If nothing (and we mean nothing) else, this past year has certainly allowed for some time to self-reflect – and online shop. It was the year that comfort became king, as UK demand for loungewear surged 49 per cent against the backdrop of lockdown 1.0 and everyone stopped caring about what they looked like from the waist down. The same, however, cannot be said for the new ways in which we chose to accessorise… our teeth.
In 2021, grillz and dental ornaments are having a rebirth, and this movement is being spearheaded by a cohort of avant-garde, experimental designers who are set on pushing the boundaries of dental jewellery into a whole new realm. Mandatory-mask-or-not, being stuck at home has revealed an insatiable appetite for getting our mouths blinged-out.
Take Juanita Care, whose sci-fi horror inspired, genius pieces feel reminiscent of miniature sculptures. Or Joshua Myszczynski, who brings cartoon characters to life by setting them in gold, before turning them into state of the art tooth pieces. Who wouldn’t want Pikachu hanging off their canine?
Then there’s cult custom grillz joint London Grillz, who provides the goods for the likes of Jorja Smith and Rita Ora; Gabby Elan, a father-son duo based in New York City’s diamond district who have been perfecting the art of grill-making since the ’90s, and Clova Rae-Smith, a final year Central Saint Martins jewellery student whose intensely artistic grill designs have become some of Instagram’s most-wanted.
By using teeth as their canvas, these artists have elevated and completely reimagined the possibilities of what dental art can and should be, bringing their unique point of view to the masses in the process.
Elan Pinhasov, of Gabby Elan, describes grillz as “a beautiful, eye-catching accessory” that he believes is still only in the early stages of becoming a truly popular trend. “There are so many things that can be done with them, and all these new styles are just a taste of that,” he tells THE FACE.
“More and more influencers are flashing their unique sets to the public – I think people like to use grillz as a way to differentiate themselves and stand out from the crowd,” Pinhasov continues.
Of course, wearing grillz isn’t a new trend by any means. Its roots are deeply embedded in ’90s and early 2000s hip-hop, though as early as the mid-’80s, legendary New York-based jeweller Eddie Plein was making gold caps for Flavor Flav, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane, before opening a custom grillz shop in Atlanta and catering to the likes of OutKast and Ludacris.
Then came Nelly’s 2005 Grammy-nominated track Grillz, which birthed the iconic line ‘Call me George Foreman ‘cause I’m selling everybody grillz’, further mythologising and cementing them as the ultimate celeb status symbol.
The original, intended purpose of grillz was turned on its head. Previously, getting a gold tooth simply meant you couldn’t afford to get the proper dental work done – now, it was an international signifier of extreme wealth and power.
Circa 2013, grillz started slipping into the mainstream as pop princesses Miley Cyrus, Madonna and Katy Perry (to name a few) started flashing their golden gnashers for all to enjoy. Over the years, the trend has continued to trickle down from red carpets onto the streets, before landing right in the palm of our hands by way of Instagram’s newly minted shopping feature.
The ease with which we are now able to connect with creators via social media has had a democratising effect on the business of buying (and making) grillz, and London-based jewellery designer Clova Rae-Smith has directly benefited from this newfound way of shopping.
After announcing she was giving away one of her brilliantly intricate, jewel-encrusted silver thorned grillz on her page, Rae-Smith caught the attention of thousands of grill-seekers up and down the UK – gaining 5,000 followers and racking up hundreds of custom orders in the process.
Fuelled by her love of hip-hop and a once fleeting urge to pursue dentistry, the 21-year-old suggests that people are only just cottoning on to the fact that teeth are something you can accessorise.
“It’s such a niche industry which feels different and interesting,” she says. “I think before, you’d get a specific type of grill like a plain cap, a gap filler or diamonds, whereas now it’s gone in more of an artistic direction. People are exploring what you can do as younger designers are getting involved.
“I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I feel insecure about this fang tooth’ or ‘I still have baby teeth,’” she continues. “I’m then able to fix that for them and make that person feel more confident by giving them gold or silver to put in its place, which is really nice.”
Rae-Smith likens the process of getting grillz made to regular online shopping: you can get an impression kit off most dental websites, pop it in the post, and have your grillz sent back to you within a matter of days. “I don’t want to be presumptuous,” she says, “but I think stuff like my giveaway helps people to realise the simplicity of having grillz made, especially for those who hadn’t even thought about it before.”
Having always found her smile to be “really boring”, 21-year-old fashion buying student Shelby Luke recently commissioned a gold cap from Rae-Smith. “I’ve just transitioned from wearing all silver jewellery to gold, and I thought a grill would be a unique place to start,” she says.
“Even in lockdown, I’ve got so much wear out of it, taking pictures and wearing it around the house. Grillz work for me because I’m always switching up my style – I love accessorising and the flexibility of wearing them on and off has made it a super important part of my jewellery collection.”
In 2021, buying custom-made grillz isn’t intimidating anymore. As young designers continue to put a fresh and accessible take on dental art, they can provide the Y2K celeb treatment without compromising on quality. Forget earrings and necklaces – at this rate, you’ll be popping on grillz every morning instead.