Given where we are in culture these days, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the latest Kardashian extravaganza — by which we’re referring to Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker’s eldest sister Kourtney and third Wedding reception in Portofino a few weekends ago – was essentially a multi-day branded blitz sponsored by Dolce & Gabbana. However, what raised a few eyebrows — not to mention the Twitterverse — was the entire Klan’s unreserved embrace of Catholic motifs and cross adornments, particularly the oversized, elaborate Gothic costumes. (Also, it’s about the bride’s looks: a tiny micro dress topped with a veil embroidered with an image of the Virgin Mary. Make it what you will.)
With Rihanna’s internet-shattering pregnancy reveal still fresh—you’ll surely remember the pink Chanel coat with its Gripoix buttons, a huge, multicolored vintage Christian Lacroix cross dangling over her bare stomach—we couldn’t help but to ask ourselves: are crosses the new chains?
More importantly, have they transcended their religious connotations so that anyone, Christian or not, can now wear them? (Let’s be clear, members of the Kardashian family have alluded to their Christian faith in the past; Barker was raised Catholic.) “I don’t think that’s possible,” says Frank Everett, senior vice president of Sotheby’s Jewelry. “Outside of the high fashion world, the overwhelming majority of cross necklaces are worn by Catholics or Christians.” And that includes several notable – and very expensive – gemstones that the auction house has sold in recent years, from an extremely rare Byzantine-inspired pearl , turquoise, amethyst and gold beauty designed by Robert Goossens for Chanel, to an antique reliquary pendant with rose-cut diamond studs.
There is also the question of appropriation. “If you’re a non-Christian and wear a cross for fashion, I don’t see much of a difference between that and someone wearing the garb of another culture that isn’t theirs,” he says. “There should be reverence and respect for religious symbols of all kinds.”
Lisa Jackson takes a slightly different, perhaps more forgiving, perspective. The jewelry designer, who previously dedicated an entire line to the motif called LJ Cross, cites the ’80s as a major turning point. “With the appearance of Madonna, Prince and George Michael, the cross took on a new form. Everything changed – it became sharper with the juxtaposition of religion and rebellion,” she says.
And much like the talismans people turn to in uncertain times, crosses can have a broader divine meaning. “Yes, her roots are in religion, but that has served as an entry point for other forms of inspiration,” says Jackson. “They’re great for creating a deep connection and spirituality while also tapping into a bit of edge or rock ‘n’ roll. Small and delicate or big and expressive, for me it’s about the person who wears it. When they have a connection and own it, it’s magical.”
Prince Dimitri, jewelry designer and member of the royal family of Yugoslavia, is diplomatic. “Some people find it offensive, but it depends on how it’s worn and by who,” he says, but concedes that crosses are still mostly reserved for believers. “I remember years ago the Pope said it was disrespectful to wear crosses as a fashion accessory. People may wear them for non-religious purposes, but generally it’s only Christians who do so I suppose there must be some sort of dual purpose here, perhaps an unconscious religious attraction?” Take Elizabeth I. : As determined as she was to found a Protestant church after inheriting the throne from her very Catholic half-sister Maria I., The virgin queen was tolerant of Catholicism during the early years of her reign, even retaining some of its symbols.
As for the Kardashian Effect? While this wedding provided an excellent return on investment for Dolce & Gabbana – $25.4 million to be precise – could cross-jewelry sales also be expected to surge? The opinion on this is unanimous: the answer is no. “They’re late to the game,” says Everett. There has always been – and always will be – a strong market for these jewels.
Prince Dimitri himself has been designing crosses for years, as evidenced by his collections and book. Once upon a time there was a diamond in which he chronicles the history of his family’s royal jewels. He points to the ubiquity of the emblem throughout history, from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance to the Victorian era and beyond. “Just look at the wonderful cross jewelry by Fabergé and French jewellers, and later by Chanel, Lacroix and Saint Laurent,” he says. “I don’t think that’s anything new.” Which perhaps all goes to show that the truly serious jewelry collector — like actually devout Christians — might really not care what the Kardashians do.
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