Lasvit founder Leon Jakimič celebrates a decade of revitalising and reimagining the Czech glass tradition for the modern world
For all intents and purposes, Leon Jakimič has come full circle, sitting at the same top floor table of The Upper House where Lasvit was born a decade ago. He can, arguably, take credit for the resurgence of Bohemian glassmaking worldwide: in just 10 years, Lasvit's sculptures, art installations and lighting accessories crafted from handblown glass have become hallmarks of the world's chicest private homes and commercial spaces.
Jakimič is back at The Upper House for the unveiling of the hotel's Christmas tree and back in Hong Kong after the Milano Design Film Festival premiered director Kryštof Jankovec's 30-minute documentary biopic, Breakpoint, a post-YouTube advertising exercise. With its vaguely post-apocalyptic imagery and phoenix-from-theashes tone, Breakpoint – whose title can refer to the point that wins a game of tennis or the potential end of the line for a community and a tradition – details Jakimič's vision for Lasvit in simultaneously cocky and generous strokes. Plenty of time is given over to Lasvit's glassblowers, as well as creative director Maxim Velčovský.
"Our aim is to be the most inspirational glassmakers; to inspire the world through something beautiful," explains Jakimič. "Something that can add to people's happiness. We'd never want to sound so over-confident to say we can change anyone, but we feel we can make people happier and more relaxed when they see a beautiful lighting sculpture above the kitchen island or in the lobby of a hotel. This is our mission."
A native of Liberec, in the Czech Republic's Bohemia region, Jakimič had early aspirations to play professional tennis, though stiff competition and ultimately injury ended his career before it really got started. Glassmaking came naturally given a home in what he describes as "the cradle of central European glassmaking", with a thousand-year tradition rivalled only by Murano. Five generations of glass craftsmen in the family didn't hurt. "I was always close to glass. My mother taught me how to differentiate among the different types of glasses – for red wine, white wine, champagne, cognac, whisky – before I even knew what alcohol was," he says.
Jakimič landed in Hong Kong after university in the United States and with a job, eventually, as another Czech glassmaker's Asia-Pacific managing director. But the charm of the large corporation wore off, and his exposure to various architects and designers sowed the seeds of Lasvit. "I knew what I wanted; I thought if I couldn't do it through that company I would set up my own."
And despite Hong Kong's image as a so-called cultural wasteland, Jakimič stayed. Starting a creative glass business in a city where artisanal craft rarely trumps quick, inexpensive mass production in China would seem counter-productive, but Jakimič, who admits he chose Hong Kong – over Manhattan – for some adventure, found the territory's unique strengths to his liking. "I don't think there's another city where you can meet as many interesting people for business – developers, architects and designers – in a short period of time. I don't think Lasvit would have grown this fast if it weren't in Hong Kong."
And grow it did. Jakimič purchased a glassworks in the Czech Republic where all Lasvit's glass components are manufactured, as well as three metalworks. With help from design consultant and strategist Stephan Hamel, Lasvit stole some of Murano's glassmaking thunder, and reminded the world there was more to the Czech Republic than beer. "I felt glass was a beautiful fragile, peaceful product through which you can tell a story… of Bohemian culture; it's Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera, it's Dvořák, and what shapes the culture of the people who make it."
That authenticity eventually garnered the brand some attention. Where once it was difficult to convince designers to work with it, Lasvit is now compelled to turn projects down. In addition to 16 in-house designers (three in Hong Kong), Lasvit's external collaborators include the likes of fellow Czechs Jitka Kamencová Skuhravá and Gabriela Náhlíková, as well as some of the world's most prominent and influential designers, including Kengo Kuma, Yabu Pushelberg, Maarten Baas, Ross Lovegrove, Daniel Libeskind, and the late Zaha Hadid. The Lotte World Tower, The Peninsula Paris, Dubai Metro, Bangkok's Mahidol University, Taikoo Place Apartments, The Langham Chicago and the Four Seasons Hotel London are just a handful of the locations in its portfolio.
This is an excerpt from "Bohemian rhapsody”, an article from the January/February issue of Perspective magazine.
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