Vivienne Westwood’s Bas Relief pearl chokers are the epitome of all that’s royally rambunctious about the brand. Since bursting onto the fashion scene in a riot of rubber, zips and leather in the early ’70s, the punk designer has been distilling anarchic influences into clothing that’s equal parts wild and exceptionally crafted. Westwood fashion is recognised as a counter-cultural statement, but it transcends time because of its iconography.
Always radical, there is no one who does what she does, which is why her signature necklaces—the entry-level products into the Vivienne Westwood world—are still worn as badges of pride by generations of individuals who like their style with a dash of the subversive.
Like her corsets and crinoline, Westwood’s pearls take traditional upper-class fashion codes and turn them on their heads. With the brand’s orb and saturn ring emblem front and centre of the milky beads, the focus is on the designer’s fusion of the past with the future. Born in the mid ’80s, by which time Westwood had separated from her partner Malcolm McLaren, and was in Italy working with Fiorucci while musing on her own royal-inspired collection, the logo has roots in Prince Charles’s style.
The designer conjured up a knitted jumper emblazoned with British insignia—including the orb from the crown jewels—that the Prince of Wales might wear. To modernise the symbol, she sketched a satellite ring around the orb—much to the delight of her friend Carlo D’Amario, who subsequently went onto become the business manager of Vivienne Westwood. The logo was launched and has been stamped on the brand’s collections ever since.
The first Vivienne Westwood orb pendant appeared in the Harris Tweed autumn/winter 1987-88 show—almost a decade before modern-day brand fans, including Dua Lipa, Bella Hadid and Griff, were born.
At the Brit Awards 2021, Dua collaborated with Westwood and her husband Andreas Kronthaler on a custom saffron corseted gown that was a riotous ode to Britishness. The hand-knotted rows of Swarovski pearls and encrusted orb emblem at the nape of her neck were emblematic of the “very iconic Vivienne Westwood” look, according to Dua herself.
Scores of the singer’s 66 million followers, who don’t already possess a Bas Relief choker, will have no doubt browsed Viviennewestwood.com’s jewellery section post-Brits for styles similar to her £340 charm.
For some, such as Bimini Bon Boulash, Westwood pearls are more than just a signifier of anti-establishment authenticity. “[Vivienne] went against what was expected of women’s bodies and made it cool to be punk,” the Drag Race UK star told British Vogue of the formative influence the legendary designer had on them as a youth growing into their own skin.
When Westwood gifted Bimini one of her also archetypal “sex” chokers, Bimini felt like they had truly made it. “It was an I-can’t-believe-it’s-happening-to-me moment,” they say. In terms of It-accessories, it’s hard to think of a piece of jewellery loaded with more meaning for the new-gen to buy into. As Westwood herself says via her wonderfully insightful blog, “Long live the orb”.