Friday, 25 November 2016

The Untold Story of the Maltese Cross

The Maltese Cross can’t be confused with any other symbol. Not only because it undoubtedly has its own very special place in the history — introduced to Malta by the Knights Hospitallers of St. John in 1530, it has become an intrinsic part of Malta’s culture and heritage — but also because of its recognisable design.

Four hundred years after its creation, this potent ideological symbol has been introduced to the fashion world by the legendary designer Coco Chanel. Known as one of the leading modernises and directional creators of fashion in the 20th century, she also can be  be credited for putting the fashion spotlight on the Maltese Cross. Mademoiselle Chanel is known for her collaborations with some of the greatest creative minds of her time. Chanel was particularly close with Fulco di Verdura, an Italian-born jewellery designer. They worked together to create the iconic Maltese-sign cuffs.

After World War I, Venice became a popular destination for American and European high society. Amongst them were Linda and Cole Porter, people responsible for bringing the pair together. In 1925 the high-social couple threw a party at their palazzo in Venice. Luckily for Verdura, Coco Chanel was one of the guests, already at the height of her fame. Linda introduced Chanel to the charming Sicilian duke with an excellent taste. By that time, the titled Italian had squandered his wealth and needed a job badly. This is how aristocratic designer got his start as later, Chanel made him the head designer of Chanel.

This relationship was certainly mutually beneficial. Together they went on inspiration trips and travelled throughout Europe — Italy became one of the destinations. The Byzantine artwork motifs were shown through Chanel’s own couture collections. Another important design outcome of their travels were Verdura’s iconic Maltese cross cuffs. Rumour has it that bracelets were created exclusively for Coco Chanel when she asked Verdura to make “something beautiful” out of the jewellery that she had collected from her ex-lovers. Verdura has come out with the beautifully created Maltese-cross cuffs that Chanel wore constantly.

These attention-grabbing bracelets were made with all of Verdure’s signature flair and exquisite detail — a pair of cuffs in enamel over silver with multi-colour semiprecious stones. The Maltese cross shape of cuffs was Verdura’s loose interpretation of the star of the Knights of Malta. These particular pieces were unlike anything being created during the ‘30s — the perfect antidote for the ubiquitous diamonds and platinum.

Though Verdura's designs proved to be a great success — his fabulous collections were worn by every Hollywood diva of the ‘30s including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, to name a few; and later, were admired by Princess Diane — the Maltese-cross sign remained designer’s signature and the most celebrated symbol through his precious collections. The iconic Maltese-cross cuffs made in gold and coloured gems are now the best-sellers. The price is ranging from $41,500 to $49,500. The blooming Maltese-cross style brooch — preferred by Chanel herself — has a price tag of $35,000.

The question remains — why had Veldura drawn inspiration from the Maltese culture when he received this special request from Chanel? It could have been because of his Mediterranean origins. Verdura had strong memories of the symbol in its original context: growing up in Sicily. Or, maybe, because he probably knew about Chanel’s fixation with the military motifs. The truth is — we’ll never know.

But with all the mystery, strength and intrigue surrounding this magnificent symbol, it goes without saying that Verdura had come out with a new, fresh concept. Though the Maltese cross is synonymous with courage and heroic deeds, it remains the epitome of femininity and elegance in the couture world. This way, not only Mademoiselle Chanel created the «little black dress and designed the perfect perfume bottle, in some way, she recognised and elevated the Maltese cross to new haute highs. Merci, Coco!


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