Story featured in Introspective Magazine – by Clair Watson
Once upon a time, in 1895, in the small Austrian village of Wattens, a great industrial concern was born.
One of four sons of an ornamental glass stone cutter from Bohemia, a young man called David Swarovski invented a revolutionary mechanical cutting device (a “comb”), which not only increased production but also created such beautiful stones that he proclaimed “it was possible to believe they were real diamonds.”
Over the years, innovation followed innovation – including designing melting furnaces that produced first-quality crystals; establishing an optical division that ensured production throughout World War II; and discovering formulae for myriad new colors. Progressive expansion in response to evolving market need was fundamental to the successful growth of Daniel’s self-named company, Swarovski.
Exactly one hundred years later, in 1995, Daniel’s great-great-granddaughter Nadja joined the family firm at the age of 24 as a novitiate in the marketing and communications division, and she was dismayed to find progress stalled and the market mired in kingdom animalia, the ubiquitous Swarovski collectible.
She had seen the oncoming competition from China and Egypt, and the reawakening of the Czech Republic, the “sleeping giant of crystal cutting,” as she calls the original home of her great-great-grandfather. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh,’ “ she tells me in the sun-filled enamel-white conference room of her New York City office, her mellifluous transatlantic accent tinged with the Tyrol.
“People didn’t know anything about the color and intricacy of the stones I played with as a child; they only associated Swarovski with crystal tabletop objects. I wanted to share the stories I grew up with. I wanted to make people understand the Swarovski that I knew.”
Her want is her deed, because today, 16 years on, one is hard pressed to think of a comparable “modern-luxe” family company that is better understood, or better known by the public at large. And it is a diverse public; one that snaps up a vast range of continually refreshed offerings, from haute (a ceiling-to-floor Cascade chandelier by Vincent Van Duysen for $135,000, give or take a crystal) to bas (a crystal bow barrette for $9.99), to the tune of $3 billion in 2010.
As the company’s Vice President for International Communications, Nadja now oversees disseminating the stories of nine brand divisions (there are 24,000 employees, and her contribution to the company was recently acknowledged internally when she attained one of her goals and became an Executive member of its Board in April 2011. “Its great to finally implement everything I’ve done so far but on a global basis,” she says.
Nadja tells of having “innate Swarovski instincts” that furl her passion for the company. While other young girls have their imaginations fed by fairy tales, Nadja grew up listening to family stories, such as that of her great grand father providing stones for the first counter, Charles Frederick Worth. Swarovski has now bought several dresses he encrusted for Queen Victoria for its fast-growing archive. “We document everything we do now because we realize today is going to be tomorrow,” she explains. “We are making history.”
And she heard how her grandfather worked with Coco Chanel, the queen of costume jewelry who made faux fashionable. To start her own chapter of the family story, Nadja first turned to fashion genius Alexander McQueen, who designed a crystal mesh for his Spring/Summer 1999 collection. “I thought we needed content,” she says with masterful understatement.
And she reinstated “crystal” as the brand mot du jour, while sweeping away outmoded terminologies. “ ‘Rhinestone’ in America, ‘Diamante’ in England, ‘Strass’ in France,” she elucidates, “Why not let people refer to the product as what it really is?” Her sapphire clear-eyed gaze questions for a second, answered by an irresistible smile as she whips her blonde hair into a soigné topknot.
In 1992 Nadja was put through her paces by Eleanor Lambert, the New York doyenne of fashion PR. Lambert famously pushed American designers onto the world stage by presenting a fashion show at Versailles in 1973. She also founded the Council of fashion Designers of America (CFDA), which recently awarded Nadja the unique Trova statuette in honor of Swarovski’s tenth year of supporting the group. “It is amazing to have gone from admitting Eleanor Lambert’s trove of statues to eventually receiving one myself,” Nadja says.
She recalls being very annoyed at having to clean out Lambert’s files until she found herself reading personal correspondence with such icons as Jackie O and the Duchess of Windsor. “She was a walking history book, It was a privilege,” she says now of her time with Lambert, who died in 2003. “She had an amazing ability to recognize talent, put individuals together who had not yet met and create something.” She pauses; her direct gaze levels. “Which is what I’m really trying to do.”
For the London Design Festival in September, Nadja has commissioned architect John Pawson to create nothing less than an optical illusion within St Paul’s Cathedral. Using a precision-made Swarovski Optics lens and a suspended mirror placed strategically within the cathedral’s Geometric Staircase, visitors will be able to “see beyond the level of the naked eye,” according to Pawson.
Nadja also recently established Swarovski Entertainment, a brand division to finance and commission symbiotic relationships and product placement for stage (literally, the Oscar stage covered in crystals) and screen (The Black Swan chandeliers and costumes).
Discussions are ongoing with Shekhar Kapur to produce his futuristic movie called Paani (“water” in Hindi) to bring attention to water conservation and the Swarovski Water School, the company’s charity that offers educational programs to young children globally. “It’s so important for us to be relevant and create product that matters,” she says.
Back in Wattens, the Swarovski museum is undergoing modernization, having recently had its 10 millionth visitor. Called Crystal Worlds, it contains such unique fare as crystal-studded art from Keith Haring and Salvadore Dali, a sound installation by Brian Eno, and a maze by architect David Adjaye. Nadja has commissioned New York architect David Rockwell to design an addition to the building so she can display the contemporary crystal pieces she has commissioned as well as the growing historical archive.
She is already thinking ahead, to another art project. “I want to do exactly what Arnault is doing in Paris,” she says, referring to French luxury conglomerate LVMH Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault and his Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation, whose holdings will be exhibited in a Frank Gehry-designed building in the Bois de Boulogne. “I want to have that kind of private art collection. Investing in the current time, you know?”
Nadja has already communicated what she calls “a renewed focus on the art world” in the press release for the ‘Iris’ floor lamp, a unique interpretation of the human eye by British avant-garde design duo Fredrikson Stallard, unveiled in June at Design Miami/Basel. (As a long time sponsor of Design Miami, Swarovski Crystal Palace has promoted projects by the likes of Troika, Ross Lovegrove and Diller Scofidio & Renfro.)
London, 9th November 2011 —
Swarovski and Harrods held a champagne reception at the first ever Swarovski jewellery Pop-up Shop within the luxury department stores’ famed windows. The reception was followed by an intimate dinner hosted by Nadja Swarovski at One Hyde Park in celebration of the creative partnership and the official unveiling of “A Crystal Christmas inspired by Swarovski at Harrods”, which dazzled and delighted shoppers from across the globe this holiday season.
Joining the celebrations and wearing pieces from Atelier Swarovski by Christopher Kane were Leah Weller, Tallulah Harlech and Portia Freeman. Other guests in attendance included: Nick Candy, Holly Valance, Zaha Hadid, Jasmine Guinness, Tara Ferry, Sunday Girl, Camilla Rutherford, Olivia Grant, Tom Cullen, Yasmin Mills and Theresa Maccapani Missoni.