Diane von Furstenberg isn’t telling tall tales when she calls Nadja Swarovski — as she has on a variety of occasions — the fairy godmother of fashion.
The company ranks historically among the top corporate supporters of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, of which von Furstenberg is president, and is the principal sponsor of the British Fashion Awards. The brand is also involved in numerous other fashion-related initiatives, including International Talent Support, an Italy-based platform for emerging creatives in fashion and art.
Swarovski herself was always closely associated with fashion talent — one of her early jobs was as the assistant to fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert, founder of the CFDA. Swarovski even recalls the day Lambert received the CFDA’s Industry Tribute Award in 1993.
“It was an after-work — 5 p.m. — event, and we tried to add glamour to it. The CFDA has grown so much since then, and has even influenced the British Fashion Council over the years,” Swarovski said. “We like to see how designers have evolved — especially the new talent. Like with Proenza Schouler, they were the new kids on the block and now they are an established American fashion house.”
She added that Swarovski “appreciates the organizations that reward, recognize, and celebrate emerging talent. We are a supporter of that because it really increases the quality of what we do and quality for the consumer. As a supplier to the industry, it was our way of giving back. With all the things that we are doing — like with the CFDA, supporting young designers — sometimes we feel we are doing the job that the government should be doing.”
Steven Kolb, chief executive of the CFDA, said Swarovski is a hands-on partner. “It’s not a straight corporate sponsorship. It’s really a collaboration, with mutual shared objectives, and belief in young talent,” he said.
The organization’s annual ceremony is known as the CFDA Fashion Awards in partnership with Swarovski, and the brand hands out the Swarovski Award for emerging talent awards in women’s wear, men’s wear and accessory design.
“When you look at the designers who have won the Swarovski Award over the course of a decade, they really are the face of a new generation of American talent,” Kolb said. “I mean, there is not an important American designer showing today of a certain generation who hasn’t won that award — Proenza Schouler, Prabal Gurung, Joseph Altuzarra, Rodarte and others. The early recognition from Nadja Swarovski was critical to them as they grew to be more successful.”
Caroline Rush, Kolb’s counterpart at the British Fashion Council, said Nadja has a “real appreciation for creative talent, and a clear vision about communicating that to a wider audience.”
It’s not just the splashy, big-city events that Swarovski throws its clout behind. The brand is the jewelry partner of International Talent Support, based in Trieste, Italy. It has also created the Swarovski Elements Award, a cash prize worth 10,000 euros and a six-month internship at its headquarters in Austria for young jewelry designers.
Awards ceremonies for young talent are only part of the story. Since she teamed with the late Isabella Blow more than 15 years ago, Swarovski has been backing fashion youth from every direction, handing out crystals to a triumvirate of young British talents — Lee Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald and Philip Treacy — at the start of their careers.
“It was right at the beginning,” recalled Macdonald. “Before that, people knew Swarovski for crystal animals, lenses for cameras and the reflective cats’ eyes on the road. We flew to Wattens in a private jet and met Nadja’s father, who took us to see Crystal Worlds.”
Macdonald said that it was a privilege as a young designer to have access to the Swarovski charms. “They offer designers the chance to work with the most precious materials and give them the opportunity to achieve and create luxurious pieces.”
Like Macdonald, McQueen seized on the Swarovski opportunity, and made the crystals sing in so many collections.
“Their products are so innovative, and they would really allow us to explore our design possibilities,” said Shaun Leane, the fine jeweler who worked regularly with McQueen on pieces for the runway shows. “They would cut special stones for us, and we were really able to make large, impactful pieces.”
Jonathan Akeroyd, ceo of Alexander McQueen, said Swarovski “has always had the foresight and eye for spotting talent. They championed Lee Alexander McQueen at a very exciting time of his career, offering financial support when it was needed most, and this helped the brand at an important time in its development on the international stage.”
This month in London, Swarovski will come full circle with McQueen, as title sponsor of “Savage Beauty,” a fresh take on the designer’s retrospective exhibition that will open at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Thursday.
Swarovski said the ongoing relationship with young talent works both ways, and credits McQueen with helping to put her family’s crystals on fashion’s map.
“I think McQueen really opened the floodgates — you know when he used the product, everyone wanted to use it,” she said. “He definitely had that inspirational element.”