Swarovski: The Crystalline Looks That Made Fashion History

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Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963
Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963© 20th Century Fox, The Kobal Collection

AnOther delves into the Swarovski archives to uncover some of its most dazzling collaborations

"I remember so clearly the moment when I understood the eternal sparkle of Swarovski," Suzy Menkes writes in the foreword to the Rizzoli book Swarovski, which celebrates a history of the brand's collaborations in fashion, jewellery, performance and design. "I was at the Paris Haute Couture exhibition in the Hotel de Ville in 2013, looking at a Lanvin dress. Crystals fell like a shower over the mannequin's body so that the evening gown looked like sunlight on water, the tiny stones glinting and winking from shoulder to ankle." This emotive understanding of the brand's exceptionality reveals itself upon flicking through the book's pages, which visually traces its evolution from the turn of the century all the way through to present day. With imagery showcasing collaborations from Schiaparelli to Prada and pieces worn by performers from Joan Crawford to Madonna, Swarovski's is a history worth illustrating – and thus we look back over some of its finest vintage moments, a literal treasure trove of jewels...

There's No Business Like Show Business, 1954
When Marilyn Monroe starred as the ultimate all-American showgirl in Walter Berlin's There's No Business Like Show Business, she dazzled audiences with her inimitable charm as well as her opulent costumes. One of the most expensive musicals ever produced by 20th Century Fox, its exploration of vaudeville performance saw Monroe dripping in crystalline costumes designed by William Travilla – a man to whom she once, understandably, wrote: "Billy Dear, please dress me forever. I love you, Marilyn."

The Aurora Borealis Necklace, 1956
Named after the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis stone – here, designed in collaboration with Christian Dior – is one of the greatest symbols of Daniel Swarovski's approach to jewellery: a belief that women of all classes ought be able to wear spectacular accessories. Working with M. Dior and Francis Winter, in 1956 the trio created pieces with the rainbow-faceted crystals set like antique diamonds, and set the stage for a brilliant era of costume jewellery to follow. 

Cristóbal Balenciaga Haute Couture, Fall 1958
The man who Christian Dior once termed “the Master of us all," Cristóbal Balenciaga is often credited as the world's greatest couturier. His pieces simultaneously celebrated femininity and challenged womenswear silhouettes: his innovation was, in fact, responsible for much of the evolution of high fashion. "It is in the rare and noble discipline of haute couture that [Swarovski] excels itself," said Olivier Saillard, director of Musée Galliera when the museum launched its exhibition on haute couture in 2013 – and this piece from Balengiaga's Fall 1958 collection shows precisely that: the unison of couture's greatest creator with the company that facilitated its sparkle.

Cleopatra, 1963
Some of cinema's most renowned costumes are those which Elizabeth Taylor wore as Cleopatra in 1963, resplendent with Swarovski crystals. Renowned for her love of clothes and jewellery, in Cleopatra Taylor actually made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for "most costume changes in a film" (an accolade only overtaken by Madonna in 1996's Evita) – and its extravagance nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox. The film that sparked the affair between Taylor and Richard Burton, it is a visual frenzy of opulence made only more spectacular by an abundance of Swarovski crystals. 

Lanvin Evening Gown, 1969
When Jeanne Lanvin died in 1946, she left a powerful legacy that was upheld by her family – from her daughter, to Yves Lanvin, to Bernard Lanvin in the mid-1960s. A house renowned for its spectacular use of decoration and delicacy of technique, this evening gown showcases its inimitable approach to couture: its concentric circles of crystal and trapeze silhouette simultaneously engaged with the contemporary fashions of the day, as well as an unmatched history of graceful precision.