Origin of the Trend: Cameo

This past semester, Ellen Duffer wrote about a wide range of trends such as the miliary jacket and studs. What kind of jewelry can be paired with military-inspired jackets and studded pumps to contrast all the stark solidity of these menswear trends?

Something delicate, something girly; something ultra girly, transported from the Victorian era. The cameo necklace is the front runner of  this season’s jewelry trend. The softness of the carved stone (or plastic, because, really, where are we getting our jewelry?) against a curtain of black creates an addictingly pretty juxtaposition that instantly makes any outfit more intricate. After all, details give us something to look at.

We’ve been making these things since the dark BC years, before cell phones and iPods and power tools. According to CameoJewelry.com, the fancy silhouette heads were originally chiseled by hand from pure stone, frequently agate, from 3100 BC until electricity and industrialization made mass-production easier. The Romans then picked up the highly decorative trend and carried it to AD.

Flash forward to the 1850s. In the midst of Queen Victoria’s reign, cameo-adorned jewelry skyrocketed in popularity with endorsement by the Queen herself.  She “favored” the dainty thing, wearing a variety of them as brooches and necklaces dangling from velvet ribbon, according to VictorianBazaar.com. Since the impoverished little Londoners wanted to be pretty like the Queen, jewelers began to make cameos out of shell and other inexpensive items. They also made more expensive ones with precious stones for the wealthy socialites and such. The silhouettes were hand-carved with images of beautiful women with flawless Roman features.

Cameos came to the United States by the 1930s with a revival in the 1950s, when classy housewives wanted to emulate European fashion. Giovanni Apa, an Italian cameo jeweler, grew in popularity starting in the 1980s. The twentieth century shows a steady increase in the love for cameos and all things European (because all things European are instantaneously gorgeous, no matter what).

And this all leads up to Vera Wang’s Spring 2009 Ready-to-Wear show in New York, which included cameo jewelry designed by Janis Savitt. The neutral tones were complimented quite nicely by sparkly cameos. It all looked very polished, like elegant girliness. The collection is reminiscent of princesses.

2009 saw a spin on the classical jewelry again, when Alexa Chung (P.S. Where are you, Alexa Chung? Do you still exist?) of MTV’s It’s On with Alexa Chung wore a cameo necklace depicting a miniature skull (by Iosselliani) to a fancy gala. It is prett and dainty, yet twisted. The necklace fits well with late 2010′s harsh, masculine angles and fabrics.

Published at The Lion, The Stitch, and The Wardrobe on January 4, 2011.

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