Could it be the renaissance of the Renaissance? Not since the 1600s when Charles I and Walter Raleigh were seen wearing them has the men’s pearl earring been so popular.
In May, Harry Styles arrived at the Met Gala in New York dressed in head-to-toe Gucci, wearing an ornate teardrop style in his right earlobe (he was rumoured to have pierced his ear specially for the occasion). In June, the single pearl earring popped up on the Givenchy catwalk at the Pitti Uomo spring/summer 2020 showcase in Florence, and over the last month, several influential editors and street style stars have been photographed wearing one.
GQ fashion editor Ben Schofield – who admits to having a few, “one from a shop in Stoke Newington and the other … from [the jeweller] Alighieri” – is regularly photographed wearing his, and credits the model and artist Henry Kitcher for being the inspiration behind the trend. “I first saw him wearing one that he’d found on the internet around five years ago and thought it was absolutely brilliant and give him full credit for giving me the idea.”
Kitcher, who’s a favourite with brands including Givenchy, Alexander McQueen and Tom Ford, is not just Schofield’s inspiration, but the big fashion houses too. “Over the years, brands have made their own versions of it for the show that I and others wear,” he says, adding that he is rarely asked to remove it, even when modelling other designers’ clothes. “I enjoy [that], as at least part of ‘me’ remains when I’m wearing an outfit that reflects nothing of my personality.”
Kitcher was given his first pearl by his mother, who “compared the likeness to a portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh at the National Portrait Gallery in London”, he says. “I wore it every day for a couple of years as I appreciated the gift and enjoyed the link to this great historical figure.”
Raleigh isn’t the only historical figure to have been a forefather of this trend. “The single earring dates right back,” says fashion historian Tony Glenville. “The trophy of the single great pearl represents the wealth of the sea to the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. [But] it’s Renaissance times when men really start to wear a single pearl as a statement, possibly because large pearls are hard to match, possibly because a single bold earring on a man looked less feminine than a pair.”
Wallpaper’s fashion editor Jason Hughes, who also first noticed the trend on Kitcher years ago, says that its more mainstream adoption points to “the new direction in men’s jewellery [which] fits perfectly with the new gender-fluid times that have opened the door for men to experiment with their dress once again. We’ve moved into more adventurous times, with men exploring new modes of dressing to express themselves beyond what we’re used to seeing. Kitcher concurs. “I think people have taken to the pearl because it reflects a certain elegance that isn’t typically seen on a guy.”
Hughes recommends the exotic black pearl by Hum and other single styles are available from Gucci to Asos, with prices ranging from £6 to £600, as well as markets like Spitalfields, where Kitcher’s first was found.
While in the past, pearls have generally been confined to items such as cufflinks or tie pins, their current popularity is starting to extend beyond earrings to necklaces, which were seen at Kenzo, Comme des Garçons and former Brioni creative director Justin O’Shea’s new brand SSS World Corp.
Glenville heralds it as a progressive evolution of style. “I love the fact that as a part of our examination of gender and masculinity, jewels are being rethought.”