Think Lalique, and you think glass, non? But there’s so much more to this French design giant, dubbed the “creator of modern jewellery.” And following a whirlwind trip to the Lalique factory and museum in Alsace, the legendary Villa René Lalique with its two Michelin-star restaurant, and an overnight stay and lunch in Château Hochberg, I was under the Lalique spell. I’m just surprised Wingen-sur-Moder hasn’t been renamed Lalique-sur-Moder.
I suggest a two-night itinerary if you’re going to head over to this Hansel and Gretel outpost in Alsace. If you’re a lover of design, art deco and superlative food and wine, you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away from the Villa René Lalique. Or, you could stay in Château Hochberg, an 1863 creation and which opened in 2016 as a four-star hotel. There’s also the Lalique Museum, where I started wishing I knew Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief so that he could “acquire” some serious, divine loot for yours truly.
“René Lalique had the gift of bringing a frisson of beauty to the world.” Henri Clouzot
Lalique: A Potted History
There are pots involved, but more on that later. I could write a whole post just on the history of Mr Lalique and his descendants. Here’s the short version:
René was born in 1860 in Ay-en-Champagne. He studied at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and trained as an apprentice with the Parisian jeweller, Louis Aucoc. He moved to London in 1878 where he studied at the Sydenham School of Art. Back in Paris, he worked with jewellery designers Boucheron and Cartier. By 1890, he was one of the best-known jewellery designers in Paris, with illustrious clients such as Sarah Bernhardt and Portuguese art collector Calouste Gulbenkian (if you’ve been to Lisbon, chances you’ll be familiar with that name). Lalique would start transitioning from jewellery to glass in 1907 after partnering with perfumer François Coty to design those bottles.
In 1921, he moved his factory to Wingen-sur-Moder, where he was now producing some of the most desirable objects on the planet. His designs included perfume bottles, car mascots, interior design panels for Orient Express train carriages as well as signature pieces for hotels around the world.
By 1945, Lalique was using crystal, with a high lead content, instead of glass. What makes a Lalique piece so unique is the use of opalescent glass, the juxtaposition of clear and opaque glass.
Lalique’s designs drew on the female form, flora and fauna, the sky, earth, plants, trees and insects. His skill was not in copying the natural world around him but by transforming it. As he moved into the Art Deco era, his designs became more geometric but still with a naturalistic, female undertone.
I’m afraid to say you won’t be able to visit the Lalique factory, but you can tour the Lalique Museum instead (more on that below). So, you will have to settle on a petit tour avec moi.
Today, it can take up to 40 processes to create a Lalique crystal design. A piece isn’t a Lalique until it gets the Lalique signature etching.
Our tour started with a room holding these clay pots, made by hand and used to hold the molten coloured crystal. It takes one man a whole month to fashion three of these pots! Once they’re bone dry, they are moved into the furnaces where the glass is melted down, ready for use.
Next, we wandered into the room where the moulds are designed and where secrets are kept. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but here’s a mould from the museum. It’s a work of art in itself, don’t you think?
You can see the skill, speed and precision that is required to produce a Lalique piece. The choreography here is a sight to see. Using extreme heat of up to 14000 Celsius in the hot glass workshops, the crystal is cleaned and shaped. In the cold glass workshops, the pieces are finished by hand with extreme care and attention. About 50% of the crystal is rejected and re-melted for future application.
This Anemone vase has 3,200 dots applied by hand.
The final touches are applied to these fabulous pieces. Each and every person working in this factory is an artist in his or her own right.
The Lalique Museum is opposite Château Hochberg, so you can have a beautiful lunch at the hotel and then saunter over to the museum by foot. With over 650 pieces, from Lalique’s earliest jewellery confections, to perfume bottles, commissions for public spaces, lighting, tableware and art, you should set aside a good hour or two to tour the museum.
First stop: jewellery. Lalique’s entrée into the world of fame and fortune started with jewellery. His Art Nouveau pieces invoked nature: leaves, flowers, insects and the female form, using semi-precious materials, ivory and enamel.
Next, perfume. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the design of the perfume bottle was as important as its contents. Lalique went one step further, making the stopper the heroine of the piece. Together with perfumer, Coty, they would revolutionise the perfume business. Lalique would design 20 bottles for Coty.
The Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1900 marked the peak of Lalique’s foray into jewellery design. By 1905, he was moving into glass design with perfume bottles, vases and sculptures. The Art Nouveau master was also becoming the wizard of Art Deco. How beautiful are the Bouchon Cassis perfume bottles, created in 1920 and the Ronces vases below?
Modern Art chez Lalique
A Damien Hirst wall adorns the bar in the Villa René Lalique. Pretty much everything you see in the bar and lounge area is available for sale.
You may very well think you know what this Anish Kapoor object is, but I couldn’t possibly comment. It took two years for Kapoor to create this piece, aptly named, Untitled. It weighs 20 kilos and is 1.3 metres long.
Zaha Hadid creations for Lalique: “Lalique was synonymous with elegance, fluid lines, both innovative and timeless…every piece celebrates the unique properties of crystal.”
These dreamy compositions are my favourite Lalique pieces in the contemporary art range – the Terry Rodgers collection. Fashioned from Lalique’s Bacchantes, designed in 1927, these modern nymphs by Rodgers emerge from the glass in erotic dance.
More information on the Musee Lalique here.
Villa René Lalique
The Villa René Lalique was built by the great man himself in 1920 and used as a family home when he was in the region. It is set in a pastoral six-acre oasis with chestnut, birch, oak, spruce and blue cedar. In 2015, it opened as a five-star hotel with an interior design by Tina Green and Pietro Mingarelli. It’s small, with only six suites, and wherever possible, the original details of the house have been retained. Furniture from the Lalique Maison collection has been created specifically for the hotel rooms as well as the lounge and bar.
Let’s talk wine for a moment. The wine cellar at Villa René Lalique is run by Sommelier-in-Chief Romain Iltis who knows a thing or two about the decadent grape. The cellar holds 60,000 bottles including an Yquem from 1865 (calling Cary Grant again!) and a nonpareil selection of Alsatian, American and French wines. Alsace has most biodynamic vineyards in the world which makes for a saltier grape, and Iltis paired a fine selection with the divine dishes waiting for us in the dining room.
Here is some of the damage I caused to the wine cellar when I visited for dinner. The wines were such fantastic quality, I didn’t even feel tipsy at the end of the marathon drinking session.
“Better to seek beauty than flaunt luxury” René Lalique
The restaurant was designed by Swiss starchitect Mario Botta, a space which creates a seemingly seamless transition from the outdoor to the indoor. Chef Jean-George Klein is at the head of the two Michelin star restaurant which serves up works of art. In 2017, he was joined by Paul Stradner.
We were treated to an eight-course menu called Creation. You may not be able to afford a Damien Hirst Lalique, so go for the starter, “Like a Masterpiece of Damien Hirst” instead. It was basically a plate of fruit and veg, but the tastiest work of art I’ve ever had.
Set in 1.7 hectares, the Château Hochberg is Lalique’s four-star offering and it oozes Lalique design and sophistication.
Don’t fret if there’s no space at the Villa René Lalique, you can book at room at the other Lalique outpost, the Château Hochberg. It was bought by the current Chairman and CEO of Lalique, Silvio Denz, back in 2014 and is now classified as a historic building. It’s charming, and the restaurant, although not a two-Michelin star, certainly holds its own in the region.
Lalique in London
Lalique has two London boutiques, one in Conduit Street and one in Burlington Arcade. You can catch some of Lalique’s art deco sparkle in London if you visit The Fumoir Bar at Claridge’s Hotel. And Mr René is alive and kicking at the Victoria and Albert Museum which holds several Lalique works in its mighty collection.
I might just have to start my own Lalique collection. As Christmas is coming up, you might be stuck for ideas as to what to get me? Never fret, check out some of my favourites on my Pinterest page.
Merci Lalique for inviting me for a fabulous visit. As always, all opinions are my opinionated own!
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