Three years after Giovanna Engelbert joined Swarovski as its first-ever creative director, the fashion editor-turned-designer’s creative overhaul of the 128-year-old Austrian crystal maker’s consumer business is on the rise.
So far this year, Swarovski has been involved with three of fashion’s most viral moments. In January, makeup GOAT Pat McGrath plastered 30,0000 Swarovski crystals on pop singer Doja Kat’s red-hued body for the Shiaparelli haute couture show. The following month, Swarovski collaborated with Parisian designers Egonlab to create a Harlequin crystal romper for singer Harry Styles at the Grammy Awards. And in May, McGrath once again used Swarovski materials to deliver one of the night’s most outrageous looks on the Met Gala red carpet: a silver-plated lil’ brass X crystal and pearl cat mask, inspired by Karl Lagerfeld’s pet chopper.
Now Engelbert dreams of bolstering Swarovski’s renewed fashion buzz with a global campaign featuring photography legend Steven Meisel, who has shot more than 400 covers for Vogue. Reimagined in collaboration with McGrath, the ads feature women dazzled with crystal makeup on their eyes and lips, anamorphically styled with Swarovski statement jewels that resemble cockatoos, turtles and butterflies.
The idea was “jewelry for the woman and the woman to be the jewelry” Engelbert.
Swarovski is not new to presenting an image of luxury with beautiful flights in its campaigns: the company’s ads have already featured Karlie Kloss in a cloud of butterflies or Miranda Kerr peeking out from behind crystal flowers. But under Engelbert, both the brand’s artistic creations and business units improved significantly.
Instead of relying heavily on small white crystals (serving more or less in place of white diamonds), Engelbert took to painting colorful necklace models that were discreetly made of glass. In Miesel’s campaign, fantasy is mixed with wearable products, like a stack of crystal chokers à la Anna Wintour on a model covered in green crystals like a turtle. Crystal Rivieres – Swarovski calls it the Millennium Range – quickly became a hero product.
“We try to push the fantasy, but still make it understandable and readable,” Engelbert said. “The idea is to be extravagant in a very special way – the setting [the brand] Where ‘extra’ and beauty meet.
For the world’s largest crystal maker, things may seem more obvious than selling large, colorful crystal necklaces: a piece a glass cutter can sell for around $500, but an amethyst or blue topaz can cost tens of thousands. .
Still, Swarovski’s shift to larger, colored crystals represents a major push into the market, and major adjustments in its supply chain are necessary for a company that has historically relied on dainty, entry-level pieces in its jewelry range.
But Swarovski has had to adapt, as younger generations have shunned the less fashionable range of its predecessors as gift-oriented stores (especially since the pandemic) and the small white crystal business face increasing competition from lab-grown stones. In recent years, top luxury brands such as Cartier and Tiffany have been able to convince more customers than ever before, as far as popular jewelry goes.
Engelbert was a model before landing a job as fashion editor at Vogue Italia, where she became an early street style influencer, regularly photographed in shoots such as The Sartorialist with her mentor Anna Dello Russo. She worked as a freelance stylist and creative director for several years, consulting for Swarovski on its fashion collaboration program before becoming the family-owned company’s first creative director in 2020.
Swarovski’s collaborative approach and her experience in renovating its collections and relationships in fashion have been invaluable. In recent years, the brand has focused on sponsoring crystal materials for buzzy brands to be branded on their product descriptions. While the company says it will continue to support smaller designers, it has shown an interest in producing high-impact moments, such as its recent McGrath collaborations, which put Crystal’s creative possibilities front and center.
Swarovski’s business is beginning to respond to the change: despite a loss of more than 800 million euros in turnover from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, the company appears to be returning to solid ground: the company has suspended its reorganization and is back to work. A new strategy focused on high-end products and jewelry under new CEO Alexis Nassard, who took over the Swarovski family last year. Revenues are up 10 percent year-on-year to 1.83 billion euros in 2022, with profitability close to breaking even after three years of heavy losses.
Nassard noted that funky styles of high-end pieces like Engelbert’s Millenia range or the multi-colored Gema chain will drive growth in recent months, and the more upscale store concept the brand has rolled out in some areas under her creative direction.
“We’re putting the whole brand on an exciting profit,” Nassard said. “The first results are very encouraging.”
The new items have made the brand more attractive to women who buy jewelry for themselves—a trend of “self-gifting” that has become a transformative force for the serious luxury industry in recent years, he said.
As part of its new strategy (called “LuxIgnite”), Swarovski is working to grow its business in lab-created diamonds – combining manufacturing know-how with big-name credibility that could help it move quickly into a fast-moving, highly competitive space.
Swarovski, which continues to sell $85 rings and $55 ballpoint pens, has a long way to go before breaking into the luxury category. But the white space between Swarovski and international luxury brands can be seen as an opportunity. Even the most eye-catching items, such as the $500 cocotte ring and turtle pendants in the Messel campaign, are sold with Cartier colored stones for one-sixth the price of entry.. The brand still has a lot of room to grow its business before putting itself in direct competition with the luxury heavy hitters.
Engelbert feels the brand has found a sweet spot by combining expressive designs and accessible prices.
“The fun part is the democratization of creativity and quality,” Engelbert said. “I have friends who buy high jewelry and then use Swarovski as a statement, and others, for them, Swarovski is an investment piece. This makes me very happy.