WWD.com/fashion-news/designer-luxury/swarovski-collective-turns-15-7664280/

The Swarovski Collective is expanding, just in time for its 15th anniversary.

This story first appeared in the May 2, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The creative platform, founded in 1999 by Nadja Swarovski, works to support emerging designers by providing Swarovski crystal to incorporate in their designs, as well as additional financial support. For its milestone anniversary, the company is rolling out an enhanced program that will offer yearlong financial and promotional support. Previously, support has been granted on a season-to-season basis. Additionally, participating designers will be eligible for the newly implemented Swarovski Collective Prize for Innovation, a 25,000 euro, or $34,675, award given to the designer who demonstrates innovative crystal use across spring and fall collections. “It’s a very symbiotic relationship,” Swarovski said of the Collective. “We’re celebrating the designers and they are providing a creative use of crystals. We want to make sure it’s not just a cash sponsorship. We’re really trying to push the creative boundaries of the designers themselves.”

The Collective was founded following Swarovski’s collaborations with Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow. Since its inception, Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, Viktor & Rolf, Christopher Kane, Proenza Schouler and Giles have ranked among the list of international participants. “Working with the Collective has allowed me to explore areas of fabrication that would have otherwise been off limits,” said Mary Katrantzou. “We have created beautiful new textiles out of crystal mesh, bonding it to hand-knitted angora and cashmere. The crystals [are] the perfect canvas on which to print our designs.”

Wes Gordon recalled his first season working with the Collective on his spring 2013 collection. “It was just a really exciting opportunity,” he said. “As a designer, I’m really interested in texture and textiles and material, so working with Swarovski has added another layer to the collections — a bit of depth. Being part of the Collective, you can really play and push, and come up with a design that is unexpected.”

Innovation, more and more, has been the key buzzword when selecting designers to participate in the Collective. “The audience has changed over the last 15 years,” said Swarovski. “People are so much more receptive to creative design. The fact that these young designers are being celebrated like little celebrities, it really creates this sense of competition among them, and that competition is great news for the consumer.”

Swarovski also attributed the ever-growing pool of talent to perpetrating the sense of competition among designers. “There used to be maybe five strong brands, and now there are so many,” she said. “But the design doesn’t get diluted — in fact, every brand becomes so much stronger and better. It is an amazing moment in fashion right now.”

Through the expanded Collective initiative, Swarovski hopes to jump-start a more international database of designers, particularly in Asia. “We’re watching the different design weeks in places like Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, and we have offices in those locations,” she said. “We are basically keeping eyes and ears open for new designers. We’re using the existing blueprint and rolling it out in Asia. We’d love to bring these designers to London or Paris and give them a showcase. We have that infrastructure in place in the United States with California-based designers, who can use our New York showroom.”

Applications for the 2015 program are available on the Swarovski Web site. “We’re looking for something that is fully impactful, incredible and beautiful,” said Swarovski. “Our challenge as an initiative is how do we continuously evolve and elevate. [The goal] is to show full support of the designer.”