When the Saint Laurent autumn/winter show was staged outside on a rainy Paris evening in February, the final sequence, devoted to over 30 crystal‑embellished looks, lit up the wet concrete catwalk-like starburst. But the standout supernova accessory – the one immediately shared on social media by the front-row editors – was a sparkling crystal version of the slouchy rock ’n’ roll Niki boot (£6,855), handcrafted in Italy and covered with 3,000 Swarovski white‑rhinestone crystals from boot shaft to 10.5cm triangular heel. Creative director Anthony Vaccarello talked of flirting “with the indecency of the raw crystals” and these boots are certainly one of this season’s sassiest accessories, captured by street-style photographers whenever they make an outing.
But when the rigorously non-binary aesthetic of Raf Simons is also interwoven with crystals – lending a highly structured, technical shape to his pieces ($1,495), as seen in his debut Calvin Klein show – it becomes clear crystal embellishment doesn’t always signal max volume. Many designers this winter have been seduced by crystal’s glamour and sparkle, using it to decorate, delineate, stamp and punctuate earrings, bags, the back of heels and the front of uppers with a variety of effects.
“Crystals have been a central focus of the opulent language used by many designers for autumn/winter 2017,” says Eleanor Robinson, director of accessories at Selfridges. “As the parameters of luxury continue to shift, this level of detail and idea of hand‑application is adding to an appetite for both individuality and craftsmanship. Each designer employs crystals in their own way.” She points out how at Valentino, crystals have been used to update its Rockstud collection (the brand’s 2010 runaway-success accessories line with signature metal studs). Now feminine cross-body bags (£2,350) with tattoo-style motifs and floral insignia come studded with crystals, softening that rock ’n’ roll edge. At Fendi the crystals are more graphic, framing sunglasses (£365), wallets (£695) and clutches (£1,750), while Alexander McQueen’s hyper-romantic aesthetic sees accessories (velvet clutch, £2,895) covered in what looks like crystal tapestry. Simone Rocha uses crystal in a way that feels surprisingly minimalistic. “Her crystal drop earrings (£295) sell out as soon as they arrive in store.”
Some designers have looked to the past in the way they have intermixed these cut-glass gems. Erdem Moralioglu imagined a meeting of his Turkish and English great-grandmothers to create an Ottoman-tinged opulence for his collection, reflected in velvet, leather-lined platform sandals (£690) and kitten heels (£575), wrapped in satin ribbons and finished with circular crystal buckles. Shoe designer Charlotte Olympia referenced 1940s film noir for an autumn/winter collection video entitled An Accessory to Murder. The ankle-strapped, pointy-toed suede Adele d’Orsay court shoe (£645), decorated with crystal petals, is the footwear choice of a well-dressed moll. She’s ramped up to femme fatale later in the story with the Killer Heel (£725), a platform black sandal with a newsprint heel and the emblem of a red broken-heart in crystal on the front.
Johnny Coca at Mulberry was inspired by a gentler reimagining, taking his cue from the life and styles of English aristocracy. Calling it “a contemporary twist on the nostalgic”, he has used gems in figurative organic forms to resemble jewellery pieces “passed from mother to daughter”, applying crystal leaves to dramatic effect on the calfskin and Swarovski-crystal Brimley bag (£1,995) and on the Dazzle jewellery set comprising wraparound earrings (£250), ring (£175) and collar necklace (£495) set in silver-toned brass, which would safely see you through a stay at Downton Abbey.
Cassie Smart, buying manager of shoes and bags at Matchesfashion.com, says the growing trend for footwear featuring innovative embellishment inspired the retailer to work with Nicholas Kirkwood on exclusive pairs of pastel satin mules (Eden, £495, and heels, £575) with an art deco style, gold-toned crystal hexagon on the toe. Smart’s other favourites include ornate styles by the suitably named Christelle Kocher (creative director of French brand Koché) that are worthy of Marie Antoinette (satin mules with crystal-encrusted heels, £845), and pieces in Prada’s collection where velvet platform lace-ups (£670) and fluffy tri‑coloured shearling slides (£895) are topped with crystals. “That strong sense of femininity and glamour imbued by crystals can make flats and low heels feel very much more modern and interesting,” says Smart, also singling out crystal-embellished slippers (£726) from glamorous new Milanese label Attico and crystal-heeled mules (£1,210) at Gucci.
For Sandra Choi, creative director of Jimmy Choo, crystal has long been “irresistibly alluring” and she feels it is inevitable the magpie sparkle would have its time in the spotlight again. “Fashion is cyclical and after a long period of dressing down, crystal is now reawakening something that lives inside nearly all women – that fairytale princess moment that harks back to the innocence of childhood. I think we all have an innate appreciation for beautiful, jewel-like things that sparkle and have the power to transform a mood or outfit.”
In that spirit, you can’t get much more fairytale than Choo’s Avril (£2,995), a pointy-toed high heel smothered in Swarovski crystals originally made for the 2015 version of Cinderella, starring Lily James. They’re now available – in clear crystal, gold and black – on a made-to-order basis. The more modern Cinderella may prefer the new Lux design, a V-cut bootie in black or nude suede (£1,250) or green python (£1,995) with a jewellery-style crystal ankle strap. For a more androgynous take, Choi has borrowed from the boys and used a men’s evening slipper as a canvas for lavish crystal embellishment (Sloane, from £795).
Of course, one can’t talk about crystal embellishment without mentioning Swarovski. Glass in some form has been used in European jewellery and fashion since medieval times, but it was Daniel Swarovski who in 1891 revolutionised the jewellery business by creating a still-secret precision glass-cutting technique. His vision was to make “a diamond for everyone” by making crystals affordable. From the 1920s onwards, Swarovski crystal was used to embellish haute-couture pieces at Parisian ateliers such as Schiaparelli, Chanel and Balenciaga, and in the 1950s its Aurora Borealis crystal, a finish that gives the glass a rainbow-tinged effect, was used by Christian Dior in jewellery and as embroidery embellishment.
Ten years ago, Daniel’s great-great-grandaughter Nadja established Atelier Swarovski, which has collaborated with designers including Jean Paul Gaultier, Viktor & Rolf, Maison Margiela and Christopher Kane. To celebrate Atelier Swarovski’s 10th anniversary, Kane has reprised his inaugural Bolster collection now something of a design classic of elegant, crystal-mesh tubular necklaces and bracelets (from £129). “It’s a simple yet glamorous design. When the light hits the crystals it comes alive,” says Kane.
Style icon Iris Apfel and designer Jason Wu have also produced collections for its anniversary season, with Apfel’s strings of transparent and black-diamond crystals (£249) providing a foil for Wu’s kaleidoscopic crystal Mosaic necklaces (£699), ear cuff (£249) and chandelier earrings (£319). And New York-based Judith Leiber, the mistress of the crystal clutch since the 1960s, has collaborated on a limited edition bag with Alexander Wang. Studded with 10,263 Swarovski crystals to mimic a roll of $100 bills, the clutch is called – tongue firmly in cheek – Splash the Cash (£3,764). As of course you may, but this season, with “diamonds for everyone” everywhere, perhaps one simply doesn’t need to.