Swarovski’s star turn is just the latest act in the 110-year-old Austrian crystal company’s drive to be known as more than a maker of frog figurines and binocular lenses. Led by 34-year-old Nadja Swarovski of the family dynasty, the company in recent years has wooed high-fashion designers and sponsored splashy parties and events to turn ordinary crystals into a fashion statement.
Much like bottled water, man-made crystals-created from melted quartz, sand, potash, lead and sodium-and rhinestones were long considered a generic commodity. Few people realized Swarovski’s crystals were on Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz in 1939 and on the sexy Jean Louis gown worn by Marilyn Monroe when she sang "Happy Birthday" to President Kennedy in 1962.
But Ms Swarovski’s branding push is changing the way consumers, and her competitors, think about crystals. Silver hangtags declaring "Crystallized With Swarovski" now adorn designer cocktail dresses, cashmere sweaters, $190 embellished Seven jeans and $900 crystal mini iPods.
Now that the company has moved deeper into trendy fashions, including upscale handbags, it must compete with more of its designer clients. Swarovski also has to work harder to keep up with ever-changing fashion cycles to stay ahead of the pack.
It’s a major transformation for the company, which got its start in 1891 when Daniel Swarovski, Ms. Swarovski’s great-great grandfather, invented a machine to cut crystal stones to resemble faceted diamonds. His company went on to make exotic crystal beads for French couturiers such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior.
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