Receive an invitation to a Swarovski party and you can pretty much expect sparkle from start to finish, even more so when the occasion happens to be the family-run company’s 120th anniversary, a milestone by any measure.
The evening unfolded in Wattens, the cradle of Swarovski creation, whose closest city, Innsbruck, boasts enough Baroque ornamentation and decorative trompe l’oeil to compensate for all the post-war architecture elsewhere in Austria.
Here, on the same site that Daniel Swarovski built his first crystal-cutting production facility in 1895 because of its distance from competitors and proximity to the river, modern sensualist FKA twigs sang a post-dinner set that did not, alas, include her first single, “Water Me.”
But well before her performance and even before the chilled lobster salad with gem-shaped cubes of watermelon, guests were encouraged to visit the newly expanded Kristallwelten, Swarovski’s sophisticated version of a fun house, with 16 Chambers of Wonder dreamed up by a master list of artist-designers including Studio Job, Arik Levy, and Tord Boontje. So many reflective surfaces, so many shameless selfies.
Within the dinner tent, the main attraction was an ensemble of 60 musicians who make up the Swarovski Musik Wattens, which began as the company band in 1900. Their traditional Tyrolean dress—from lederhosen to white cable-knit stockings—could have been the source material for Chanel’s recent Métiers d’Art collection. Pausing from posting a clip to Vine, Steven Kolb noted that the musicians further enhanced his appreciation of the brand. “It’s a bit overwhelming in a way that I had no idea,” said the CFDA CEO. He noted, too, how nice it felt to finally see Nadja Swarovski “in her own backyard” and added that Swarovski’s ongoing support of the CFDA represents a mere fraction of the brand history. “We’re 13 of the 120 years.”
Designer Iris van Herpen pointed out how crystals dovetail with her pursuit of dimensional surfaces. “With the crystals, I try to invent structures and merge them with other structures,” she explained, citing her most recent collection co-conceived with architect Philip Beesley. Swarovski, she said, welcomes the experimentation. “They try to push their own boundaries, and I think that’s why they like to collaborate with designers. When I have an idea that seems pretty difficult, they don’t say no; they always try to get there.”
The sentiment was echoed by Mary Katrantzou, whose relationship with the brand began upon her graduation and has since grown to printing onto crystal mesh and developing an effect that mimics concrete. “They’re constantly inviting [me] to challenge myself. And now I feel confident to take it to a place I haven’t taken it before. And you always want to do that,” she said. The event marked Katrantzou’s first trip to Wattens. “It’s incredible to see what they’ve done with their museum here and how they’ve kept their archives.” Asked whether she could imagine her brand reaching a similar anniversary, she mused, “Hopefully somebody will be celebrating even if I’m not around.”
Both Nick Knight and Manish Arora described their connection with Swarovski as long and full of stories. The abridged versions: Knight constructed a crystal sculpture of Liberty Ross and a corresponding film for the Fashion Rocks fundraiser in London at least a decade ago; Arora has ceaselessly embellished his collections with crystals for the past 20 years. “You know me by now—I love bling!” he said.
“The whole Swarovski family, especially Nadja, has been so important to the arts and to fashion,” offered Knight. “There aren’t that many people in this world who support young designers like they have, which is pretty incredible.” Indeed, one might propose that this is the legacy of Daniel Swarovski, who died in 1956, the same year that he perfected a new luminescent crystal effect, the Aurora Borealis. Named after the northern lights, it quickly seduced Christian Dior, the first designer to integrate these stones into his silhouettes.
As some 500 guests settled into their seats, the impact of the space—designed by Alexandre de Betak—became, quite simply, crystal clear. Geometric shapes outlined in LEDs were suspended from the ceiling and counterbalanced the candelabra, which cast a warm glow over the panache of table crystals—from granular to giant, unrefined rocks. De Betak admitted that he fought for the musicians’ attire. “It’s about the juxtaposition of heritage and new,” he said, hinting that the two-way mirrored panels encircling the area served a special purpose, to be discovered soon enough.
Cue the arrival of FKA twigs at 10:45, at which point the tent walls seemingly vanished to reveal Kristallwelten’s pièce de résistance, the grass-covered giant whose Easter Island-esque head has been part of the landscape since the attraction opened in 1995. Its illuminated eyes provided a suitably surrealist backdrop for the singer, who was outfitted in a metal net, lame, and crystal-embellished dress from Rodarte’s Spring ’15 collection and Atelier Swarovski jewelry by Shaun Leane.
Afterward, Nadja said that she and her cousin Markus Langes-Swarovski were wowed by twigs’ performance at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s inauguration of the Alexander McQueen exhibit in March. As it turns out, twigs’ agent is the son of famed architect and Swarovski friend John Pawson.
“I had a chat with my father about her,” said Nadja as the dessert, a faceted white chocolate biscuit with coconut ice cream, arrived. “He felt she was so modern. And I always say to him, ‘Just trust me!’” To her immediate left (Jean Paul Gaultier was two seats away), Boontje expressed his delight that Silent Light, the delicate tree covered in 150,000 crystals that he co-designed with Alexander McQueen, had been newly installed in its own Chamber of Wonder. “Before, it always felt stuck in a corner,” he said. “When I first made it with Alexander McQueen, it was spinning around. So it’s come back to life in a way.”
Shortly before midnight, Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell confirmed the inevitability of working with Swarovski on Cinderella. “I can’t imagine anyone else doing it,” she exclaimed. With myriad cuffs and bracelets already stacked up both her wrists, she seemed determined to further accessorize, lifting up a strand of crystal prisms from the centerpiece. With a laugh, she enthused, “I’ll be walking out with the table direction around my neck!”
—Amy Verner, Style.com