Heavy Metal: Stud Fashion

Navaz Batliwalla traces the everlasting appeal of studs, from mountain boots to punk rebellion to luxe decoration

The metal stud has to be one of the most unlikely of luxury adornments. Compared to dazzling crystals, jewel-like beads and lavish embroidery, there's really not much to fall for in these crude chunks of metal. Yet fall we do, season after season, not least in this autumn's Bally collection.

What sets studs apart are not the raw materials, but what they have come to represent. Whether used in large scattered volume, or in regimented rows, studs have accrued a cultural symbolism that's as enduring as one of these tough metal spikes itself.

Bally's history with studs is a long one, incorporating both form and function. Most notably, after Tenzing Norgay scaled Mount Everest in 1953 with Edmund Hillary shod in his Bally Reindeer-Himalaya boots, Bally created a new sole design featuring the 3-point Sparta star grip. Designed to improve the grip of the mountain climbing boots, it went on to become an oft-used decorative stud, to this day embellishing boots, accessories and clothing.

heavy metal

But popular history places the fashion stud firmly in a more rebellious youth culture context. You might instantly think of Californian bikers or London punks, but alongside those were a lesser-known yet powerful local influence. Enter Swiss photographer Karlheinz Weinberger and his gang of young rockers of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Weinberger documented the DIY style of Zurich's Halbstark (half strong) counter culture in which studded denim and heavy-metal jewellery preempted punk by over a decade. The photographs and fantastic styling have gone on to inspire fashion designers, musicians and film directors ever since.

By the time cultural provocateur Malcolm McLaren had styled his protégés the Sex Pistols in shrunken studded biker jackets, the functional roots of the metal stud had been well and truly usurped. Studs were now an official part of the punk poet's uniform, adopted by everyone from Lou Reed and Patti Smith to the Clash.

heavy metal

Fast forward another decade and studs had migrated to accessories and footwear, favoured by art-school crafters who liked their cheap availability and customising potential. Madonna's neon spiked cuffs and belts (worn in multiples) would come to define the mid-1980s pop moment, while studded berets were a hallmark of New York subway vigilantes, the Guardian Angels. By the time the new millennium arrived, studs had been adopted by luxury designers as shorthand code for nonconformist style.

At Bally, the trend has come full circle, with boots, slippers, bags and straps all adorned with a sprinkling of metal armour. There's the tough-luxe of the Ric jodhpur boot and Hingis backpack, with their pyramid spikes a gentle nod to rebellion – best worn with jet-black jeans and a (stud-free) biker jacket. Or more playful is the Boell painted slipper, garnished in flat golden grommets. Meanwhile, the Suzy bag is the refined everyday option; its heavy metal studs are a perfect contrast to its elegant lines. Whether your studded accoutrements of choice are punky or precious, one thing is certain, they will embody a forever-cool attitude that continues to endure.