Legend has it that Daniel Swarovski (1862 – 1956), founder of the eponymous crystal dynasty, carried the first crystals he ever cut inside his walking stick. It would rattle as he walked through the factory calling ‘Hallo!’ to his workers each morning.
The same kind of folkloric storytelling shines at Kristallwelten – Swarovski’s dreamlike HQ near Innsbruck, Austria. It comprises a landscaped sculpture garden, a showroom, restaurant and ‘play tower’ designed by Snøhetta, along with an underground maze of 16 ‘wonder chambers’ created in partnership with local and international designers.
Accompanied by a well-timed dusting of crystalline snow, this week sees the opening of four new chambers, designed by Arik Levy, Austrian artist André Heller, Indian fashion designer Manish Arora, and starchitect-on-the-rise Fernando Romero.
Daniels Restaurant, designed by Snøhetta in the Kristallwelten grounds
Swarovski’s cultural director Carla Rumler asked only one thing of the designers: ‘make it about crystals’. Despite a diversity of themes, perspectives and materials, each sparkling chamber echoes the next. The resulting journey through the minds and methods of four very different designers, says Rumler, is a ‘sensual and emotional’ encounter – one which celebrates the creative possibilities of cut glass.
Traversing topics of love (Arora), peace (Heller) and the environment (Romero and Levy), the new chambers promote a message of personal reflection, as well as the glitzy reflection of crystals.
‘Transparent Opacity’, by Arik Levy, 2017
Heller’s moving chamber ‘Heroes of Peace’ uses crystal optic technology to cast life size holograms of Martin Luther-King, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and Rigoberta Menchú onto a stage, before they burst into a holographic snowfall of paper birds. Back down to earth, in his chamber ‘Transparent Opacity’, Levy asks us to interrogate the material complexity of crystals, creating a dizzying room (not dissimilar to a conceptual jewellery showroom) of individual objet d'art projecting colour and light across the room. Elsewhere, Manish Arora’s Indian summer chamber explodes with joie de vivre, taking lighthearted kitsch to another level of loud. Concluding the journey by looking upwards, Romero’s ‘El Sol’ crystal sun casts a red glow across his chamber, accompanied by a booming soundscape of noises from the sun, courtesy of Nasa.
Each chamber reflects Swarovski’s ongoing shift from crystal manufacturer to cultural institution. ‘What we do here is so much more than a commerical proposition,’ says Markus Langes-Swarovski, board chairmain of Swarovski Group, ‘we are interested in new perspectives surrounding crystals, experimenting creatively with them in different contexts.’
Brilliant: The Story of Atelier Swarovski – a new book published by Condé Nast that coincides with the Kristallwelten expansion – emphasises Swarovski’s creative, collaborative record. Focussing on the design-centred branch of the Swarovski name, Atelier Swarovski (launched by Nadia Swarovski ten years ago), the book documents the brand’s work with Christopher Kane, Jason Wu, Mary Katrantzou and Fredrikson Stallard among others, alongside a foreword by Karl Lagerfeld and Hubert de Givenchy – names that go hand in hand with the kind of innovative creativity Swarovski is now so intimately associated with.