Jugular vain

Hannah Betts artfully curates the perfect neckmess


This article is taken from the November 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

I was first struck by the concept of a #neckmess — without yet knowing the term #neckmess — at a fashion party in June 2019. I was attending in my capacity as a broadsheet journalist, understood in this context as a failed influencer. The actual influencer next to me was complaining of a sports injury caused by her Prada headband while we both watched three other influencers, known as “The Triplets”, do their thing, said thing being being triplets.

“Christ,” I thought, “end of days.” But, also: “Yo, Prada Bitch, I want this,” with regard to the concertedly casual assembly — what she would doubtless refer to as “an edit” — of jewels about her throat: a string of polished stones, a locket on a flimsy chain, and something witty made of plastic. Since then, the neckmess has only grown in ubiquity, a whimsical take on the Coco Chanel / Mr T axiom that, in the realm of jugular / bosom adornment, more is unquestionably more.

The neckmess makes a fetish out of individuality rather than somebody else’s status

Neckmesses are easy, insouciant, unique. As such, they are the opposite of the papal magnificence I once bedecked myself in with Mr (Nicola) Bulgari, when he showed me Elizabeth Taylor’s rocks. Capital J Jewels are for men, he informed me. Women are the mere show ponies who display these investments to best advantage.

Instead, the neckmess makes a fetish out of individuality rather than somebody else’s status. It says: “I can’t even. Only in chaos do I find meaning. What is coherence during late-stage capitalism? Do not make me choose. This is who I am: an assembly of selves. These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” Its baubles are talismanic, personal voodoo, the platitude that is “sourcing” meeting that of “curation”.

If this is a current fashion impulse, it is no less an eternal human drive. Think of the “Resin Lady” from Oplontis, near Pompeii, killed by Vesuvius in 79AD. The Resin Lady carried her gold jewels with her.

However, she also clutched a cherished necklace made of cheap pottery beads, as Paul Roberts, head of antiquities at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, described it to me: “an emotional trinket made by a child, or given by a nan”. Just as, were I fleeing 572°F (300°C) pyroclastic surges, I would seize the wristband made by my beloved niece spelling out the legend “shitfuckpiss”.

For my current nape installation, I favour a string of pearls, a Shourouk “emerald” on a lipstick-pink cord (shourouk.com, or vestiairecollective.com), and a “cunt” necklace from Hoops & Chains LDN (£28, hoopsandchains.com). Next week, it might be rubies, a bijou Faberge egg-type affair, and a “feminist af” number, again from Hoops & Chains (£26).

I live for my giant pearl B (ancient uterque.com), factoring in sundry other initials: an Orelia coin spinner engraved with an H (£25, orelia.co.uk), plus a T and a P for my partner and hound (the Elyse Monogram Pendant Necklace, £35 each, anthropologie.com). Matters are finished off via assorted stars, charms, and a pinecone.

Gender-fluid fashion wunderkind Harris Reed has a fabulous collaboration with messin’ (what they refer to as “layering”) gurus Missoma. It is billed as a celebration of individuality, which it is, should an individual conform to the category “exquisite masonic goth”: all jet enamel, pearls, hands, snakes, moons and super-pointy stars.

This goth is craving Reed’s Rising Star Locket Necklace (£235, uk.missoma.com), a celestial pearl and black enamel concoction, which I would rock with his onyx and pearl Golden Seal Ring (£155), and Night Sky Cocktail Ring (£155).

Felt, on Chelsea Green, is my most cherished cornucopia, the emporium presided over by the genius Eliza Poklewski Koziell (feltlondon.com). Felt’s designers comprise a Who’s Who of the jewellery world; its atmosphere poised between a sweet shop and a literary salon, Eliza’s canny eye embracing all tastes and purses (with vintage from £20).

Thrillingly, EPK has always been obsessed with recycling, meaning one can sell pieces one has tired of in return for credit; spinning straw into gold, Rumpelstiltskin-style. The neck-, wrist-, ear-, and fingermess potential here is infinite.

Pimlico’s @work gallery, around the corner from Tate Britain, bridges the gap between contemporary jewellery and contemporary art; making it the place in which to unearth, say, a RuPaul bottle-top pendant (£25), or collar of dolls’ heads (£270, atworkgallery.co.uk). I recently achieved neckmess apotheosis with its rope of pearls the size of plums, created out of newspaper by Denmark’s Kirsten Sonne (£370). It is all shades of Elizabeth I, crossed with po-mo Lois Lane, and thus very much up my strasse.

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