All that glitters is not gold, as the saying goes. Well, if you are in the world of shiny, happy baubles, Swarovski crystals stand out as one of the glitziest stones out there. But look past the surface, and underneath all that glimmer is the Austrian brand’s unwavering commitment to making sure the future of fashion is a bright one, by being a big incubator and supporter of talent.
The brand’s place in the fashion industry’s complicated system of gears goes beyond supplying the crystals that adorn the creations dreamt up by designers from Miuccia Prada to Viktor & Rolf. Deeply rooted within Swarovski’s DNA is a nurturing spirit that can be traced all the way back to its humble beginnings.
The brand was founded in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski, whose dream of creating “a diamond for everyone” led to his invention of a ground-breaking machine that let him cut crystals with pin-sharp accuracy. Swarovski soon found himself working alongside the greatest couturiers of his time, who welcomed the use of the beautiful stones as a “creative ingredient” in their works. In the ensuing years, the founder’s dedication to innovation, plus the evolution of a corporate responsibility strategy that focused on “caring for people” and “giving back”, resulted in the brand’s continuous involvement with promoting emerging fashion designers.
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The push for more fashion-focused partnerships in the new millennium came courtesy of Nadja Swarovski, the founder’s great-great-granddaughter. Upon joining the family business ranks 20 years ago, she spearheaded projects that were aimed at reviving “the use of crystal among the creative industries.” Among them: The Swarovski Collective, launched together with the late Lee Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow in 1999. Its aim? To challenge the limits of how crystals can be used on the runways—a task in line with the brand’s philosophy of constant innovation. Over the course of the next 18 years, the Swarovski Collective would go on to provide designers such as McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and J.W. Anderson with more than 100 million crystals to craft their collections.
And these designers have done it in ways that transformed the grace of crystals into works of genius. For spring/summer 2009, the conceptual McQueen amplified the primal undertones of the clothes by envisioning alien-looking sculptural bodysuits and dresses adorned with the stones. In 2012, a rising Jonathan Anderson placed crystal mesh panels across skirts to achieve a high-tech gloss at his namesake label. Anthony Vaccarello proved crystals can have a dangerous slant, applying them on mini skirts with a sexy attitude. Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte made a big splash during the 2015 spring/summer season by bringing the crystals underwater, crafting nets and coral-like patterns on dresses for modern aquanauts and mermaids.
It’s not just established designers who get to benefit from Swarovski’s support. After working closely with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) for over a decade, Swarovski announced last year the launch of the CFDA Swarovski Emerging Talent Award Mentorship Program. Closer to home, Swarovski’s various outreach programmes have also found their way to schools here, mirroring efforts in New York and London. It recently joined forces with LASALLE College of the Arts graduating students, who worked on a showcase themed “Atelier”.
There is also Swarovski’s partnership with the Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Designer Award, a regional competition that showcases the skills of young designers from Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. Every year, two finalists from each country vie for the honour of being Asia’s next big fashion designer, armed with $2,500 worth of crystals each to adorn their designs. The competition is no walk in the park: Contestants are put to the test and grilled by a panel comprising BAZAAR editors and industry experts on their vision and business plans. Everything culminates in a runway show, where the most deserving designer walks away with a cash prize and crystals sponsored by Swarovski, and a scholarship at the Istituto Marangoni. Preparations are now underway for the fifth instalment of the contest.
Today, Swarovski is at the forefront of fashion, lending its clout to the shiniest stars in the industry. And for that, we can only applaud its noble efforts—because every rough stone deserves a chance to shine.