swarovski celebrates 120 years with gala in tirol
Tirol is pure Disney. Everywhere you look there's a fairytale tower, buildings that look like layer cakes and hills so green they put Instagram filters to shame. And seeing how https://i-d.vice.com/en_gb/topic/has played fairy godmother to the arts for 120 years, it's only fitting that the crystal giant should originate in this enchanted scenery. This week Nadja Swarovski was hostess with the mostess (and that's no understatement) to 500 guests from around the world, invited to her family company's headquarters in Wattens, Tirol in an effort to give fashion a glimpse into the frames that have surrounded Swarovski since 1895. FKA Twigs performed as Swarovski collaborators such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos celebrated fashion's most sparkly and innovative patron.
It was the place a young Lee McQueen first visited after Nadja's father, Helmut Swarovski, met Isabella Blow at a luncheon. "She said, 'Oh and what do you do?' He pulled out a handful of crystals, and she said, 'Those are Swarovski crystals.' He was so surprised, because it really showed she was a total fashion historian. She knew that. The rest is history. She introduced me to all these people and it became a big family," Nadja said before the press conference that kicked off the celebrations on Tuesday afternoon. "We brought [McQueen] to our studio and showed him all our products, and I think it makes a difference when people do come here and do get a glimpse of where we're from."
These days Swarovski HQ is more like a sparkly take on Dollywood, the theme park created by the country music legend, only at Kristallwelten, as it's called, the rides are replaced with sensory experiences such as a vast chamber of curiosities, known as The Giant because it's housed in a bunker shaped, supra-terraneously, as the huge head of a man opening his mouth to a waterfall that flows into a pond. It's all set to the backdrop of the Tyrolean mountains that surround the valley of Wattens. Inside the chamber, Swarovski has amassed a number of its greatest collaborations, from works by Salvador Dalí to Gianni Versace.
Around the park, which is open to visitors, is the heart and soul of the Swarovski empire: the factories and offices, which might look different than they did when Daniel Swarovski cut his first crystal here in the late 19th century, but very much represent the same spirit. "The people that are working here - the cutters - they call this organisation their family business," Nadja explained. "This is a farming region so the oldest son of the farmer inherits the farm, and son number two, three and four, they usually go and become cutters at Swarovski. You could not even wish for anything more than having people refer to your company as their family company. They have so much invested pride."
Before the gala dinner on Tuesday evening, Nadja and her cousin Markus Langes-Swarovski gave a talk recounting the history of their company in relation to fashion evolution. "The flapper era, the art deco era, the art nouveau era," Nadja said, "these are all such expressive time periods, and crystal lend itself very well within those time periods. The flapper era was very important because it was all about female emancipation. Women cut their hair, which allowed for more adornment around the neck - more jewellery - and that was just so easy to do with our beads. Fast forward, to the 40s, you have Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. These kinds of designers were allowed to experiment then because of Swarovski crystal. Because of crystal."
An illustration of the meditative and poetic qualities of crystal, Kristallwelten isn't just a monument to the greatness of Swarovski but a design and architecture haven for inspiration and innovation. A big part of the celebrations, for instance, was dedicated to enlightening the industry about the environmental sustainability championed by Swarovski. "We try so hard to be environmentally friendly. This is our environment, this is our home, you know?" Nadja said, gesturing at the mountains behind her. "So we have amazing filtering systems on all the chimneys and on the water." You could say we celebrated not only an epic legacy, but a bright and responsible future.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Images courtesy Swarovski