Suzy Menkes: Nadja Swarovski, what a moment for you and your family, and a very happy 120th birthday to you all. How do you feel about this celebration?
Nadja Swarovski: It is such a wonderful moment of pride to be able to look back at 120 brilliant years of what my forefathers achieved and what they contributed to the world — especially to the fashion and jewellery industries, and the creative industries general.
SM: Tell us the Swarovski story in your own words.
NS: In 1895, Daniel Swarovski moved from Bohemia to the little town of Wattens in the Tyrol. I think what you realise when you come visit us in Austria is that there is so much craftsmanship behind the creation of these crystals; so much dedication; so much concern for quality, and passion and care, and this is exactly what we want to show our friends, colleagues and customers during the celebrations this week.
SM: So tell me, what are the next steps for Swarovski?
NS: My goal is definitely to make it a more design-driven company. So, for example, we have the most incredible designs by Marc Newson for binoculars.
Marc has designed them for the jet-set, yacht-owning gang, who would definitely toss-and-turn our customer base. I think technology and design will shape this company. It is technology that has brought us to where we are today, and it is going to take us into the future.
SM: How do you feel about these first 120 years?
NS: Throughout the Forties, Fifties and Sixties we could have done so much more in fashion. But at that time the business was run by men who didn’t have a passion for fashion, who didn’t have that connection that my great-great-grandfather had. He listened to Coco Chanel!
Dior wanted my grandfather to create a stone that imitated the Northern Lights, so my grandfather developed a coating called Aurora Borealis, which was used to give the stones another dimension.
SM: When did women really grasp the power of crystal?
NS: My grandfather Manfred worked directly with the designers. He thought royalty would wear ‘diamond crystals’, because crystal was used so often in their imitation jewellery, which they wore when they travelled as an insurance policy.
He grew up in such humble circumstances and felt very strongly about wanting women to feel the sensation of wearing a diamond — this is where female empowerment comes in. One can feel precious or special by wearing something; even if it is not real, it has a very similar effect.
I like to play up the material as being a lens that captures and refracts light. This is not necessarily about value, but about its quality and ability. And the refraction is amazing, because it is actually a multiplication of daylight, rather than just a reflection of it.
SM: You haven’t really got any competitors have you?
NS: The Chinese are catching up like crazy. However, we have done our research into how they make the crystal and how the employees are treated. Employees die on a regular basis in these factories, they don’t have any filtering systems. You can’t even see the person standing next to you, there is so much smoke in there. We have photographs of people’s hands that have been completely eaten by acid. Our factory is super! You could eat off the floor, it is so clean.
SM: You have had so many film stars wear your crystals — even Marilyn Monroe, who sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ to John F. Kennedy in your sparkly dress. And now we have the new ‘Cinderella’ film.
NS: I so appreciate our collaboration with ‘Cinderella’, which came about through Sandy Powell, who designed the costumes. She got in touch and asked if we could supply the crystals and we said, ‘Of course!’ and asked her to send her sketches over. She was very insistent that she meet with the product developers — she really pushed the boundaries. It was very hard for us to make Cindarella’s slippers, and Sandy insisted on that Aurora Borealis coating, which is really hard for us to do on big surface areas — you will see what a big impact it has.
What we also appreciate about the film are its values and message, which are so pro-female. That is empowering, so Swarovski. This new Cinderella has such a strong spirit, and she doesn’t give up, and her motto is ‘Have courage and be kind.’ So that is now our company motto.
SM: Is this the first time you have collaborated with Disney?
NS: My father was the one who brought in Disney figurines! Everyone in the company was totally against it, and you know what? They just fly out of the stores. They now make up 30% of sales for our figurines, but it is a no-brainer. It is because they have a story — you don’t have to make up a story, the association is there.
SM: So what are you hoping will come out of the 120th anniversary? What are the three main points that you want to tell the world?
NS: That heritage is very important, that quality is at the heart of our work, and that innovation is what got us here and what will take us into the future.
I want people to have a great understanding of what we are. Usually when we take visitors to our headquarters they cannot believe it, because people are blinded by our retail stores. When they think of Swarovski, they think of the stores, and then they come to Austria, see beautiful mountains, the cute museum, and a factory, and suddenly they realise how very focused we are on engineering and craftsmanship. I think when people come to Wattens, they have a sense of our family, the care and consideration of the business, and also our respect for the employees, because it’s the people in town who work in our factory.