Sparkle Plenty



Interview: Industry Icons

Nadja Swarovski is
at home in the fashion industry. After all, her
great-great-grandfather, who in 1895 founded the Austrian crystal
company that bears his name, was called upon by Queen Victoria’s dress
designers to lend a little sparkle to her royal robes.

Over the years, Swarovski has jazzed up the ruby slippers Dorothy donned in The Wizard of Oz,
the dress Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade President Kennedy, and even
the 2010 Academy Awards ceremony. (Three tons of clear, topaz, and
smoky brown crystals were used to make the curtain framing the Kodak
Theatre stage!)

So
it’s no surprise that when Nadja Swarovski joined the family business
in 1995 after public relations stints at names such as Valentino and
Bulgari, she added yet another layer to the tradition: high fashion. By
wooing major designers, signing on as a sponsor of the Council of
Fashion Designers of America Fashion Awards, and hosting parties for
the likes of cutting-edge architect Zaha Hadid, Swarovski became a
fixture in the community. 

In
2007, she launched Atelier Swarovski—collections of limited-edition
crystalized jewelry and accessories designed by none other than her
pals from the runway, including Christopher Kane, Rodarte’s Kate and
Laura Mulleavy, and Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren of Viktor &
Rolf. 

For
her fall/winter 2010 collaboration, Swarovski managed to snag the
iconic Karl Lagerfeld, creative director for Chanel and head of Fendi
as well as his own eponymous line. Their project includes five
different looks over 12 SKUs, all of which start at $300 retail. JCK
caught up with the queen of bling—whose official title is vice
president of international communications—to dish on the line and tell
us about working with the Paris-based “Kaiser.”

Nadja Swarowski

JCK: You’ve worked with so many new designers. How did you get together with Karl Lagerfeld?
NADJA SWAROVSKI:
We work with fashion designers
to support their efforts on the catwalk. We give them crystals to use
in clothing collections as well. We want them to translate what they’re
doing on the catwalk into our retail stores. But we don’t just
concentrate on fashion designers—we’ve added -jewelry designers like
Stephen Webster and architects like Zaha Hadid.

JCK: How did the relationship develop?
NS:

In previous seasons [spring/summer 2009 and spring/summer 2010,
respectively], we featured Erdem and Jason Wu, up-and-comers in
fashion, so we needed a strong-caliber person to follow. Karl Lagerfeld
was the first person to come to mind. So
I wrote him a letter [in October 2009], asking him to participate. One
of my colleagues knows his assistant, who told us in a follow-up
conversation that Karl said yes.  

A
month later, we met in Paris in his office for an hour. We sat in this
incredible studio with floor-to-ceiling bookcases—it was a fantastic
library! It was a big warehouse space with a photography studio, and it
had incredible warmth because of the books. The place definitely threw
off a positive vibe.

JCK: What did you two talk about?
NS:

We reviewed the past four seasons of Atelier Swarovski look books, so
Karl could see what we’ve done. I want to make designers understand
that we are encouraging their creative vision, not ours, but that
crystal has to be the hero in the collections. We are mutually
celebrating each other; Swarovski is celebrating the designer’s
creativity and the designer is celebrating the crystal. And
in the meeting, Karl wore an Atelier Swarovski pendant by Christopher
Kane that he had bought at Colette [in Paris]. It was such an
incredibly sweet touch.

JCK: Did you give him any instructions?
NS:
No!
Who am I to tell Karl Lagerfeld what to do? Obviously, we choose
designers we know will create a great design. That’s where we start in
the selection process.?With
every endorsement for Swarovski, it’s another designer’s interpretation
that presents a new and interesting take on our crystal.

But
we do show the designer our strategy paper for the project; it’s a
design brief, and within it, we plan for what Swarovski would like to
see the designer create. We want designers to feel that they are in
good hands—that Swarovski has a strategy. It’s a two-way street, and
that’s very important. It’s the only way I like to work.

Swarovksi’s collaborator for fall/winter 2010, Karl Lagerfeld.

JCK: Tell us about the line.
NS:
Karl’s collection has five main themes: a snake, a bow, a knot, the circle, and the letter K—available in colorless crystal and dark blue, dark brown, or jet black. His pieces are made in base metal with crystals.

But
these collections aren’t about whether the materials are costume or
not; they’re about fashion in jewelry. Zaha’s pieces were made with
resin; she had crystals dropped into the resin while it was being made.
Some artists used felt in designs. Stephen Webster’s pieces are unisex
and playful; he’s a real craftsman and an artist, whether he’s working
in precious stones or in Swarovski crystals. 

JCK: What impressed you most about Lagerfeld’s designs? Were there  any surprises?
NS:
He
truly had that approach of jewelry adorning the body—jewelry as an
extension of a fashion collection. In fact, the collection launched at
his catwalk show in March 2010 in Paris. It was the first time the
collection had been seen by anybody. He integrated the pieces into the
outfits, the jewelry into the clothes. That was different. He used
pins as closures to jackets so they weren’t just about decoration—they
were functional as well. The jewelry really popped that way.

JCK: What do you think will excite consumers about this line?
NS:
They
are getting a little piece of the fashion designer. They might not be
able to afford one of his dresses, but they can afford the cuff [retail
$500]. Karl’s portrait will also be in the shop windows to help create
a connection between the personality and the jewelry piece. We want
customers to feel they are getting something from Karl.

JCK: When will the jewels be available?
NS:
The
collection launches in October, and we’ll be selling Karl’s line in 200
Swarovski stores worldwide. In the United States, 14 Swarovski
stores—including those on Madison Avenue and in Houston Galleria,
Westfield Century City [in Los Angeles], and The Shops at North
Bridge [in Chicago]—will carry it.

Lagerfeld’s signature bow debuted on his Paris runway.

JCK: Do you have a favorite piece?
NS:
I
love the snake cuff because I think it feels great on. I love
cuffs—it’s the Wonder Woman phenomenon. I have really thin wrists, so
it feels good to wear cuffs. Karl’s cuff is large but feminine,
especially for the shape of a snake.

JCK: Who’s next on the list to guest-design?
NS:
We’re
already working with the designers for the next collection,
spring/summer 2011. It’s a real assortment again of fashion and jewelry designers—though they’re not all confirmed yet. It’s still too
early in the process. I can tell you, though, that we’ll have a jewelry and fashion designer from North America. We won’t just feature
Europeans. And I’ll tell you that it’s of the utmost importance for
Swarovski to keep these collaborations going. We rely on these
designers’ vision to see how crystal will be integrated into beautiful designs.