This season, ladylike pearls get punk’d.

As this fashion classic makes a return engagement, those creamy-coloured beads are the sized of gum balls, strung on thick silk ribbons or intertwined with cascades of punkish chains. This is not your grandmother’s necklace.

“Pearls used to be a love token. Your husband gave you pearls or your grandmother bequeathed you her pearls,” says vintage costume jewellery connoisseur Carole Tanenbaum. “But the love token has been pushed aside and the rock star of pearls has emerged.”

And, like the star they have become, they are gloriously, fabulously fake and begging to be noticed.

If you had to zero in on the moment when faux pearls were poised for a comeback, it would have to be last summer’s blockbuster chick flick Sex and the City. Retailers and designers sat in cineplexes to see what their four favourite fashionistas were wearing. And there it was, looking suddenly new and fresh on Carrie, who was wearing a long strand of pearls in an insouciant way — to bed.

Sure enough, by the time September and October rolled around and designers were showing their spring/summer 2009 collections, tricked-out faux-pearl necklaces were seen on several runways, from Luella Bartley in London to Moschino in Milan to Alber Elbaz at Lanvin in Paris.

But props must be given to Elbaz for diligently giving pearls a makeover. For the past several seasons, ever since he wrapped his pearls in tulle and strung them on a necklace, the designer has been working the pearl necklace in increasingly innovative yet delectably ultra-feminine ways. This season, his pearls are strung on his trademark thick silk ribbons.

Fashion’s newest “It” girl seemed to have picked up a penchant for pearls, too.

Michelle Obama’s necklaces have been anything but the traditional dowager kind favoured by past first ladies.

Her pearls have included a simple strand of ping-pong-sized balls and a heavily, multi-strand necklace by jewellery designer Tom Binns.

Everyone has fallen in love with pearls again, it seems.

“I can’t tell you how many we’ve sold for spring. It has been crazy,” says jewellery designer Rita Dobberstein, whose line, Rita D., is also sold in the U.S. and Europe.

Inspired by the ’40s, Dobberstein mixed giant pearls with cascades of chains for a look that she calls “punk meets Mad Max with a bit of rock ’n’ roll.”

It was time to do it differently, said the Toronto designer. The look she created “caters to a different kind of customer, someone edgy perhaps, who never thought they would wear pearls,” she adds.

Dobberstein says that while she has dabbled with pearls in her career of more than 20 years, she has never sold as many as she has this year, and she’ll continue using them in her fall collection.

But why do fashionistas seem to be going off the deep end for pearls right now? After all, the world is hardly their oyster at the moment.

“In low economic times like these, women need something to cheer themselves,” says Tanenbaum. And these bigger styles make them happy,” says Tanenbaum. “And pearls always make a statement.”

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