Nadja Swarovski has driven the renaissance of her family company and inspired ten years of Swarovski’s Crystal Palace project. Thanks to her efforts, crystals now add sparkle to almost every facet of domestic life.
What started as a family business in the 19th century in the small Austrian town of Wattens is now a household name and worldwide brand. Thanks to its crystals, Swarovski is now virtually synonymous with the trend for embellishment which has swept through the worlds of fashion and interiors like a tinsel tidalwave in the last decade. And throughout this resurgence in popularity the Swarovski family has retained control of the company and maximised its commercial potential. Key to the company’s successful positioning is Nadja Swarovski. As glamorous as the brand she represents, Swarovski has astutely created partnerships and brand extensions that include some of the most prominent names in the world of contemporary design.
This glamorous element is only one part of the commercial application of crystals but it is the most high profile. Other uses of crystals include optical lenses used for binoculars and scopes for guns (an effect incorporated into the most recent Crystal Palace project from designers Troika), and also abrasives.
Going back in the company’s history, it had previously been best known for its chandeliers and subsequently for its crystal giftware, perhaps most memorably the little crystal animals which Swarovski herself collected as a child.
Almost everything has been covered in crystals in the last few years and new applications and collaborations continue to be added to the already impressive list – from domestic appliances such as fridges and televisions, to sanitary ware, accessories, even inset into ceramics, and of course all kinds of fabric and wallpaper. In retrospect the initial use of crystals in interiors was quite restrained, but its impact was nevertheless striking thanks to its relative novelty. Now the world of interior design is accustomed to the sparkle and glitter and whole surface areas are covered in crystals compared to the selectively positioned application of ten years ago.
But perhaps the most notable use of crystals in interiors is the Crystal Palace project. This has garnered attention thanks to the relationships that Swarovksi herself has personally cultivated with big name designers. Crystal Palace will again be wowing crowds in Milan during the annual Saloni furniture fair next month, and it is this year marking its tenth anniversary, celebrated in a new book.
The first Crystal Palace project was created in 2002. Nadja Swarovski’s ambition was to create ‘a think tank for the convergence of art, design, science and technology’ and thereby reinvent the chandelier by commissioning a new contemporary designer each year. The designers are given free reign to use the crystals as they see fit and some stunning pieces have been created by some of the most prominent creative talents in the design world – including Tord Boontje, Ron Arad, Arik Levy, the Campana Brothers, and Hussein Chalayan among others. An impressive large-format book has recently been published giving an overview of this decade of chandelier reinvention. The most recent commission – ahead of next month’s Milan Furniture Fair where many Crystal Palace pieces have their debut - UK design practice Troika was invited to use the company’s crystals to create an installation that was first shown at Design Miami last December. Falling Light used crystals as lenses powered by motors and suspended from the ceiling to create a series of prismatic light effects on the room.
Swarovski herself is a roving company ambassador for her brand of crystals, whether for fashion or interiors, and although she has three small children she travels tirelessly to attend events sponsored and supported by her company.
Such devotion to the corporate cause is no accident. Through her childhood Swarovski was groomed to play a part in the family firm but once she had graduated in art history, she initially worked outside the company. This period included spells in PR in Hong Kong and New York where she worked for famous fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert. Swarovski’s current title – vice president, international communications - still reflects her PR expertise but arguably belies the very powerful and influential part she has played in Swarovski’s late 20th century makeover.
Crystals are cresting a wave of popularity at the moment, accepted on their own terms instead of being negatively compared to gemstones. No longer seen as tawdry or cheap, crystals are valued and respected, their quality is understood. But fashions and taste change and Swarovski’s challenge must now be to sustain the popularity of her products and maintain their very visible profile for a new decade.
This article was first published in idfx Magazine.