Elton John ensemble at The Art of Performance Wonder Chamber (Images Courtesy of Swarovski)

“They’re covered in Swarovski crystals, girl,” declared Rihanna at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards. Clad in a shockingly sheer Adam Selman gown emblazoned with over 230,000 Swarovski crystals, the look has gone down in pop culture history- like so many other moments where Swarovski was front and center and sparkling.

Adorning some of the most prolific creatives in the entertainment industry, Swarovski has been there through it all: Old Hollywood, the Olympics, music’s most epic performances, and even a Presidential scandal. Sprinkled throughout pop culture history, Swarovski’s pervasive impact is crystal clear.

Looking to the future while simultaneously reveling in the past, Swarovski’s illustrious heritage is one worth celebrating. As pioneering creative director Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert breathes new life into the Austrian crystal company’s latest collections, Swarovski’s cultural director and curator of crystal worlds Carla Rumler has conceived the latest installment for Swarovski Kristallwelten (Crystal Worlds). A new and mesmerizing Chamber of Wonder, The Art of Performance shines a spotlight on Swarovski’s significant contributions to the entertainment industry’s most iconic moments. The immersive experience in Wattens, Austria, charts some of the most monumental pieces in pop culture — all emblazoned with Swarovski crystals, of course.

Having called upon Academy Award production designer Derek McLane and fashion designer Michael Schmidt to complete her dream team, Carla Rumler told GRAZIA USA, “Swarovski has a long history and a long legacy in the world of entertainment, but who has those beautiful costumes? We had some in our archive but most of them were elsewhere. I needed to find someone who could curate these pieces. It took a long time, but I eventually found Michael Schmidt.”

Indeed, Schmidt actually created some of the pieces in the collection. The creative is responsible for the metallic, cut-throat glove worn by Lady Gaga in her role as the Countess in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story —a fashion statement cum murder weapon composed of 11,000 Swarovski crystals with sterling silver lattice. Known for having dressed the likes of Madonna, Cher, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Dolly Parton, Janet Jackson, and more, Schmidt has landed his work on grand world tours, music videos, album covers, popular television series, and major motion pictures. His extensive background, immersed in the world of lavish entertainment, made Schmidt the perfect man for the job.

The Art of Performance (Images Courtesy of Swarovski)

Rumler met Schmidt in L.A. a few years back and asked him for his help in creating the new Wonder Chamber. Jumping on the opportunity, Schmidt and Rumler immediately began working together, quickly realizing the challenges they would face. With many costumes in deteriorated conditions, the pair summoned the energy to push through and persevere. “We didn’t give up and he was wonderful,” said Rumler. “I love working with him. He has this passion for Swarovski; it’s incredible.”

With the cultural director beginning to shape the idea in 2015, it took about three years to locate all the desired pieces. Then, although the exhibit was originally due to open in 2020 in conjunction with Swarovski’s 125th anniversary, the Wonder Chamber was postponed due to the onset of the novel coronavirus. As the global pandemic put a halt to many pending projects, Rumler found the international pause actually provided them with the time they needed to track down all of the desired pieces. “This idea has been in my mind forever. It was always growing,” Rumler said of the exhibit. “I guess you could say I got pregnant with it.”

With so many of these pieces inextricably tied to landmark historical events, personal recollections are bound to be sparked by this luminescent walk down memory lane. For Rumler, it was “Marlene Dietrich with her suit. It was very provocative at that time that a lady had a suit, and we all remember this. All of us have these images programmed somewhere and it’s amazing that we now have these pieces here. People can have their own memories when they see it, and their own biographies.”

Referring to the re-creation of Dietrich’s 1932 film Blonde Venus, the original white tuxedo with the crystal-emblazoned lapel marked Swarovski’s debut appearance on film. While the original garment no longer exists, the splash it made is responsible for the adoption of Swarovski crystals by iconic costume designers Edith Head and The Wizard of Oz wardrobe designer Adrian Adolph Greenberg. Their ruby- red Swarovski-studded slippers, worn of course by Judy Garland, made cultural history in the 1939 cinematic masterpiece.

Swarovski also collaborated with Academy Award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell for the 2015 Walt Disney live-action production of Cinderella starring Lily James, making it responsible for two of the most famous pairs of shoes in cinema history. The iconic pumps were made up of more than 200 facets, coated in a blue aurora borealis iridescent finish, and molded out of one solid piece of crystal.

Cinderella’s slipper (Images Courtesy of Swarovski)

A harmonious blend of replicas and original pieces, the experiential presentation displays pieces you’ve probably known all your life, through a new, crystalized lens. Does, “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” ring a bell?

Included in the illustrious array is a reproduction of Marilyn Monroe’s Swarovski- embroidered Jean Louis dress, which the star donned to serenade President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in 1962. Although the original gown was purchased by Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in 2016, a respected collector of Monroe memorabilia reached out to the Wonder Chamber creators with an alternative.

“The Marilyn Monroe dress came in accidentally,” Rumler remembered. “At the time, Ted Stampfer approached us and said, ‘I have a few items originally from Marilyn Monroe.’ I thought, Woah, what a coincidence. I asked Michael (Schmidt) what he thought, and we were impressed that he had such a collection. He did a show in Germany, and we went to see it. He had items that we wanted to integrate, so we got the replica of the dress and some original items, including the birthday invitation.”

While Monroe and Nicole Kidman share the showtune “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in their respective places in Hollywood history, Kidman’s jazzy burlesque performance ensemble in Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 jukebox romance Moulin Rouge! came courtesy of Swarovski crystals, not diamonds.

With the film’s costume designers Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie taking home the Academy Award for Best Costume design for the effort, the silver and black Swarovski crystal-bedazzled corset became a recognizable character in and of itself.

Much like Kidman swung from the ceiling as Satine, the exhibit features theatrical creations suspended from the ceiling and even a shimmering mannequin leaping through the air, symbolizing the record-breaking Olympic gymnast, Simone Biles. Donning her crystal encrusted leotard, the standout piece is decorated with a small beaded goat on her hip, symbolizing the acronym for “Greatest of All Time.”

Among the other floating confections, a recreation of Katy Perry’s show-stopping 2019 Met Gala ensemble by Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott hangs perhaps more appropriately than most, considering it was meant to evoke a chandelier. In accordance with the Gala’s theme Camp: Notes on Fashion, the pop star popped up in a dress with fully functioning light bulbs.

Quite possibly the star of the show, however, is an original crystal-encrusted Michael Jackson Victory Tour glove that sits alongside one of his famed fedoras. “I was very touched about Michael Jackson’s glove, because we didn’t know until the end whether we could get the original one,” said Rumler. On loan from Jackson’s personal costume designer Michael Bush, the invaluable piece of pop history was a delightful surprise.

Michael Jackson’s glove and hat (Images Courtesy of Swarovski)


“As a creative, utilizing Swarovski Crystal gives you infinite opportunities to express yourself. When you think about all the impactful moments throughout cultural history that Swarovski has been a part of, it’s truly incredible,” said Schmidt. “From Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Michael Jackson’s glove to Simone Biles’s attire when winning all her gold medals, these moments are all covered in Swarovski Crystal.”

Rumler went on to add, “We all have these images in front of us when we think performers. Of course, I had Michael Jackson’s glove in mind from the beginning. I knew that everybody would know that. The glove and the Cinderella shoe were some of the first pieces I thought we’d have to include. The Cher dress had to be included as well, the incredible Bob Mackie. This was also something that came to mind immediately.”

On loan from costume designer Mackie, the fantastical gold and crystal fringe ensemble and coordinating headdress depicts a feathered look from Cher’s epic Las Vegas residency.

Cher’s Bob Mackie Las Vegas residency look (Images Courtesy of Swarovski)

With the assortment’s balanced curation of sports, film, and music, icons like Cher and Michael Jackson are joined here by the likes of the ever-dazzling Elton John.

Along with John’s rainbow crystal-embroidered Rocket Man navy blazer is a pair of red crystalized overalls above a coordinating navy star emblazoned long sleeve top. Tony Award-winning set designer Dereck McLane, responsible for major Broadway productions and the opulent Oscars stages for five consecutive years crafted crystal-covered mannequin to pick up on the light exuded from these effervescent garments.

The end result? “When I walked into the completed exhibit for the first time I thought, Wow. This is Hollywood. I am in the epicenter of Hollywood here. It was a feeling of elegance and glamour, and felt very light, in a way. I felt like I was on a cloud, and it was just beautiful,” Rumler recalled.

Items worn by the likes of Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Björk, Grace Jones, Lizzo, Mila Kunis, Selena Gomez, and Dita Von Teese and more have been included in the vast assemblage as well, detailing Swarovski’s incomparable star power.

With 17 other Chambers of Wonder currently in rotation, Swarovski Kristallwelten was created in 1995 in celebration of the company’s hundredth anniversary. Called upon by the Swarovski family, Austrian multi-media artist André Heller helped to create an expansive attraction in Tyrol.

Creating the imaginative narrative that Swarovski was a metaphorical protective giant in the mountains, Heller shaped a piece of landscape architecture with that inspiration in mind. Dubbed the realm of the Giant, it now looks out across the park and its treasures.

According to Rumler, Swarovski’s realm of the Giant quickly became the second-most-visited place in Austria.

With her position as the curator of crystal worlds, Carla Rumler is now in the middle of the formative process. “I started back with André Heller in the beginning collaborations with him. I’m very honored to develop this further because this is a very important heritage, and we have to be very sensitive with it. Now we have our latest Wonder Chamber and I’m really proud of that- I’m actually proud of all the wonder chambers. They’re all my babies.” Calling Yayoi Kusama’s Chandelier of Greif “a world star,” Rumler finds the collaboration to be a “perfect fit for Swarovski.”

André Heller’s Realm of The Giant (Images Courtesy of Swarovski)

While the Art of Performance will be on display for the next seven years, the curator of crystal worlds plans to keep the Wonder Chamber fresh and exciting throughout its duration. “I love this Wonder Chamber because it will be in constant evolution. Lots of pieces are on loan, so when we give them back, we have to find other pieces. It’s very exciting. It will be always fresh and new,” Rumler explains. “And who knows! I have some new pieces in mind, but we’ll see.”

As Swarovski looks back on its ubiquitous Hollywood-adjacent heritage, Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert is looking to the future. The first company-wide creative director in the brand’s history, Battaglia Engelbert told GRAZIA USA the development was a “natural evolution” and “the perfect storm.”

Having been appointed in mid-2020 amid the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, Battaglia Engelbert shares Rumler’s perspective that the lockdown may have inadvertently helped move the process along: “Things were quite crazy, but we actually moved 10 times faster than we would normally.”

Stylist, editor, street style maven, and now creative director of Swarovski, Battaglia Engelbert has worn many hats in the fashion industry. “It’s my past experiences that all contribute to what I’m doing now,” she said. “All my different hats, the common thread is that they’re all creative disciplines. Everything was a preparatory study for what I’m doing now. It’s a fulfillment of everything I’ve done before.”

Musing over what originally lured Swarovski creative director Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert to the field of fashion, she credited her native city of Milan. “I was born and raised in fashion because I was born in the center of Milano,” she said. A mecca of the fashion industry, Milan afforded her a glimpse into the flashy lifestyles within. “I was a teenager when the 1990s were exploding in the city. When I was 13, I remember waiting outside of Versace shows just to look at the people going in, like Madonna and Elton John. Those shows were like concerts.”

Elton John’s Rocket Man Jacket (Images Courtesy of Swarovski)

“I thought, One day, maybe I’ll be able to go inside the show. The models, Linda, Cindy, and Naomi, those girls made me want to work in fashion,” recalled Battaglia Engelbert.

After growing up with parents that were artists, Battaglia Engelbert went on to study art as well. Implementing those tendencies towards crystal production now, Battaglia Engelbert places the meticulous use of color and geometry at center stage in her design process. Citing the works of artists Kenneth Noland and Josef Albers as inspiration, Battaglia Engelbert’s exuberant expression and fun-loving aesthetic have found a home in Swarovski’s jewelry. “Crystals allow you to express yourself in this way, which is a lot of fun. Even though I adore fine jewelry, I just it just a bit stiffer, and a little bit harder to play with,” she says. At Swarovski, though, “It’s really like working with candy sometimes.”

Featuring unexpected shapes, statement pieces, and colors that scan the whole rainbow, Battaglia Engelbert’s collections I, II and the UNA assortment have all been met with a tremendous amount of adoration. “It’s been quite a wild ride,” noted Battaglia Engelbert. “It’s been very exciting to see how people were ready for change and excited for a new chapter of Swarovski.”

Hoping to exude a more accessible energy at Swarovski, Battaglia Engelbert has big dreams for the state of the jewelry industry. “I’m making sure that our product is visible and understood by everyone- that it’s done in a way that is accessible to everyone. My dream is to democratize the jewelry world, where jewelry is an expression of who you are, it’s not an expression of your wallet. The attitude is that it’s about who you are, not what you have.” And, how the right dose of sparkle can turn you into someone else entirely — maybe even a cultural icon.

To read more, pick up GRAZIA USA’s March 2022 issue on newsstands and email contact@graziausa.com to subscribe.