All That Glitters

The Costume Jewellery Industry

The term costume jewellery was first coined back in the 1920s when flappers hit the town wearing stacks of Bakelite bangles jangling up their arms. The costume jewellery industry is a niche market within the fashion and accessories field which has been subject to some interesting developments over the years. With a bit of creativity and technical know-how, everything from glass to porcelain and even human hair has been used to manufacture costume jewellery. It is a dynamic and vibrant industry, to be sure; but where did it all begin and in what direction is it heading?

Faux Origins

The history of costume jewellery stretches back to the 17th and 18th centuries when a high demand for precious gemstones, in particular diamonds, led to jewellers searching for less expensive substitutes. Parisian jeweller Georges Frederic Strass developed paste jewels in 1730. Paste jewels were made from a special mixture of lead and glass, which when cut and polished with metal powder, gave a pleasing twinkle. The new paste jewels could be coloured and cut to simulate a variety of stones including opals, and paste jewellery was an instant hit.

Victorian mourning jewellery was far more sombre than the flashy paste jewellery designs of Europe. Mourning jewellery nearly always included at least one braided, twisted or looped lock of the hair taken from the deceased. Cherubs, ferns, roses, skeletons and wreaths were all popular design motifs. Miniature portraits of the deceased were often made into pendants and earrings hand painted on porcelain in a setting. Since Whitby jet jewellery was fashionable but expensive, French glass, crepe stone and vulcanite were common substitutes.

The mid 20th century was an exciting time for the costume jewellery industry. The great rivals Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli designed costume jewellery that redefined style and innovation. Jewellery from the Byzantine and Renaissance periods was a source of endless fascination for Coco Chanel who was also inspired by the buttons, chains and tassels on military uniforms. She loved incorporating faux pearls into necklaces, brooches and earrings that complemented the signature elegance of her clothing collections.

Unlike Chanel, the controversial Elsa Schiaparelli created costume jewellery that, like her clothes, had the power to shock audiences worldwide. Schiaparelli designed a number of pieces drawing on themes like African tribal art, astrology and the circus but her biggest inspiration by far was Surrealism. One of her most memorable designs was a transparent collar necklace studded with insects made from pressed metal. The bizarre necklace was made in 1938 using Rhodoid, a newly developed cellulose acetate plastic, and would not look out of place today around the neck of Lady Gaga.

Disposable Chic

It is fascinating to see how the pioneers of the past like Georges Frederic Strass, Chanel and Schiaparelli have left an impression on costume jewellery design. This past spring / summer season, clashing neon jewels gave an unexpected twist to classic pieces including chandelier earrings and cocktail rings. Other key looks included the collar necklace and tribal designs featuring spikes. Fashion trends change rapidly and costume jewellery allows consumers to keep up with all the latest styles on a budget. At the end of the season when the trends change, a piece can simply be disposed of.

Retail chains dedicated to costume jewellery and accessories like Diva, Equip and Lovisa are doing well in the marketplace. After selling Diva, Colette Hayman and her husband Mark decided to take the plunge for a second time and start the colette by colette hayman brand. Mrs Hayman recognised a gap in the Australian market for her Diva customers who had grown up and were after more sophisticated but affordable costume jewellery and accessories. “After we sold Diva, we tried to retire but found ourselves itching to do something new,” she says. “I’m sure most people would dream of retiring early but if business is part of your DNA then you can never really stop striving!”

Mrs Hayman travels extensively to find emerging trends from the world’s fashion capitals like London and New York. “I also love to people watch to see what my target customer is wearing during the day and night,” she explains. This season, costume jewellery is all about glamour, with bold shapes and detailed embellishments. “Ultimately it’s all about dressing up those warm winter layers with big, statement jewels.” This season, customers will find a luxurious colour palette of deep teal, royal blue, ox-blood and purple at colette by colette hayman. “We have focused on creating beautiful textures with decadent details, but also experimented with bold colours, all of which will allow our customers to make their own style statements for the season.”

Shining Outlook

While the Australian costume jewellery category is highly competitive and under pressure from international retailers, it is not likely to go out of fashion anytime soon. “I truly believe that Australian retailers have to offer not only fantastic product and good quality but a shopping environment and service that set us apart,” comments Mrs Hayman. “We consistently strive to offer our customers an exceptional retail experience, with the very best selection of products and outstanding customer service.”

The fashion forward brand recently introduced different versions of the chain necklace as seen on international runways in silver, gold, rose gold and gunmetal. “For something a little more edgy, our studded jewellery has also been extremely popular – from studded necklaces to bracelets and earrings, our customers love this daring look.”

With a colourful history and a dynamic present, the costume jewellery industry is thriving in Australia. Following a successful launch into New Zealand in late 2012, the current strategy for colette by colette hayman is to be positioned in the top 100 shopping locations in Australia, open new stores in Singapore, the Middle East and South Africa, and expand New Zealand operations to 10 stores.

For colette by colette hayman, offering trendy products exclusive to the brand and a fun retail experience has secured a prosperous future on firm foundations. “My aim has always been to create an exciting shopping experience in a cool, sexy environment and this is exactly how I see my stores today,” says Mrs Hayman. “With the influx of international retailers, customers are going to be spoilt for choice so we all need to lift our game to be in the race!”

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June 19, 2018, 8:18 PM AEST