Artists, architects and designers help give fashion brands creative image

From art installations to bespoke store designs and reimagining products, brands are reinventing themselves.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 August, 2015, 12:33am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 August, 2015, 12:33am

Think of Swarovski and no longer is it just kitsch sparkly miniature mice and swans that come to mind. The Austrian cut crystal company is now just as likely to be associated with design leaders such as Naoto Fukasawa, John Pawson and Pritzker prize-winning Rem Koolhaas.

The transformation - led by the fifth-generation Nadja Swarovski - heralds an extension of the 120-year-old family-owned company's successful reinvention within the fashion industry during the late 1990s, placing emphasis on interiors, art and culture, helping attract a much wider and influential demographic.

The 45-year-old Nadja says it was while working with highly creative fashion personalities such as British editor Isabella Blow and designer Alexander McQueen that she first appreciated how creative collaborations with designers often brought new appreciation of crystals.

Since introducing an experimental design platform - Swarovski Crystal Palace - in 2002, the brand has commissioned a series of high-profile creative projects, including Zaha Hadid's striking "Prima" art sculpture installation to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the architect's first building, the Vitra Design Museum in Germany.

More recently, Swarovski turned to local Hong Kong architect Joyce Wang with a commission to reimagine the classic chandelier. Wang's sleek egg-shaped silhouette, titled "Oculus" and featuring 60 crystal spikes and 300 crystal chatons, was shown to critical acclaim at Art Basel Hong Kong's new satellite show, Art Central, earlier this year.

Soon afterwards, the crystal brand unveiled Oslo-based Snøhetta's multifaceted glass vertical playground tower at its Swarovski Kristallwelten theme park in Austria to mark the brand's 120th anniversary. The innovative play tower is near the Snøhetta-designed curvaceous white pavilion restaurant overlooking a new 1,400-square-metre outdoor installation of ethereal trees and a mirrored pool called the Crystal Cloud, and created by French and Vietnamese designers Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot.

Other brands maximising the powerful association with design and perceived connection to creativity include Swedish fashion retailer COS (Collection of Style). Its store interior (a Scandinavian haven of polished concrete, natural wood and steel accents) graphics and packaging are all designed in-house and the brand doesn't advertise or host fashion shows. Instead, it taps the connection to creativity through social media, sponsoring art installations and hosting creative events.

"The COS customer has become very design aware. How they chose fabrics and styles is already influenced by magazines, and the borders between design, culture, politics and fashion is being broken down," explains the brand's head of menswear design, Martin Andersson.

In March, the brand presented a one-night urban landscape installation created by Hong Kong-based architect Andre Fu on the 2,000-square-metre upper deck of a Central harbourfront pier. Using the dove grey palette for the brand's autumn-winter 2015 collection, the designer created a series of contemporary immersive spaces linked by cantilevered bridges and a sunken garden of moss-covered spheres.

"We wanted to do something to celebrate Asia, so it felt like a natural progression to work with Andre," says Karin Gustafsson, who leads design of the brand's womenswear. "There are strong similarities of aesthetics between COS and his studio."

Fu says he was intrigued with the challenge of taking his language of design into a conceptual experience.

"Typical fashion shows are very much mono-directional, whereas I want to create a story in terms of people walking through a space as a prelude to the fashion experience."

This summer, it will also host a series of talks and events on art and culture at the new Serpentine Pavilion 2015, designed by Spanish architects SelgasCano.

For other brands, such as Australia's Aesop, working with different designers helps to avoid the ubiquity a brand with multiple boutiques in one city often experiences in a highly competitive environment. No two Aesop stores ever feature the same design.

According to the founder, Dennis Paphitis, the brand initially began working in the late '80s with different architects because Aesop boutiques were being established in different countries and that led naturally to a decision to consider each space individually.

The brand has since worked with a diverse range of designers including Japanese firm Torafu Architects, British designer Ilse Crawford and Melbourne-based March Studio. In 2011 the brand commissioned Hong Kong architects Cheungvogl to create a forest of 800 resin boxes inside Aesop's outlet at I.T Hysan One in Causeway Bay.

The brand's Kyoto store is particularly outstanding. The subtle homage to tradition, created by Japanese studio Simplicity, sees sheets of translucent black textiles separate areas of the store, reflecting inspiration from Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows with bottles of the products hung in columns against the sheer fabric.

According to architect Fu, it is not just a one-way creative relationship. "It is always an intriguing journey to engage myself with collaborations that allow me to work on a much more experimental level. For instance, my urban landscape installation for COS in Hong Kong seeks to create an environment that is hugely inspired by Asian urbanity - the approach to fashion goes beyond the notion of products alone, but an extension into an experience. It offers a fascinating opportunity for designers to evolve from their traditional role and to engage with the world in new ways."