King pins – the reign of the male brooch
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“But I am not a brooch wearer,” was my answer when I was asked to dilate on the subject of suit jewellery for this magazine. “Then again,” I said, thinking aloud, “maybe a position of scepticism is an interesting place from which to address the subject?”
I felt my views could do with a bit of dialectical investigation, not least because I favour most other forms of personal ornament. Moreover, the subject has awakened long-dormant and none-too-clear memories of the 1980s, when I would occasionally wear a diamanté brooch with a dinner jacket, or even pin on an Eiffel Tower brooch to the lapel of my favourite tweed coat. One man who has thought quite deeply about this is Cartier’s Pierre Rainero, whose whole profession is taste: “Men wearing brooches is quite a recent phenomenon and a step beyond the usual things like cufflinks, which are often linked to a passion a man has – such as tennis or golf. Whereas a brooch is chosen by a man as a real piece of jewellery and not to express a conventional male hobby.”
It could be argued that most other pieces of jewellery chosen by men have their roots in functionality: cufflinks hold shirtcuffs in place; bracelets can proclaim one’s name; rings can signify marital status, college education or be engraved with a crest to press into sealing wax; and pendants often convey information, be they military dog tags or astrological medallions. But brooches, to borrow from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, “Toil not, neither do they spin”. They are worn just for their beauty or, as Rainero puts it, there is no “pretext or fake reason to excuse it”.
At this year’s César Awards, Lambert Wilson, who played the Free French leader Charles de Gaulle in the eponymous 2020 biopic, asked Rainero if he could wear one of Cartier’s historic Oiseau Libéré (freed bird) brooches, made in 1944 to celebrate the liberation of Paris. When it comes to animals, Cartier is, of course, most associated with panthers, which the maison has tributed with a special clip to be worn on the outbreast pocket of a suit, as demonstrated by Justin Theroux at this year’s Golden Globes.
The breast pocket of a dinner jacket was also the location of choice for Matthew Postlethwaite to pin a Boucheron bow-shaped brooch, which from a distance looked like the folds of a pocket handkerchief. “For a man in the evening it is the equivalent to a woman wearing a necklace,” says Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, Boucheron’s CEO.
The difference is that a brooch can be worn almost anywhere on the body. “For me, the brooch is the type of piece that does not have the important technical constraints of other categories of products, such as rings and necklaces. It offers the greatest freedom of creation because I have no limit with space: it can be flat, in volume, small or large,” says Boucheron creative director Claire Choisne. “It’s an essential piece in my collections and it’s definitely my favourite one to create.”
A weaponised aesthetic prevails at Louis Vuitton, where Catherine Lacaze runs the watch and jewellery division. It is still receiving orders from men for sword brooches that first appeared in the 2019 jewellery collection Riders of the Knights. “We were thinking about men when we designed those brooches,” says Lacaze, “because, at that time, we had the feeling that men were already looking for beautiful chains, beautiful bracelets and beautiful rings.” In other words, men who are au fait with other forms of jewellery are now experimenting with brooches.
This experimentation is more than merely appropriation of a feminine accessory, as Dior Joaillerie’s Victoire de Castellane explains: “I like to see my jewellery live another life on men. What looks classic on a woman becomes very extravagant on a man and I find this very attractive.” This is echoed at Dior Men, where artistic director Kim Jones and jewellery director Yoon Ahn have created varied brooches, some that channel the decorations conferred upon members of chivalric orders, others more abstract.
Granted, it takes a fairly self-assured 21st-century urban Baudelaire to carry off the more extreme examples of the Ahn oeuvre, but less outré brooches are almost becoming mainstream. “During our dinners for our clients and VIPs I see more and more men wearing brooches,” says Jean-Marc Mansvelt, the CEO of Chaumet. “I have been wearing a brooch since I joined the company in 2015. The hope was to give ideas and inspiration to other gentlemen.”
As well as the pleasure it gives him and others, he feels he is honouring the skill of Chaumet’s craftsmen: “I thought it was a nice way to wear something visible… after all, a tiara is a less viable option.” With that in mind, perhaps I could be persuaded into a little more adornment.
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