CHROME HEARTS JEWELRY AND ITS IMPACT ON FASHION
Chrome Hearts didn’t appear yesterday. While the brand is steadily strengthening its positions in mainstream fashion, it has been widely known in underground circles for decades. This niche popularity was so strong that style influencers, from rock musicians to fashion designers, yearned to become part of the company’s cultural heritage. A prominent role in Chrome Hearts appeal is played by the aura of mystery. Exclusivity, disruptive ways, and a constant desire to outrage are the three pillars that support Chrome Hearts in the troubled waters of the fashion industry.
The brand started in 1988 when a leather hides dealer Richard Stark and a leather designer John Bowman decided to launch a biker gear tailoring business. The businessmen felt there was a lack of high-end leather goods for motorcyclists and they aspired to fill this gap. Soon, professional jeweler Leonard Kamhout joined the duo. Since he worked exclusively with silver, he brought the much-needed eye-catchiness to the leather jackets and chaps his partners crafted. Massive silver zippers, pronounced snap buttons, and the abundance of ornamentation formed their signature fashion style.
The first project the company fulfilled was costume creation for Chopper Chicks in Zombietown. Before the movie got its final name, its production title read ‘Chrome Hearts’. Stark thought this name would be a perfect fit for a business serving the needs of those who ride chromed bikes. A few years later, Stark and the brand’s co-founders parted ways. But, taking an order for designing a collection of leather swimwear from a girl named Laurie Lynn, not only did Stark meet a new partner but also his future wife. In the year of 1996, the couple opened their first boutique in New York. This was the starting point for the Chrome Heart fashion empire.
MORE THAN JEWELRY BRAND
Chrome Hearts craft everything you can imagine. Clothes, caps, sunglasses, household items, watches, decorative pieces, furniture … you name it. The creative minds take pride in everything they do, and when they do it, they spare no time to make it flawless. Despite diversity unique for a rather low-key brand, one thing remains unchanged – Chrome Hearts center its designs around motorcycle and gothic themes. Dark, mysterious, yet mesmerizing, these pieces pay tribute to iconic symbols such as crosses, skulls, daggers, spikes, and all this jazz. Needless to say, these motifs and a rather monochromatic color range earned them a loyal fan base comprised of bikers, rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts, and those who are into a gloomy aesthetic.
Chrome Hearts are one of those rare brands that prefer brick-and-mortar stores to digital platforms to promote their products. This seemingly outdated approach isn’t without its pros. It opens up an endless vista to display the company’s iconic style. In each of their brand stores, Chrome Hearts utilize one-of-a-kind top-to-bottom designs the highlight of which is the sought-after rock ‘n’ roll vibe. Now-closed Miami outlet delivered a candy department, one of its kind. The New York branch, on the other hand, is the only full-blown furniture store. No matter which store you happen to drop by, you are bound to discover an exclusive inventory and unrepeatable interior design.
A FUSION OF MAINSTREAM AND NICHE
The majority of motorcycle jewelry brands, including yours truly, put a focus on cheap and cheerful products. The logic is simple – most riders aren’t ready to pay through the nose for trinkets. But Chrome Hearts chose their own path in this regard. What they offer to the world is eccentric quality, elitism, and luxury cast in high-end materials. And this just can’t be dirt cheap.
Who are the brand’s clients? If you follow trends yet stick to your statement style, Chrome Hearts jewelry is worthy of consideration. If you’re not scared of hefty price tags and you’re willing to shell out for the sake of showing off, Chrome Heart is for you. If you want to wear what celebrities wear, Chrome Hearts will fit the bill.
Speaking of celebs, the brand’s first collaboration with those dates back to 2002. And it wasn’t a team-up with somebody known only in the biker community. It was none other than the Rolling Stones. Together, the brand and the band rolled out an exclusive capsule collection of apparel, leather accessories, and jewelry. Each piece, whether it be a ring, pendant, pin, keychain, or ring, sported the legendary tongue and lips logo.
Since then, the brand joined forces with literally everyone who has anything to do with fashion or the bohemian lifestyle. The most prominent names it collaborated with are Guns and Roses, Off White, Matty Boy, Japanese fashion brand Comme des Garcons, and many others. In 2017, Bella Hadid and the brand presented a 40-piece CHROME HEARTS x BELLA collection. It debuted at that year’s Paris Fashion Week, and Bella’s sister Gigi made its own contribution but flaunting some of the pieces on the catwalk.
The list of celebrities who declare their love for Chrome Hearts’ distinct aesthetic is endless. Elton John, Steven Tyler, Kanye West, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, the Weekend, and many others were spotted wearing Chrome Hearts. In one of his most iconic photoshoots, late Lil Peep posed in Chrome Hearts jewelry pieces. Even fashion titan Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel’s creative designer at that time) called the brand’s items ‘beloved’. He proudly wore a dozen of Chrome Hearts rings alongside those by Dior Homme.
AN ODE TO SILVER
Many of better-known jewelry brands utilize inexpensive materials for their biker-style jewelry collections, mainly stainless steel. However, Chrome Hearts put an emphasis on luxury and allure hence it can’t go cheap. Its choice when it comes to jewelry is sterling silver, as well as 22K white gold and yellow gold in combination with precious stone inlays and leather.
Despite the brand’s name, it never uses chrome for its jewelry collections. Apart from a few exceptions, it doesn’t even incorporate heart designs. On rare occasions, you can see Chrome Hearts laser engraving on some of their rings and pendants but that’s about it. The brand doesn’t try to put its label on every single piece. As an element of its statement style, it showcases daggers, ornate crosses, blackletter font, fleur de lis, and suchlike Gothic motifs.
WHY IS IT SO EXPENSIVE?
Chrome Hearts jewelry (as well as any product built by the creative genius of Richard Stark and his family), besides bad-to-the-bone vibe, carries a pretty heavy price tag. How come they get to maintain their prices sky-high while other brands in the biker niche make their pieces more than affordable? Well, it is impossible to answer this question in a few words. But if you really want to know what stands behind their four-digit prices, the following paragraphs are going to unveil the mystery.
The brand made its name on custom pieces, many of which were created in a single copy. Richard Stark and his family are proud to have many friends among A-listers. With some of them, they collaborate, while others become their loyal clients. This high-ranking clientele demands one-of-a-kind items and service featuring a personal touch. As you understand, it requires a lot of time to craft a piece of jewelry from scratch hence it can’t be cheap. But the extravagant price isn’t a hurdle for celebs. When everyone strives to stand out in the crowd, hand-crafted and made-to-order products are the only way to showcase one’s exceptionalism.
Once high prices become a brand’s fixture, there is no way back. Pieces the brand created for its retail stores just can’t lower the bar. If you’re ready to pay this price, you pay for exclusivity and a feeling of luxury.
Unlike many businesses that transfer their production facilities to China or other countries for the sake of lowering cost price, Chrome Hearts stay true to their roots. The brand started its path in an LA garage more than 30 years ago and it doesn’t intend to relocate. The only thing that changed over time is that the Stark family now owns not a single garage but a huge workshop spanning three blocks in Hollywood. Chrome Hearts don’t want to compromise on quality, and they feel the best way to maintain the highest standards is to keep everything close at hand and under control. Made in the USA (more precisely, made in LA) is a label that requires you to pay more.
By 2020, Chrome Hearts have employed about 900 people around the globe but it still remained a family business. The key positions in the business are taken by Richard Stark and his family.
STEEPED IN MYSTERY
From the get-go, Chrome Hearts worked so hard to build an aura of mystery around its image, and we’re not talking about Gothic motifs we perceive as cryptic. What we’re trying to say is that the brand manages to stay off-the-radar despite catering to celebrities. This is even more surprising in the digital era, when everything superstars do gets into the public eye. Nevertheless, Chrome Hearts have never been under the mainstream spotlight.
The company doesn’t have a full-blown website. It focuses its marketing efforts almost exclusively on retail stores, and these stores don’t even have a proper sign. They are sort of a closed club – a man on the street is unlikely to walk through the doors. But if you know, you know, so Chrome Hearts never had a shortage of clients. Having just 20+ stores in the USA and a few more in Europe and Asia, the brand’s philosophy was ‘if you need it, you’ll fly and get it’. And it worked.
It worked until recently. 2020 forced the company to introduce some changes in its sales strategy. Chrome Hearts had to close some of its shops in the USA and Europe. Still, it doesn’t rush to enhance its online presence. Yes, the brand has an Instagram account and a rather incomplete website, but that’s it. It opted out of digital look books, it doesn’t keep us posted on what’s going to happen next. We never know what the Starks are working on. Staying away from the limelight, Chrome Hearts make us want their rings, bracelets, and pendants even more. And this demand generates outrageously high prices.
CHROME HEARTS DO WHAT THEY WANT
Chrome Hearts don’t follow trends. If nothing else, they set those trends. It means they can do whatever they want, when they want, and how they see fit. They don’t produce large batches with affordable prices hoping consumers to take the bait. Instead, they craft small batches, set whatever price they wish, and they sell like hotcakes.
You never know what Chrome Hearts are going to release next. Maybe it’ll be an exclusive gold-plated and jewel-embellished jewelry collection developed in collaboration with a Hollywood diva, or a $6000 toilet plunger. The brand’s designers let their imagination run wild and see where it takes them. They don’t seek anyone’s approval and that’s the attitude that raised them to the fashion throne.
While it’s unlikely that Chrome Hearts jewelry becomes an heirloom, it gained the status of sought-after collectibles instead. Pieces created 20 and more years ago can be found in second hand online stores and their value isn’t going to drop. On the contrary, pieces that exist in just a few copies obtained iconic status and now carry four-digit prices. Even items produced in relatively large batches don’t get much cheaper. A ‘vintage’ Chrome Hearts ring is going to cost at least $600. When buying Chrome Hearts, you don’t pay for a chunk of metal. You pay for a status symbol.