This is the age of power pearls
No one exploits their potency better than Condie
Pearls have always been with us. Mrs Thatcher wore pearls a lot, as
earrings and necklaces of graduated beads. Post Thatcher they were for
so long so naff that even the Queen cut down on the yardage and tonnage
of pearls to be slung around her neck on ceremonial occasions.
Diana, Princess of Wales, festooned herself in pearls. She was so
keen on pearl chokers that she had them in every variation from
single-strand to 11-strand. She usually wore her chokers too tight so
that they sat halfway up her neck.
Her successor as spouse to Prince Charles errs in the opposite
direction, wearing huge horse-collars of pearls that give her all the
dignity and authority of a pearlie queen, and ruin the hang of all her
With the market at present flooded by immense quantities of Chinese
freshwater pearls, the cachet of the pearl could be said to have entered
upon terminal eclipse. That was before Condoleezza Rice and the advent
of the power pearl.
Condie is the consummate power-dresser. Every pant suit - whether by
St. John, Armani or Versace, in black, navy or charcoal grey - is
immaculate, no matter how long she has been crouched memorising briefs
as she is whirled by plane from one end of the earth to another.
She is said to work out at 4 a.m. each morning; certainly the belly
is flat and the stride purposeful, no matter how long she has been
cooped up in a plane. Her hair is regularly beaten into submission.
Right now she is sporting a ringer for the Michelle Obama bob, which
itself is a version of the Jackie Onassis big hair flick. Occasionally,
Condie lets herself be seen in knee-high, high-heeled jackboots, to the
unspeakable excitement of the armies of lackeys that follow her about.
She wears dark lipstick, highlighting the expressiveness of her eyes and
the occasional dazzle of her smile.
Otherwise her subfusc is relieved only by the milky radiance of her
power pearls. Power pearls are pure white and large, anything from 11mm
in diameter to 16mm, in a single strand, which must hang within rather
than over the neckline. The size reveals that power pearls are not
Natural pearls of that size are extremely rare, and command the kind
of price only a queen could afford. Power pearls are farmed, cultured if
you prefer. They can be cheap, that is, with only a thin layer of nacre,
or they can be rich and glossy as Condie’s are. Over the years, Condie’s
strings of pearls have been getting shorter and the beads bigger. Though
I have kept close watch, I am not sure just how many strings she has.
Cultured pearls that are not perfectly round cost much less than
rounds, and can look as good or better. When a screaming Code Pink
protester threatened her with bloody hands a year ago, Condie stood
firm, safe behind her power pearls. When she needs special clout, she
dons a particular string of big heavy pearls that lie flat to her
At the press conference on August 13, when she got stuck into Russia
for bullying Georgia, frowning, glaring and snarling, the big pearls
shone within the revers of her blueblack suit like moons in a starless
night sky. The public was so dazzled by this Queen of the Night
performance they didn’t realise just how ineffectual her response
actually was. Power pearls are glamour, bravado and insolence.
Power pearls have now crossed the floor of the house. For a few weeks
now, Michelle Obama has been wearing power pearls and hers are even
bigger than Condie’s, so big that bloggers beg the cruel world to tell
them why their idol’s wife wears “outsize fake pearls”.
Michelle’s not saying whether they’re fake or not, and lets it go on
being a grey area. She knows by what pearls do for Condie’s image what
they could do for hers, softening her features, lengthening her neck and
giving her that gleam of class.
So far, the image-meisters have not intervened and she is still
wearing them. Madeleine M Kunin’s new book on women in US politics is
called Pearls, Politics and Power. When she came on stage to endorse
Obama’s campaign and belatedly declare her support, wearing the
ubiquitous full-bottomed pantsuit, even Hillary Clinton had brightened
up her image with a row of power pearls.
Despite Kunin, real power and pearls (real, cultured or fake) don’t
go together. Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in Europe, wouldn’t
be seen dead in the full-on row of pearls. I suspect that Helen Clark,
prime minister of New Zealand, doesn’t have a pearl to her name.
Pearls are tears; Diana Spencer wore her jewelled ligatures as
signifiers of subjection. Condie Rice is George Bush’s creature, and
when he steps down he will take her with him. The consensus is that she
will not find another job in politics. Hillary has taken to wearing
pearls in defeat, which leaves only Michelle.