René Lalique: I want everything new and outrageous

A talented jeweler, a draftsman, a visionary entrepreneur, and a marketing genius – this is what he was called during his lifetime René Jules Lalique (06.04.1860—01.05.1945). His lifelong motto was “I want to try new and outrageous things.” Let’s recall the most remarkable facts of his biography and the cult things of the master.

Sarah Bernhardt wearing René Lalique’s jewelry, created especially for her.

1. Tandem with the “Divine Sarah” Lalique was probably one of the first jewelers to use a socialite for promotion. Sarah Bernhardt was an absolute diva, “the most famous actress ever,” as she was called in the early 20th century, eccentric, capricious, and very picky. In addition, she spent millions on luxury. She complemented her dramatic acting with provocative decorative costumes for those times, which made an impression on both sophisticated theatergoers and the creative crowd: father and son Dumas, writers, composers, and artists were crazy about Bernard. Lalique began to create stage jewelry for the diva – luxurious collars, wide bracelets, massive earrings, and tiaras. Bernhardt’s jewelry was discussed in all fashion salons, and through Sarah’s efforts, Lalique quickly moved from the rank of a skilled craftsman to the class of an unsurpassed artist. Bernhardt adored his jewelry, and he adored Sarah Bernhardt in it. Moreover, Lalique persistently pushed to the periphery other admirers of the actress, who offered their own jewelry works – Alphonse Mucha and Georges Fouquet.

René Lalique. Coulomb. 1905.

René Lalique. Brooch. Diamonds, glass and enamel. 1899 –1901.

2. Bare shoulders and the “wrong” materials One popular legend has it that Lalique’s outrageously radical jewelry, depicting tangles of snakes and insects, looked so out of place on dark dresses with high, tightly buttoned collars that special off-the-shoulder styles had to be created for them. Apparently, this is exactly what Lalique, the great ladies’ man, wanted. To a certain extent, Lalique achieved the abolition of the “correct” combinations of materials, which by that time were absolutely immutable in the art of jewelry. Before Lalique, it was forbidden to combine “high” precious materials (for example, gold) with tortoiseshell, ivory and enamels. With Lalique, it became possible.

René Lalique. Orchid brooch. Gold, silver, opal, enamel. 1898-1902. 8.2 x 7.8 x 4.8 cm. Lalique Museum Hakone, Japan.

3. The Jeweler and Politics Lalique was so famous that at some point he became the embodiment of the best of France. Some of the artist’s works, made in 1896-1897 by order of the government, served as official commemorative gifts during the visit of Emperor Nicholas II to France in 1896 and the President of the French Republic Félix Faure to Russia in 1897, embodying friendly relations between the two powers. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Nicholas II, also ordered jewelry from Lalique.

Vase “Bacchae”, Lalique

4. An Ode to Women and Freedom “Women and nature are my main source of inspiration,” Lalique said. Having made one revolution, Lalique conceived a new one. Probably his most famous women are The Bacchae, one of Lalique’s cult works. The surface of the crystal vase resembles an antique relief, but the main thing is the plasticity of the figures. For Lalique, the dance of naked women was a symbol of the liberation of the human spirit and creative energy. The absence of any attributes referring to a specific historical period made the vase a timeless collector’s item.

The American artist Terry Rogers reinterpreted the iconic Bacchae, replacing the figures of ancient priestesses with girls who seemed to have descended from the hyperrealist canvases of Rogers himself. The Sirens collection in two versions, made of transparent and golden crystal, was released in limited editions.

5. Glass and the Orient Express If Lalique had invented only his famous opalescent (iridescent) glass, it would have been enough to maintain his own fame as a jeweler. However, over the years that the master devoted to the study of glass, he managed to obtain 16 patents for various technologies of its manufacture. The secrets, of course, are not disclosed, and are still the secret knowledge of the company Lalique. Lalique’s entrepreneurial talent allowed him to get an order for the interior décor of the Orient Express. Lalique designed the carriages with wall panels made of Cuban acaju wood, decorated either in marquetry or with engraved glass inserts.

Club project Kuznetsky Most 12 by Lalique.

6. The Future of Lalique Founded in 1888, René Lalique is now owned by Swiss entrepreneur Silvio Dentz, who has turned the company into a lifestyle brand. His activities range from décor, jewellery, perfumes, art (including bold collaborations with renowned artists such as Damien Hirst or Anish Kapoor, who create one-of-a-kind creations for the Maison), interior design and, more recently, hospitality. In Moscow, at 12 Kuznetsky Most Most, in a couple of years, the Kuznetsky Most 12 by Lalique club project will be implemented together with the developers KR Properties – 60 apartments and two penthouses with decoration – furniture, lamps and precious decorative elements from Lalique, as told by Lalique CEO Roger von der Weid.

Medium vase, Hirondelles collection, Lalique. Released for the 130th anniversary of the Maison Lalique in 2018.

Causeuses Vanity, dis. Pierre-Yves Rochon, Lalique.

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