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The story of the Orb, the symbol of Vivienne Westwood

How the British designer's iconic logo was created and then made popular by Bas Relief choker and TikTok

The story of the Orb, the symbol of Vivienne Westwood How the British designer's iconic logo was created and then made popular by Bas Relief choker and TikTok

For a long time pearls were associated with classic elegance, typical of a certain aristocratic and conservative aplomb and with divas, such as Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, who went down in history for their timeless sophistication. Then came Vivienne Westwood and those white, shimmering stones took on a new twist, steeped in rebellion, defiance of the establishment and the future. How? To find out, we have to go back, to the turn of the 1980s and 1990s. It was then that the British designer, after splitting with Malcolm McLaren and temporarily closing her World's End shop, while in Italy at Fiorucci's to rediscover her creative vein, created her logo, the Orb. Vivienne was working on a jumper that, ideally, Prince Charles might wear in his spare time. So on it she had placed all the insignia usually associated with a British prince such as the griffins, the thistle for Scotland, the leek for Wales, the shamrock for Ireland, the crown and also the famous crucigerous orb that since the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 has been part of the royal aesthetic, identifying kings and queens of Great Britain as defenders of the faith. Westwood did not just propose the classic Orb, but customized it with a futuristic touch. Inspired by some astronomy magazines, she added a ring around the globe, similar to those surrounding Saturn. When Carlo D'Amario (now CEO of the brand) spotted it among various emblems, he suggested that it would be the most perfect of logos, because it summed up in a single object the dual soul of Dame Viv's fashion, which, poised between past, present and future, has always combined corsets and crinolines with the world of the most subversive subcultures, first and foremost punk.

@ondreaholder The most interesting/ random logo story i have heard. The Orb by #viviennewestwood original sound - Ondrea Holder

Since then The Orb Logo has appeared everywhere, on the label, embroidered on certain garments, on buttons and even in design objects, perfumes and in the furnishings of Westwood stores, but its most beloved and iconic declination dates back to the Harris Tweed collection of Autumn-Winter 1987/88 during which, among the many garments that played with the stereotypes of Britishness, the Three Row Pearl Bas Relief Choker stood out. Not a simple piece of jewellery, but a cult object that is still much loved and coveted today, incorporating the Orb logo in gold or silver metal and decorated with crystals in the centre of a three row necklace, characterised by the typical stiffness of the choker and composed of 92 hand-knotted pearls (made by Swarovski experts). The bijoux further extended the concept of past and future already present in Westwood's Orb, adding inspiration from 18th century painting, ceramics and French furniture of the period, in particular the works housed in the Wallace Collection and belonging to the Marquis of Hertford. 

"I thought the idea of one pearl earring or…three strands of pearls with a pearl drop in the middle was typical of all jewellery. You could fit it with practically any period and it would look great. So I chose things in that way, I wanted them to be complete, and as archetypal as they could be."

Said Vivienne when explaining the introduction of the Three-Row Pearl Drop Choker in the Autumn-Winter 1990 Portrait collection, and she was right because that piece of jewelry has never ceased to be on everyone's wishlist, including Gen Z who have rediscovered it in recent months, bringing it back into trend.

The renewed interest in this creation made of pearls and crystals is largely due to Nana, the Japanese manga created by Ai Yazawa who has drawn on the Westwood fashion universe for her characters' costumes. In particular, Nana Osaki, the punk singer and 20-year-old Nana Komatsu, sports Vivienne Westwood's iconic Sovereigns Orb logo in every frame. The popularity of the manga among the younger generation led them to fall in love with the British designer's style and, unable to afford more expensive pieces, many turned to jewelry, especially the Mini Bas Relief Choker. The social hype on TikTok and Instagram was further boosted by the passion of celebrities such as Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner for vintage, including Dame Viv's most iconic creations. Not just corsets or evening gowns, FKA twigs, Janelle Monae, Dua Lipa, Rihanna, Paris Jackson and many other stars have sported the necklace in all its versions, inspiring Gen Z to do the same. The Wisconsin teenager wearing the Orb choker with the Zara t-shirt and second-hand Levi's bought on Vinted obviously ignores its history and rebellious spirit, limiting herself to imitating the it-girls of the moment, but somehow there is a small (albeit very diluted) drop of punk in the fact that without prestigious and sophisticated marketing strategies behind it, it was a group of ordinary kids who made an object of the past cool again, to the furore of the people.