Swarovski Manufaktur opens, finally, in Austria
Swarovski has, finally, opened its doors to the curious and enquiring.
The most important supplier of crystals for the fashion industry, Swarovski, has a reputation of guarding its secrets zealously. Like the Renaissance Venetians, who refused any artisan the right to leave Venice on pain of death in case they would betray the secret of mirror making, in which the lagoon state had a monopoly. In almost a century and a half, Swarovski practically never let an editor in through the front doors of its famed Alpine manufacturing plant in Wattens, Austria.
How things have changed. On a wet fall Wednesday afternoon, Markus Langes-Swarovski and Nadja Swarovski welcomed several scores of editors into their brand new Manufaktur design studio; and a series of show spaces, containing iconic fashion and accessory looks. From a magnificent 1999 Alexander McQueen chess piece frock in dazzling old gold crystals and a Gianni Versace Vogue dress with beaded trim to a beige flapper dress by Giorgio Armani criss-crossed in a crystal Argyle pattern, to a brilliant retro-futurist stainless steel and amber bauble chain mail party tunic courtesy of Paco Rabanne.
“Today marks the birthday of our founder Daniel Swarovski. He would have been 156. One thing he always believed in was change and innovation, which is why we are all here today,” said his great-great-grandson Markus Langes-Swarovski, speaking on a rostrum in the soaring foyer of Swarovski Manufaktur.
Daniel, a Bohemian glass cutter born in 1862, patented a glass cutting machine and founded a crystal making company in Wattens, using local hydro-electricity. Today its various divisions employ some 27,000 people worldwide with annual turnover of just below 3 billion euros.
The event also unveiled several key new collaborators that the Austrian company has brought on board. Notably Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert, the noted Italian fashion stylist and influencer, as the creative director of Swarovski Professional, which handles all dealings with key fashion houses and brands. Battaglia Engelbert created several dramatic show spaces, including a series of twisting shelves loaded with contemporary crystal ideas seen on mannish shirt cuffs, tiny pin cushions, intricate crystals insects and beaded high tops.
These stood alongside a series of recent designs by noted designers, most memorably a screen goddess six-inch tall crystal lipstick that turned out to be a great catwalk clutch by Judith Leiber.
“The archive of Swarovski is fascinating, but so are all the amazing partnerships they develop and the incredible brands that come here and dream up ideas with this company. That's what I wanted to capture. I've been back and forth from Wattens to New York all year, though a little less recently,” said Battaglia Engelbert, smiling as she nodded towards her tummy. The Italian lady is expecting her first child January 2019.
Visitors could also take in a “cabinet de curiosités” created by artist and set designer Simon Costin, a pot pourri of brilliant ideas, many linked to cinema. From the intricate Gothic breastplate worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, to the fantastic diamond white gown made famous by Shirley Bassey as the robe in which she sang Diamonds Are Forever, the soundtrack to the 1971 James Bond film.
Testifying to the family's history, an entrance wall carried exact copies in glass of the right hands of all the 25 Swarovskis who have been executives in the company – each contained inside the blond plywood that is the leitmotif of the building.
Markus Langes-Swarovski even introduced a new creative partner, Julia Körner, a brilliant Austrian architect and expert on 3D printing who has worked with Iris Van Herpen, and collaborated with costume designer Ruth E. Carter on the 3D printed crown and shoulder piece worn by Queen Ramonda, the character played by Angela Bassett in Black Panther.
“Our goal is to think well outside the box. That´s what Swarovski and 3D Printing is all about. Both offer endless possibilities,” stressed Körner, quoting the founder Daniel: “Development never stands still. Innovations in one field inevitably lead to innovations in others.”
Too true in Mitteleuropa, as Korner stood 20 yards from the latest concept car in the BMW 8 Series, the gear stick and console of which came in, well, Swarovski crystal.
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