Fashion movements aren’t always predictable, but more often than not, they tend to at least be somewhat familiar.
If you’re a kid from the ‘00s, you might be surprised to hear that the handmade, mismatched, colorful accessory of your childhood has become a hot commodity — one that’s all over your favorite celebrities’ bodies. We’re talking about the latest micro-trend to crack into streetwear: “charm necklaces.” DIY-style beaded necklaces — collages of pearls, glass beads, and quirky sculptural charms — have been spotted on tastemakers from Emma Chamberlain to A$AP Rocky over the past few months, and it may only be the beginning.
Beading may have started as just another quarantine hobby-turned-trend, but several factors are giving this one unique staying power. There’s the sweeping revival of Y2K fashion: a colorful, slightly campy, more-is-more aesthetic is blossoming in fashion after a bleak year. Within the ‘00s comebacks, joyful necklaces are hitting the mainstream just as quarantine restrictions are lifting, and getting dressed feels exciting again. While the cheap plastic beads of early-aughts necklaces have been upgraded, the playfulness and personalization of a beaded piece has become more meaningful.
Old and New Again
The beaded jewelry of 2021 is genderless, irreverent, and seamlessly moving through fashion sub-genres like streetwear. Fashion’s 20-year trend cycle is right on time with the current Y2K comebacks — but social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, as well as a universal need for joy after the past year, are putting aesthetic nostalgia into overdrive. What was once a summer camp souvenir or lockdown hobby has opened the floodgates for post-pandemic fashion, thanks to a handful of young creatives leading the trend.
If anyone can be credited with bringing beads back, it’s EVAE, a Chinese brand that built an entire identity around its cult-favorite Smiley Pearl necklace.
EVAE’s five members met through China’s underground rap scene, and strung together the first Smiley Pearl from a Tokyo hotel room in 2018. The lo-fi prototype used antique smiley face, butterfly, and skull charms between vintage pearls. “It’s childish, but it's hood. It makes you a kid again, but it's fly,” said Scovv, rapper and EVAE social manager, about the necklace’s aesthetic contradiction. “It's the yin yang; it's all about the balance.” The group returned to China and quickly secured investment to mass-manufacture their piece.
In June 2019, backstage at one of his Paris concerts, A$AP Rocky zeroed in on stylist and EVAE member Jiro Lee’s Smiley Pearl necklace. Lee gave him a spare from his pocket, and A$AP wore it for his next two performances. EVAE’s Chinese market went wild, selling out the brand’s 10,000-necklace inventory in weeks (with each one retailing for $75).
With A$AP Rocky’s blessing, Smiley Pearl jumped from one streetwear legend to another, including Jaden Smith, A$AP Ferg, Virgil Abloh, and Lil Yachty. Unlike many stylist-selected pieces, which a celebrity wears once for a fit pic or photoshoot, EVAE’s A-list clients have been photographed in their necklace countless times — proving not only this trend’s nostalgia, but its connection with a streetwear audience that’s not exactly known for pearls.
EVAE now offers six iterations of their original necklace. Despite consistent hype, the brand wasn’t available in America until this year — just in time to tap into a trend they had built the blueprint for. As the Smiley Pearl continues to attract new audiences and opportunities, EAVE sharpens its mission to uplift Chinese street culture. “Our first design was our entrance to the game,” Scovv said, referring to the Smiley Pearl necklace as EVAE’s Air Force 1. “Now we want to take the bead trend and build infrastructure around it.”
“It’s childish, but it's hood. It makes you a kid again, but it's fly.”
Scovv credits this revival to a wave of joy as normal life gets closer. Fashion is about to be experimental and expressive — and what better canvas than a beaded necklace? “When there's confusion, there's room for recreation,” he said. “This summer's going to be on some Summer of Love shit. It’s going to be a new energy. And it's going to be one to document.” The trend is so on point, in fact, that even massive superstars like Drake have been seen taking part.
Ian Charms creator Lisa Sahakian started beading as a quarantine hobby. She made her boyfriend a pearlescent necklace, then poured her colorful personal style into pieces for herself. Then, Sahakian started making necklaces for her friends, and photos of her unique charm combinations attracted buzz on her personal Instagram.
Sahakian launched the Ian Charms Instagram in August 2020, selling her own designs and the option to commission a custom piece. Her charm grew to include martini glasses, cowboy boots, and sculpted teeth (with braces). One necklace spells out “ONLYFANS” between crosses and chili peppers. “This trend put a spin on jewelry that hasn't been there,” she said. “Jewelry doesn't have to always look the same, or just for women, or be this picture-perfect, no-room-to-joke-around thing.”
By December, Dua Lipa’s stylist Lorenzo Posocco was sending Sahakian direct messages on Instagram. Lipa wore Ian Charms almost every day the following week, including one choker with a mini portrait of her dog. Like EVAE’s A$AP-effect, Ian Charms exploded thanks to one heavily influential, well-styled celebrity. Sahakian has since launched a web shop, quit her day job, and paused commissions in favor of weekly drops. Aside from almost-weekly Dua Lipa spottings, Ian Charms has now decorated the necks of A-list celebrities and influencers like Emma Chamberlain, Madison Beer, Joe Jonas, and Sophie Turner.
“I'm hoping [this trend] serves as a reminder of this really light time after a horrible year.”
Sahakian is 27, which puts her childhood firmly in the middle of Y2K charm necklaces á la Lizzie Mcguire and Limited Too. Now, accidentally at the helm of this aesthetic revival, she leads the millennial and Gen-Z customers reclaiming a trend from their childhoods with the personality they have now.
“It's cool to be older and make [beaded necklaces], because I can have a sense of humor,” she said, pointing out her “Crush Collection” pieces that dangle mini mugshots of celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. “It's kind of funny to nod at Y2K. You can lean into the fun times that were so iconic when we were younger, wearing plastic jewelry.”
Although her brand was born from the pandemic, Sahakian has managed to shield her colorful little corner of the internet from COVID trauma — she avoided making beaded mask chains, calling Ian Charms a “separate, safe space.” However, she can step back long enough to see a systemic refresh occurring.
After a year of reckoning, the fashion industry is reopening to a completely different trend infrastructure, built by social media-fueled forces like Ian Charms and EVAE Mob. Throughout quarantine, most viral trends sprouted from TikTok and Instagram rather than fashion’s one percent. While the bottom-up trend pipeline isn’t new, it’s never been this powerful — and as one of the first post-pandemic trends to break, beaded necklaces might be the litmus test for a new narrative in fashion.
“I think older brands are going to learn a lot from the younger brands that came out of this pandemic, and are doing stuff with a whole new set of rules,” Sahakian said. “I'm hoping [this trend] serves as a reminder of this really light time after a horrible year.”