Lalique: From French glassware to global luxury lifestyle brand

Lalique, a luxury glassware workshop and lifestyle brand, celebrates the centenary of its factory in Alsace, in northeastern France.

When it comes to heritage brands, Lalique has elegantly flowed through the decades without pomp or bravado. Along the way, the brand has set new standards of excellence by creating extraordinary objects for the home as well as decorative glass ornaments used in a multitude of areas, from large showrooms and theaters to public fountains, churches and cruise ships.

A short story

René Lalique first made a name for himself as a jeweler at the end of the 19th century, embarking on this career at the age of 16 by enrolling in the School of Decorative Arts in Paris. He perfected himself in an art school in England and returned to the French capital to open his first studio in Place Gaillon in 1885.

It was in Paris, aged just 25, that Lalique pioneered a new type of jewelry inspired by the Art Nouveau movement, patenting a high-relief enamel similar to pate de verre (glass paste) and defending the forgotten semi-precious stones such as corundum, sard, agate, carnelian, jasper and opal.

Soon he also began to include glass elements in his designs, which was an unprecedented development in Paris. fine jewelry given the industry’s predilection for diamonds and gemstones.

A Lalique tiara in gold, diamonds, pearls and enamel circa 1903-1905

At the turn of the century, Lalique’s ornate and opulent pieces were considered the epitome of avant-garde style, capturing the mood of the moment with patterns and designs inspired by archaeological finds, new trends in painting, insects exotics, mythical beasts, rare plants and travel to distant lands like Japan and India.

His fan base was eclectic and enthralling, ranging from eminent glassmaker Émile Gallé, who dubbed him “the master of modern jewelry”, to star actress Sarah Bernhardt, who became his muse and godmother.

The Lalique factory in Alsace in 1922

Jewelry, however, had its limits. It was never Lalique’s desire to simply cater to the needs of wealthy clients and the Parisian elite. He believed in art as an educational tool and not as a luxury reserved for those who could afford it.

Making glass as a means of expressing his love of experimental form became a preoccupation for the young Lalique, who opened his first glass workshop in Rambouillet in northwestern France in 1898.

There he perfected the lost wax technique inspired by an ancient process used to cast bronze sculptures, giving his glass creations their warmth and living mystery. They caught the eye of perfumer François Coty who became a central figure in his work, with Lalique supplying elaborate glass bottles for his perfumes made on a semi-industrial scale. Never before has the humble perfume bottle been crafted with such care and attention, transforming what was historically a purely functional object into a true work of art.

Rene Lalique

In 1921, Lalique decided to open a new, much larger factory in the village of Wingen-sur-Moder, near the city of Strasbourg, taking full advantage of post-war subsidies offered by the French government to help restore the artisanal reputation. of the Alsace region, whose glassmaking roots date back to the Middle Ages.

This is where the factory remains to this day, and where Lalique entered a new phase of production that changed the way glassware was valued and understood in early 20th century society.

Key to its success was a dedication to craftsmanship guided by the elegant and glamorous aesthetic of the Art Deco style, with its curved contours, geometric shapes and linear decorations. But Lalique didn’t just tap into a trend, he pioneered an anti-elitist arts and crafts movement accessible to all. “We need to introduce people to objects that will educate their eye, to populate the notion of aesthetics,” he said. “Art is too expensive, and that must change!”

The Lalique Museum

A visit to the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder reveals how revolutionary his glassware was as a producer of collectibles and ornaments that served to beautify private and public spaces.

The museum, built by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and opened to the public in 2011, houses hundreds of antique jewels, including a gold, enamel and diamond Cleopatra brooch made for Sarah Bernhardt, who played the Egyptian queen on stage, as well as well as exceptionally rare perfume bottles designed for François Coty, Charles Worth and Lucien Lelong.

The Lalique Museum in Alsace

Here you will find rare objects such as the Epis de Lalique lamp (one of ten in existence, known for its hand-engraved corn silk halo) and a prototype of its famous Poisson fountain, made for the International Exhibition of Arts et Techniques which was held in Paris in 1937. He created two of these cone-shaped fountains adorned with symmetrical rows of “jumping” fish, but only one remains on public display, at the Savoy Hotel in London.

Beyond that, there is much to learn about the magical family talent that pushed Lalique production into new creative realms in the 1930s to 1980s. A sparkling tribute to René’s son, Marc Lalique, who brought his own extraordinary design verve to the foundry when he took over the business in 1945 after the death of his father, is rendered by the museum’s gigantic 1951 crystal chandelier, made from 337 cubes of glass.

Marc Lalique also designed Nina Ricci’s famous L’Air du Temps perfume bottle with a stopper of two kissing frosted doves.

Skyscraper-inspired Lalique bottle designed for fashion designer Lucien Lelong, 1929

Exhibitions highlight the often forgotten achievements of René’s daughter, Suzanne Lalique-Haviland, who, like her father, had a polymathic approach to the arts, turning to ceramics, glassware, painting, scenography and tailoring of suits. Some of the tableware she designed for the Normandy liner’s first-class dining room is on display here, although most of it is held by the Met Museum in New York.

Marie-Claude Lalique, René’s granddaughter also followed in René’s footsteps, creating jewelry in the late 1960s and taking over the business in 1977. Coming from the glass business, she designed many important pieces including the crystal/gold medals for the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics.

Lalique today

Lalique crystal glassware is still handcrafted in the original Alsatian factory, with many intricate pieces made using the lost wax technique, taking months to complete.

Icons of the brand include the majestic Bacchantes Vase with its circumference of sculptural bas-relief nudes, the Mûres (Blackberries) Vase known for its highly textural pattern of plump berries and intertwining branches, and the Mossi Vase, an enduring classic whose the pattern was designed by René Lalique in 1933 and is characterized by a sparkling surface of frosted cabochons.

Polishing of an Anemone vase, first designed in 1912 and made using the lost wax technique

Of course, the list of icons doesn’t stop there: Lalique’s extensive product portfolio includes crystal ornaments, perfumes, furniture and jewelry. A best-selling Cabochon ring costs £129, while a limited edition from Lalique Art Division, a branch of the business dedicated to creative collaborations, can set you back tens of thousands of pounds.

Examples include Zaha Hadid’s rippled blue Fontana Bowl and Damien Hirst’s signed and numbered crystal skull. Note the Sirènes vase in limited edition. Made in partnership with American realist painter Terry Rodgers, this vase is a modern reinterpretation of the dance of the bacchantes – but whereas Lalique presented his female nudes as long and languid, in this contemporary version Rodgers poses them boldly.

The Mermaids Vase by Terry Rodgers

From glassmaker to lifestyle brand

Since acquiring the company in 2008, Silvio Denz, Chairman and CEO of Lalique, has grown the company into a well-organized lifestyle brand focused on luxury travel experiences and fine dining. New to the fold, for example, is the Lalique bar at the Daniel restaurant in New York, which opened in May 2022.

A few kilometers from the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder is the Villa René Lalique, a five-star hotel with six suites, each decorated in a modern Art Deco style, replete with exquisite black and white Lalique furnishings.

An expert wine collector, Denz equipped the hotel with an extraordinary 20,000-bottle wine cellar designed by renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta, author of many spiritual structures, including the diamond-shaped marvel that is the Garnet Chapel. in Austria.

The architect was a wise choice given the many sacred treasures housed in this vast modernist space: the oldest and rarest wine dates from 1865 and costs 28,000 euros a bottle. Botta was also commissioned to design the hotel’s dining room, which houses a two-star Michelin restaurant run by chef Paul Stradner.

The 2* Michelin restaurant designed by Mario Botta at Villa René Lalique

People come from far and wide to experience this gastronomic getaway, but in true René Lalique style, there is a more affordable option for overnight guests in the form of Château Hochberg de Lalique, which overlooks the Lalique Museum.

A grand manor house on the site of the former Hochberg glassworks, the hotel has a much larger capacity with rooms (crisp, white and designed by Lalique Interior Design Studio) from 200 euros per night for a standard double room.

For more details on the museum, the hotels, the restoration and the glassworks, go to lalique.com

Elisha A. Tilghman