Few designers have explored the relationship between nature and woman as seamlessly and thoughtfully as René Lalique, the late glassmaker and credited inventor of modern jewelry.
Lalique’s critical contributions to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements include the sculptural perfume bottles he created for François Coty, the jewelry he designed for clients like actress Sarah Bernhardt between 1891 and 1894 and the architectural feats he accomplished, such as glass staircases. His work was entirely visionary and today, the house of Lalique embraces that vision by continuing to marry women and nature on glass with incomparable grace. Lalique’s fall Venise collection of rarified vases and decorative bowls is a fabulous testament to the romantic creative expression of the designer.
Lalique’s passion for travel brought him from his hometown of Ay, France to Paris and London – where he was first introduced to the jewelry design world – and later to the New World, where he participated in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and designed for collaborative, architectural commissions in New York, Los Angeles and Cuba. He also had an affinity for Asian aesthetics, enhanced by his time abroad decorating the Peace Hotel in Shanghai and the glass doors in Prince Asaka’s imperial palace in Japan. Fittingly, in 1928, the world traveler was asked to decorate the interior of the Orient-Express. Eight years later, he would design the first-class dining room of the SS Normandie.
With that sense of adventure, Lalique’s Venise collection takes the viewer straight to the heart of the city, adding a modern touch to its mélange of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque influences. Venice, the company says, is a place where “art meets fantasy to arouse emotion.” So, too, at Lalique, crystal becomes emotive. It is no wonder Lalique the man has been referred to as a true sculptor of light.
Originally, he made a name for himself through his chic Art Nouveau mixed-material jewelry designs, which were informed by the plants and animal kingdoms, myths of goddesses and the works of Japanese artists. Those pieces were more like petite sculptures, earning him faithful fans in the form of high society collectors, museums and royal courts. Later, though, his style would become so copied and plagiarized that the inventive artist was driven to turn toward glass for a new form of expression. His sleek Art Deco glass jewelry created from 1920 to 1930 was entirely revolutionary. Today, it is displayed in museums around the world.
That same mastery of light and material was applied to vases, plates, bowls, chandeliers and on a much larger scale, to architectural work (like glass-tiled doors depicting scenes in the natural and mythological worlds and glass ceilings that play with gravity). In 1912, he designed an extravagantly decorated glass façade in Manhattan at the Coty Building. For years the feat remained hidden until a renovation excavation at Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue revealed the extraordinary gift Lalique had left behind.
Lalique’s love of nature is well represented in the Venise collection. The floral designs on the vases are so refined they may even be more attractive to the eye than the floral arrangements they’ll hold.
When he died in 1945, Lalique was said to be working on a glass piece. He left behind not only a body of fragile crystal but a sense of elegant devotion to the craft that has become its own legend.