Why The Chain Has Become The Most Relevant Motif Of The Times

Whether worn as jewellery, sewn into clothing, embellishing a pair of heels or attached to a handbag, chains of all shapes, sizes and materials are being incorporated by designers across the board. At a time when nothing is certain, chains offer a refreshing versatility that can be easily embraced by any aesthetic.  

In fashion history, chains worn about the body have become synonymous with the ’90s—attached to wallets, raver-style, looped beneath midriff-baring crop tops and as chunky gold necklaces, an item that has its roots and strong significance in Black culture. They had a major runway moment in the Spring 1994 Chanel show when the late Karl Lagerfeld famously cinched the waists of supers Naomi, Claudia and Christy with chain belts, paying homage to the shoulder strap of the iconic 2.55 bag, a house signature founder Gabrielle Chanel introduced in 1955.

Jenny Bird

In recent resort collections, the nostalgic throwback was worn head to toe. Chanel creative director Virginie Viard took things full circle, pairing delicate silver belly chains adorned with camellia and double-C shaped charms with crop tops. Models at Ulla Johnson and Carolina Herrera alike wore statement chain necklaces, while at Gucci, logoed gold belts were styled over prim skirt suits. At Moschino, creative director Jeremy Scott gave playful, 1980s-inspired polka dots an edge with gold chains on bags, belts and shoes and even used them to trim the lapels of jackets. And last spring, Brother Vellies founder Aurora James added a dainty gold chain to her Olivia Pump, effectively operating as a built-in anklet.

Chains have especially been impactful on handbags—consider Bottega Veneta’s highly coveted The Chain Pouch, a soft, voluminous clutch with a square-ring chain shoulder strap, and Kara’s signature shoulder and wallet bags, which feature silver chain straps inspired by the oversize locks Manhattan cyclists use. At her Vancouver-based handbag company Sonya Lee, owner and designer Stephanie Ibbitson has been working with metallic and acetate chains since 2015. Inspired by their versatility, she began selling them on their own as a way to customize her label’s designs and even modernize vintage pieces. “You often find a piece that just needs a touch of an update and a new chain handle could be just that,” she says.

Sonya Lee

Updating was on Jenny Bird’s mind when she created her new Toni Collection. With her knack for putting an It girl-worthy spin on the classics, the jewellery designer decided to explore the classic chain link necklace through a complete collection, including bracelets, earrings and anklets, in silver and gold. “There’s a few things that are very iconic to fashion jewellery and the chain link necklace is one of them,” says the Toronto-based designer, who created custom links and clasps for the collection. “It felt particularly relevant this year to bring forward because it’s a classic silhouette that we’re doing our modern take on.”

By Annala

For her Toronto-based line By Annalay, jewellery designer Annalay Ajooway-Tingling balances heavier chains with more dainty links in one piece. “It creates a beautiful illusion,” she says of the layered juxtaposition. For her, chains symbolize owning one’s power, an opposition to confinement. “I see them as an expression of a free-flowing attitude, as well as taking a nonconforming, confident stance on knowing who you are and claiming your personal style,” she says.

Chains also symbolize interconnectedness, an interpretation that’s especially pertinent at a time when we’ve finally come to realize the particular vulnerability of our global economy. As Bird puts it, “When times are so uncertain, you need a style you can count on.”