10 years ago next month, Kate Winslet posed for a stunning photograph that appeared on the cover of V magazine. A shot of her beautiful face and a string of pearls was all that was needed to create the wonderful image. But the pictures also evoked the movie queens of days past, and speaks volumes about the eternal lure of pearls. I may be biased – pearls are my necklace of choice, my birthstone (for June), but whether it is an elegant gold and pearl necklace with a chain and a pendant, a simple string of pearls, or a vintage style choker, pearls evoke glamour, and elegance, and also a lot of sex appeal.
Looking back at Kate’s cover, The Daily Telegraph said that Winslet was paying some kind of tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, the last of the immortal love goddesses, who had died earlier that year. A famous still of Taylor from the film Ash Wednesday was used to illustrate the similarity of the pose. But the image of Kate reminded me of those Bert Stern ‘Last Sitting‘ poses by Marilyn Monroe, the ones where she was photographed with pearls and rhinestones just a month before her death. These were almost a last hurrah for Marilyn, and ensured she pushed Elizabeth Taylor from all the world’s front pages. Marilyn had also posed with pearls in the publicity shots for ‘Some like it Hot’ in 1958.
So the picture of Kate celebrates screen goddesses of the past, but it is also as much a celebration of pearls as it is of the females who wear them. I think pearls are the most mysterious of jewels…what do they actually symbolise? They are often seen as presenting a real lady, sometimes in the form of conservative dressing, the twinset and pearls brigade for instance. Debutantes and Duchesses wear pearls, old ladies wear pearls, Ladies on the cover of ‘Country Life’ and ‘The Lady’ wore pearls. And yet…
One of the most famous courtesans of the 19th century, Cora Pearl, is said to have appeared before Edward VII wearing a long string of pearls…and nothing else. One of the most notorious rock paramours of the 1960s, Marianne Faithfull, was photographed wearing a conservative pearl choker at the height of her heroin addiction, subverting the image of the necklace as something for good girls. And Madonna added pearls to her Boytoy bride look in the 1980s. Large 1980’s style pearls have made a comeback in recent years, with stores like Shein having lots of cool choices, whilst Butler and Wilson also deal with pearls in the form of both costume jewellery and gem set pieces.
So, what is the truth about pearls, good girl accessories, or ultimate bad girl attire? Maybe the truth is a little bit of both. Good girls love the prettiness and the glossy sheen or pearls, whilst bad girls like to subvert the jewel that is considered a sign of class, breeding and landed gentry. While all this is true, pearls will be continue to fascinate.