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The gateway drug to men’s jewellery

There's more to men's jewellery than long gold chains confined to apologetic, private lives inside shirts

Bracelets by the American brand Miansai bypass the taint of shiny metal. Courtesy Miansai
Bracelets by the American brand Miansai bypass the taint of shiny metal. Courtesy Miansai

The chaos after Sanjay Garg’s grand opening show for the Lakmé Fashion Week last Wednesday involved large groups of people waiting for their cars outside Mumbai’s newly restored Royal Opera House. At the turn of the 20th century, when it was built, the architects had clearly not accounted for Mumbai traffic circa 2017.

Fashion weeks are an excellent place to trend-spot. And here there was a frazzled, captive audience, very ripe for observation. The fluid long dress-and-sneaker staple for women is beginning to bore me now so I shifted my attention to the men, and was promptly assaulted by the sight of a lapel flower in pale yellow silk. Sure, we were outside an opera house, and Garg had even employed a choir to complement his showcase, but a lapel flower in Mumbai will always be a little out of place. More contemporary, but at the other extreme, I saw flowers and skulls on a badge pin. I asked and was told it was from Dior Homme’s Summer 2017 collection in collaboration with the Japanese artist Toru Kamei, a painter who specializes in still-life works such as intricate flowers and skulls.

I had never paid attention to men’s jewellery and here it was everywhere: making grand statements on lapels but also as more accessible wrist cuffs, chunky rings, and necklaces which were not just long gold chains confined to apologetic, private lives inside shirts.

I asked Parmesh Shahani, head of the Godrej India Culture Lab, if he believes there is a new market for men’s jewellery in India. Shahani is of the opinion that jewellery and adornment are all too deeply embedded in Indian culture and tradition, for both men and women. He doesn’t discriminate between men’s and women’s jewellery. On a recent trip to Thanjavur, he bought complete temple jewellery sets that he plans to “wear as separates". He has a collection that spans vintage Rabari silver and statement pieces in metal, wood, found objects and fabric from local designer brands such as En Inde, Vayu, Suhani Pittie, Shubhi Sachan and Rimi Nayak. But Shahani is a flamboyant dresser, an outlier for a true survey (I ask if he has one of those classic accessory trunks now being manufactured by the Jaipur-based Trunks Company. “I have a cupboard," he says).

A friend who is the country manager of a French luxury fashion label says Indian men are moving beyond cufflinks—still the safest start point—and taking small steps with rings and wrist cuffs. The wrist, he says, is a safe place to start as sleeves can be rolled up or down to reveal or conceal.

But how does the modern Indian man bypass the taint of shiny metal? Both he and Shahani believe leather is the answer. The cheeky South African brand, Dolce & Banana (now And Banana), has its fans in India. The Italian label Bottega Veneta, with leather bracelets in the brand’s distinctive intrecciato weave, is a reliable choice.

But what really caught my eye among the host of suggestions that came my way this week was Miansai. Born from a single bracelet created in Miami in 2008, its founder and creative director Michael Saiger has now turned his vision into a tasteful jewellery brand, marked by its use of fine Italian leather and nautical motifs such as anchors and fish hooks (pictured here). Their bracelets are priced from Rs3,500-11,000, with colours ranging from black and sober browns to more cheerful pastel variants.

The idea of “ungendered fashion", and how the new genderless direction in the global fashion world might further dissolve the idea of binary identities, has been dominating the fashion discourse for a while now. Actor Will Smith’s son, actor-rapper Jaden Smith, caused a stir when he appeared wearing a skirt as part of Louis Vuitton’s Series 4 (Spring/Summer 2016). Closer home, a new Delhi-based label, Anaam, only makes gender-neutral clothing.

My selfish interest in men taking more of an interest in jewellery is so that I can borrow from their wardrobes. The idea of the “boyfriend shirt" is worn out now. But jewellery is usually one-size-fits-all and hence easier to share. It is a sparkling proposition.

She tweets at @aninditaghose

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