Two months ago, Swarovski gathered the design community in Milan to unveil the three winners of the Designers of the Future initiative. Chosen for their avant-garde approach to design, Hong Kong-based Elaine Ng, aka. The Fabrick Lab, and London-based Tomas Alonso and Studio Swine were chosen to work with Swarovski on projects that explore the company’s crystal savoir-faire merged with each designer’s area of expertise.
The three projects, unveiled today at the opening of Design Miami/Basel, showcase a diversity that is as much about aesthetics, as it is methods and intent. Each designer produced a body of work that forms both a clear representation of their practice and takes their modus operandi to new levels through Swarovski’s materials, traditions and inspirations. The designers were approaching crystal for the first time, and after an exploratory trip to Swarovski's origins in Wattens, Austria, they set out on their individual paths. Working with the Austrian craftsmen, they combined science, avant-garde technology and traditional crystal craft to create - both literally and figuratively - brilliant designs.
Spanish designer Tomas Alonso focused on 47°, the theoretical angle at which crystal either reflects or refracts light, depending on the viewer’s point of view. Inspiration came from Swarovski’s objects: the way they reflect light and the colours spectrum they create. ‘I was looking at colours and how the light creates these colour effects, and I was trying to create a way to emphasise these colours,’ explains the designer. His collection features an ambitious number of pieces that include trays, lamps and table-top objects, each composed of different parts of crystal joined at a 47° angle and glued together using UV bonding techniques and a vast variety of colour techniques to mimic naturally occurring hues within crystals.
Studio Swine’s focus was on the pure crystal, following the designers’ explorations into unusual design materials (their Hair Highway collection combined human hair and resin to produce magnificent pieces). Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves were impressed by the range of crystal available to them in Wattens, and particularly drawn to the Swarovski XERO, the world’s smallest precision cut crystal, sand-like chatons of just 0.7mm diameter. ‘We kept thinking about the engineering and ingenuity that went into that, so we really wanted to do something with this tiny product, and make it big,’ explains Murakami of their initial idea. ‘We are used to taking a material that is often overlooked and undesirable, and try to make it desirable,’ continues Groves. ‘Crystal is already so desirable, we didn’t want this to be a case of the metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a caterpillar’ he jokes. Their project revolves around an imagined narrative of Planet Swarovski, a new spatial discovery, and a young Terraforming engineer sent to space to explore its crystal composition. Their work combines the minuscule crystals into several pieces which include an hourglass, a table and a solar system tabletop object.
Textile artist and designer Elaine Ng’s fabric-based experiment comes in the shape of a moving installation inspired by Sundew, an intriguing carnivorous plant. DEWs is an interactive installation of embroidered crystal sculptures, which move according to sound and movement around them. ‘My key mission was to employ crystal as a raw material and not a decorative feature,’ the designer explains. She combined her textile expertise with the craft abilities of the Wattens’ technician and craftsmen. ‘The technology and knowledge I was given through the trip was immense,’ she mentions, recalling her introduction to the Wattens facilities, ‘it has changed my mind about the way to design and apply crystal.’ Ng worked with six different fabricators on various embroidery methods using cane, PVC and textile, going as far as using crystal as a base to embroider onto.
'Innovation and experimentation are at the core of each commission from the winners,' said Nadja Swarovski, currently at the helm of her family's company. 'This is the avant-garde approach to the use of crystal in design that has been a part of Swarovski's DNA for 120 years – and will continue to drive us forward.'