by Roderick, “it has remained a stalwart of many cultures for millennia–the Middle East, India, Northern Africa, Asia, Indonesia …”
Katie Klann/ Naples Daily News
Now here’s another question: Why has this jewelry surfaced just lately in Western culture?
For one thing, with the waning of the pandemic, we’re in the mood to celebrate and show some skin. And how better to do so than with festive body adornments? What’s more, body ornaments retain a whiff of their age-old function as protective amulets, warding off danger. And right now, even as we reunite and socialize, we’re still contending with Covid and with assorted other global and local dangers lurking out there. So we’ll take whatever armor we can get.
And let’s not forget that with currently popular cold-shoulder tops, crop tops, ultra-deep V-necks and open backs very much in style right now, and with hip huggers rebounding, plenty of skin is emerging, calling out for accessorizing. Nor should we overlook who’s showing up in body jewelry: Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, and various members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, to name a smattering. The time, in other words, is ripe.
Body chains are sold in a vast (and I do mean vast) price range. Here are some possibilities, from the budget end for costume pieces and going way up for fine jewelry:
The New York jeweler Monika Knutsson repurposes antique and vintage lace, cutting and shaping it, and then having it electroformed until it’s solidified into gold and silver. Her white gold Savannah Lace Belly Chain—two connected chains, in fact–displays hand-crocheted lace up front and a hand-crocheted flower at the back, with lingerie roses serving as pendants. It’s extendable, size-wise. How delightful that the encircled star-flower up front discreetly covers the navel. So delicate is Knutsson’s detail-work that the stitches are still evident in the designs. Beyonce, for one, has been seen wearing jewelry.
MAM, a vertical design house-retailer in Barcelona, which is soon to open stores in New York and Los Angeles, has an exquisite futuristic trace-work neck cuff, the VIV458 in 18k gold, and the VIV459 in sterling silver, from which are appended chains that hand straight down the decollete and the back, extending to the shoulders and dangling from the upper arms. The best lingerie piece to accompany a showpiece like this is a basic, frill-free, strapless bra.
And finally, not to overlook Livy, the French lingerie-ready-to-wear-jewelry provider. Not only do many of its lingerie items feature chains and other jewelry elements worked into their designs, but its Myst Cage Bra is literally made of curved plated gold wires attached to chains that become straps and cross the back.