By  on November 26, 2007

ANTWERP, Belgium — This city is known for its diamonds, but for Swarovski, Antwerp was a fitting stage to showcase the latest adventures in crystal.

Two new crystal applications for smooth leather were unveiled at the MoMu fashion museum here Nov. 8 and 9, with young and established designers exhibiting the possibilities, mainly in accessories.

"Such a broad range of creative steps, some more conceptual and some more creative, happened in the development of this project," said Markus Langes-Swarovski, a fifth-generation Swarovski descendent and a member of the firm's executive board.

The company has been brainstorming with designer Walter Van Beirendonck, manager of the fashion department at Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, about installing a Swarovski center in the school next year to introduce fashion students to the world of crystal application.

Loewe used Swarovski's costly new Chaton Leather technique that involves fixing diamond-cut crystals into prepunched holes that are then sandwiched into place using a backing fabric. The effect is a flat surface of crystals across the leather.

Although costs vary depending on the stones used and the complexity and size of the leather's motifs, having one side of Loewe's compact handbag, for example, paved entirely in crystals, costs about 150 euros, or $220, to achieve, said a spokeswoman for the brand. It's a process that lends itself more naturally to accessories because of the thickness of the leather used.

Swarovski's Flat Back Leather technique was used for a bag, splattered with crystals, by Caviar Gauche, a crystal-studded saddle by Buddhist Punk and a crystal bunny mask by Sabrina Dehoff.

For the Flat Back Leather method, Swarovski technicians translate a designer's motif into a transfer and stitching file that is then used to stitch the motif onto leather, marking out the positioning of the crystals. Once the crystals are in place, the leather is passed under a heat press.

Langes-Swarovski predicted the new techniques will create the potential for an "infinite" variety of collaborations, notably in the accessories sector, with smooth leather experiencing particularly robust growth in the category lately.

"Accessories are already a strong pillar of our business and represent a big growth market for us," he said.Accessories represent Swarovski's smallest but fastest-growing category in volume, Langes-Swarovski noted. Costume jewelry is Swarovski's number-one item, followed by clothing. Overall sales for 2007 are projected to reach 1.9 billion euros, or $2.8 million at current exchange, he said.

Meanwhile, Swarovski plans to unveil one-off wedding dresses with high-profile designers, based on the theme of marriage, in January in Paris. A coffee table book will also be released as part of the project, dubbed "Unbridled, the Marriage of Tradition and Avante-Garde."

Crystal-embellished gowns by John Galliano, Viktor & Rolf, Elie Saab and Vera Wang will be unveiled at the event, along with pieces by jewelry, accessory and interior designers.

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