enter swarovski's crystal castle as they celebrate their 120th anniversary

Making the planet sparkle since 1895, Nadja Swarovski is campaigning for an environmentally responsible fashion industry as she celebrates the 120th anniversary of her Austrian crystal empire.

by Anders Christian Madsen
07 December 2015, 9:50am

Jess wears Swarovski crystal dress Christain Dior, 1962.

If the Kardashian-Wests set the bar for epic celebrations lately, 2015 was the year the Swarovski family raised it. For their 120th anniversary, the Austrian crystal dynasty went all out on the party planning, flying hundreds of guests to their headquarters in Wattens outside of Innsbruck for a, well, crystal ball in May - which included a performance by FKA Twigs - followed by a swanky party and exhibition in the regal Salons France-Amériques during Paris Fashion Week in October. They had already rung in the year with the London leg of Savage Beauty, the Alexander McQueen exhibition Swarovski sponsored at the V&A; then, the blockbuster big screen version of Cinderella came out, for which they co-created all the costumes, including an actual crystal glass shoe.

"It was my opportunity to show the world the Swarovski I grew up with, which is not what you see in the retail stores," Nadja Swarovski reflects, perched on a church bench in Regent's Park. She's there for yet another family affair, the test drive of a crystal and laser light installation at the Danish Church in London by her friend, artist Chris Levine. "I'm so happy we're here," she says, gazing up at the crystal disco ball that's flinging specks of violet light around the church. "It's the total opposite end of the spectrum. Most of the general public associates us with our retail stores, but that's only twenty per cent of what Swarovski is." After their big birthday, there should be no doubt as to what that is, but for good measures, let's recap.

The Swarovski family currently has its innovative hands in architecture, design, entertainment for stage and screen, jewellery, and fashion—alongside less profiled side occupations such as manufacturing cat's eye road reflectors, as you do. The company is run by a monarchical line of Swarovskis, who trace back directly to its founder Daniel Swarovski, Nadja's great-great-grandfather. "As a family it's made us come together and reflect this amazing history and heritage," she says of the anniversary. "It's such a responsibility to carry this heritage into the future, and make the company grow in a sustainable way. In terms of that it's been a complete reality check."

It's my opportunity to show the world my Swarovski, the Swarovski I grew up with, which is not what you see in the retail stores. 

Across her involvements, Nadja Swarovski functions as a sort of benefactor to the arts. Since an introduction to Lee Alexander McQueen by Isabella Blow in the 90s kick-started Swarovski's support system for designers - which doesn't just come in cold, hard crystal but in cash, too - she has nurtured just about every influential creative under the fashion moon, from London's crew of designers to Iris Van Herpen, whose work Swarovski says reminds her the most of her late friend McQueen's. The crystal mogul herself is everything you'd want her to be: dressed in a Marni astrakhan jacket with a fox collar, she speaks in a strict Upper East Side lockjaw drawl (she has lived in America) and throws in the odd German or French term—impeccably pronounced, of course. Her make-up is immaculate, her hair is blonde and blow-dried to perfection, and whenever she gesticulates her massive crystal jewellery jangles away. "This is Mary, by the way. Mary Katrantzou," she notes, running her fingers over the bracelets' icicle crystals, obviously the fruits of a Swarovski collaboration. "It's a very strict process," she says of her family's fashion industry support scheme. "They have to apply to get the financial support, and we really choose people who we feel are appreciative of the material. After 120 years, suddenly someone does something that's so obvious, yet we didn't think about it. And that's what blows us away." The Swarovski heiress didn't get her pioneer gene from strangers. She tells the story of her great-great-grandfather, who spent his childhood cutting crystal out of glass rods with a foot-driven grinding stone. "Then came the first electricity fair in Vienna where he saw machines by Edison and Siemens, and he invented a hardcore crystal-cutting machine that created better-quality crystals in less time." The year was 1892. "So now we just have to create that history again," she quips. "My son is already talking about creating an underwater hotel. He's 11 and he's going to Winchester." Based in London, Swarovski travels between her worldwide offices and the Wattens headquarters where her ingenious ancestor first exercised his vision for a better world.

"He created public housing, a bonus system—these things didn't exist in Austria at that time. He was very benevolent towards the town. So we're certainly trying to extend those kinds of efforts not just in the local community of Wattens but internationally." A few years ago, Swarovski took the lead out of its crystal due to its potential harmful effects on factory workers, just like their chimneys have the strongest and strictest filtering systems. Everything in the Swarovski empire, in fact, is devoted to the promotion of an environmentally friendly industry. "I personally believe that the entire fashion cycle is actually impacting our planet," Swarovski says. "Do we really need to have new clothes every six months? Of course it's business, but aren't there any other ways that we can adorn ourselves without having to go through the waste? I like to wear things from last season." The vision of a healthier planet is one the Swarovski family shared with its most famous customer. In his book The King of Style, Michael Jackson's dressmaker Michael Bush recounts the time his patron commissioned the Ice Jacket: a Levi's denim number covered in 9,000 crystals. "I had little less than four weeks to make the jacket and ultimately had to go straight to the source—Austria," he writes. "My kids sometimes get mad at me if I travel," Swarovski says. "But I say, 'I've really got to go meet this person, because the last time Michael Jackson asked me for a meeting, I said, 'I have sinus infection, I can't come to LA. I'll see you in two months anyway, in London, when you're here for the concert.''" Jackson died shortly after, but he would no doubt have relished in the 120th anniversary of a company responsible for making the world sparkle a little bit more. 



Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Oliver Hadlee Pearch
Styling Max Clark
Hair Alex Brownsell at Streeters using Bumble and bumble
Make-up Nami Yoshida at D&V using M.A.C.
Photography assistance Ana Barreira, Francisco Melo Magalhaes
Styling assistance Bojana Kozarevic
Hair assistance Charly Brady
Make-up assistance Tadashi Kimura
Production Nina Fourie at CLM
Casting Madeleine Østlie at AAMO
Casting assistance Billie Turnbull
Model Jess PW at Storm

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