Luxury And Lalique Through The Prism of Glass By Ramy Salameh

On the 130-year anniversary of Lalique, Ramy Salameh visited Wingen-Sur-Moder in Alsace, to luxuriate in the enduring Lalique legacy and discover the ultimate luxury weekend break….

The light softly and elegantly illuminated bunches of sculpted grapes that wrapped themselves around a Lalique ‘‘Saint-Vincent’’ plaffonier. The ceiling light-shade adorned my grandmother’s North London apartment and was my first and earliest introduction to the work of the great René Lalique. Even as a child, the way the light permeated the sculptural glass was not lost on me. That same sense of amazement and artistry remains in Alsace, weaving its magic through Villa René Lalique, Chateau Hochberg, Musée Lalique and of course the factory, all of which epitomise luxury lifestyle and decorative art.

This year marks the 130 year anniversary of Lalique. Stretching back to 1888, when he registered his initials ‘‘RL’’as a hallmark, through to the present day and the unique collaborations with contemporary artists. These include heavyweight names such as Damian Hirst, Anish Kapoor, Yves Klein and Terry Rodgers.

Collaboration with the famous perfumier, Francois Coty, proved to be a key turning point in Lalique’s career. In 1907, Lalique was commissioned by Coty, to work on a perfume bottle called ‘‘L’Effleurt.’’ Initially, it was to design the bottle’s plaque, which Lalique made to look like silver, although made entirely of glass, thus showcasing his talent with the medium. Our guide at Musée Lalique impressed upon us that the “L’Effleurt collaboration with Coty really launched René Lalique’s career with glass.”

The encounter with the perfumier was one of several key stages in Lalique’s life that are carefully narrated across the museum’s exhibits. Arguably, one of the most dazzling and emotive collections is that of the original perfume bottles, which give an insight into the mind of René Lalique and his ability to use the effects of transparency, opacity and opalescence inherent in glass to such dramatic effect. They also symbolise the transition from master jeweller of the Art Nouveau period into a master glassmaker of the Art Deco movement.

The museum found its natural home upon the site of the former Hochberg glassworks, part of a glassmaking heritage within the northern Vosges, dating back to late medieval times. The area’s glass-producing natural resources, skilled workforce and railway station, enabled René Lalique to connect his glass art and entrepreneurial ambitions across France and the world. This led to the founding of his factory in Wingen-Sur-Moder in 1921.

The Hochberg glasswork’s historic skeleton was adapted by French architects, Willmotte & Associates, to include a modernist wing of glass galleries incorporating a cloister garden, opened as Museé Lalique in 2011. Sitting directly opposite the museum, Chateau Hochberg – a listed monument built in 1863 by Edouard Teutsch, the then owner of the glassworks – has been turned into a chic four-star luxury hotel by the Lalique Company. The hotel’s solid, grand façade leads to a serene interior of neutral colours. The Windfall Chandelier, whose pendant crystals shower the bar and the Lauriers panels created by Rene Lalique in 1923 to grace the carriages of the Orient Express, immediately caught my attention on entering the lobby. Circular Dahlia motifs pepper the walls, as if directing patrons towards their rooms.

Since 1921, the Lalique Factory has continuously operated in Wingen-Sur-Moder and still produces crystal and glass using the most modern processes and has revived the traditional ‘‘Lost Wax’’ procedure for special designs. Exquisite pieces of varying shapes and sizes flutter, fly and swirl in rapid formations from the production line; the majority still incorporate one of the three key influences that captivated René Lalique: “la femme, la faune et la flore” (Flora, Fauna and the Female Form). The inscribed ‘‘Lalique, France’’ signature is the final stage of a long process that begins in molten form straight from the furnace and is worked in the ‘‘hot and cold’’ sections that retouch, frost and polish. The famous signature is only then applied.

Under the stewardship of owner and CEO Silvio Denz, the continued expansion of the Lalique brand has incorporated luxury lifestyle, to include hotels and restaurants in the portfolio. René Lalique would have understood the need for diversification. His artistry took his interests beyond the vases, statues and perfume bottles, additionally moving into car mascots, decoration for trains and ocean liners, and even religious architecture.

The reincarnation of his former summer Villa, as an elegant and intimate five-star hotel and two-Michelin starred gourmet restaurant would, surely, have met his approval. Primarily, as a showroom of fine pieces, comparable with the boutiques he opened in Paris. But also the reinterpretation and influences of architectural and gastronomic artists, who have combined to create a luxury experience. The restaurant was designed by Mario Botta and like the Musée Lalique, it seamlessly marries old and new. The glass walls of the restaurant brought nature and light to our table, whilst we enjoyed the creations of Chef Jean-Georges Klein, such as the 130th Lalique Anniversary – Goose Foie Gras arranged exquisitely with swallows (Hirondelles) and Seagulls (Mouettes) dancing across the plate and palette. Each dish paired with a fine wine brought up from the cavernous cellar by award-winning Sommelier Romain Iltis. As he poured the wine, the subtle red, white and blue trim on his cuff, is a nod to his expertise and excellence as a former “Meilleur Sommelier de France” in 2012 and “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” in 2015. Similarly, Chef Klein’s unusual pleated apron added Gallic flair and theatre to a special evening.

Amongst the reclining crystal nudes and swallows swooping and diving across the walls of the Villa, the 130-year anniversary touches follow us out from the restaurant. On display were several limited edition fragrances; one of which was the ‘‘Mon Premier Cristal Hirondelle.’’ Upon the base, “Lalique 130 ans, 1888-2018” is engraved. This small perfume bottle encapsulates and presents the past and evolving present for La Maison Lalique.

More Information

For more information, about Lalique, go to www.lalique.com and for more information about the Musée Lalique, go to www.musee-lalique.com. To book a stay at Villa René Lalique go to www.villarenelalique.com and to book a stay at Château Hochberg, go to www.chateauhochberg.com .