Tribal Vibes

Paris. Spring. 2011. Could have fooled me. I thought it was 1973, judging from those chunky African trade bead chokers and bracelets! At second glance, Isabel Marant's spring collection is more fabulous than I thought. Ultra modern easy styling that's preppy chic, and urban bohemian all at once, with a sophisticated mix of texture and color that's soft and feminine. A striking contrast to the heavy glass bead bracelets and chokers that scream hippie. It really works.

I bought tons of African trade beads, when I was first starting out, including the interlocking snake beads, featured heavily in Marant's appealing spring accessories. The jewelry I made back then was rather lumpy, but colorful and full of that 1970's New York City ethnic vibe. Little did I know, my African trade beads were bona fide antiques, made predominately in Venice and Bohemia from the late 1400s through the early 1900s, and traded in Africa and the Americas for goods, services and even slaves.

Today African trade beads have been making somewhat of a comeback. The beads themselves, when authentic, are quite collectible, plus they fetch a pretty penny. I quite adore them right now, for livening up a modern look with an unexpected tribal twist. And won't they be a refreshing change this season from all the fussy glitz, and be-ribboned rhinestones we've grown accustomed to?

Images courtesy of accessoriesmagazine.com.


  1. Urban bohemian. What a great way to describe it! African beads really are coming back, which is good for some, but not exactly ideal for those with more classic wardrobes. Any suggestions on how to integrate them?

  2. Great question, because my own style is rather classic. I use accessories to add the "twist". If layers of colorful African bead bracelets on one wrist is the new statement piece, I'd skip the necklace and wear simple classic hoops or studs. I'd also stick to casual but tailored separates in solids, like a chambray shirt with rolled up sleeves paired with neat chinos. I'd avoid shoes and bags with shiny metal hardware - antiqued metals are my top pick for spring.


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