24 Minutes with Swarovski creative director, Nathalie Colin
All that glitters
Season after season at Paris Fashion Week, I drop by the Swarovski head office where Nathalie Colin, creative director for Swarovski consumer goods business and executive vice president of communication, will be on hand to take me through the array of shiny, new season accessories in a myriad of colours she's planned for the months ahead. So it was a real pleasure to meet Nathalie here in Kuala Lumpur, on her first official visit to Malaysia, where the brand was hosting their 'Brilliance For All' annual gala that saw some 200 guests in attendance. I sat down with Nathalie to find out a little more about Swarovski's Autumn/Winter 2018 collection, where she finds inspiration, and future plans for the brand.
Cai Mei Khoo: You've been creative director at Swarovski since 2006, and you're also executive vice president of communication. How do you strike a balance in your work?
Nathalie Colin: Creative direction of the brand is the heart of what I do. Being part of the management board is important as that's where we define the strategy of the brand, how we will bring that strategy to 2022 and beyond, how we ensure the business continues, how it will grow, how to search for the right talent, how to be an employer of choice, amongst other things—it's a mix of creative, and important topics. It's left brain and right brain. It can be hectic but it's not repetitive—it keeps things exciting.
Speaking of keeping things fresh, Swarovski continues to excite season after season. Where does that creativity come from?
I've always loved telling stories since I was a little kid. When I was about 9 years old, my family would travel out to our house in the countryside in the east of France for the weekend. I was away from my friends so I had to make up stories in my head to keep myself entertained. I would people watch from the car during the journey; I would see someone hanging out the laundry or opening a window in their homes and would create stories about their lives. In the countryside, I had to make friends with nature—I created my own world with fairies and animals. In this area (in the east of France, near Lorraine), there's a tradition of fairy tale. There are a lot of forests here, and their names were fantastic, like the 'Lake of the Fairies' and so forth. When I was a kid, I was convinced they existed, and that if we went there often enough, I would see them.
To me, nature is the best designer in the world. When you look at flowers or spider webs, every single creation is outstanding—I'm never bored. It's an endless source of inspiration, and when I travel I discover new shapes, new flowers, new foliage, and more. At the same time, I appreciate the fragility of our environment. Civilisation is destroying it—so in a way, my work is to preserve these memories.
Travel is your biggest inspiration then?
Yes, there are so many things that fill you with new emotions and inspiration for life. It makes you realise that you're not the centre of the world, which I think is very important: not to be self-centred in your life.
What specific things do you seek out when you travel?
I love to observe people. I go to the local supermarkets, and systematically scan all the aisles to see how it's structured, what products are carried. These things tell me a lot about the lifestyle of the locals. I also love sitting on a terrace or in a crowded place and people watch. I love observing different people, how they dress, and also love talking to people. Other sources of inspiration include exhibitions, contemporary art, and understanding the history of the land. A lot of a country's historical past, influences people's behaviour or preferences.
What's a recent exhibition that inspired you?
I went to the Gustav Klimt exhibition in Paris at the Atelier des Lumierès where they had digitised his paintings and made it an immersive experience. It is within a huge space and you feel like you're part of the painting and you see different elements of the paintings taking shape. What was great is that it appeals to people of all ages; there were 3-year-old kids who were dancing away—everyone was part of it. It was an incredible experience.
Can you please tell us about the new collection?
The Swarovski AW18 collection is called Crystal Tales. With crystals, it's an invitation to dream, to be inspired, to escape to a fantasy land, wandering through a forest, where you meet squirrels and foxes, scarabs, spiders, and where you can wrap branches with gold leaves around your fingers. It's a magical walk through this enchanted forest. The Holiday collection has a similar inspiration but it's frosted, almost as if the snow has covered the entire collection, all icy and white.
Sound enchanting alright. Do you have any favourite pieces from the collection?
Yes, there's a lot of attention to detail, from the back of a jewellery piece, or a mix of techniques used. I love the fox ring, and also the double ring with the squirrel who's capturing a pearl. He's a glamourous squirrel that eats pearls, not nuts.
What are some key trends for the season?
Oversized pieces; asymmetric earrings continue to dominate, mismatched earrings, which we started last season, layering of symbolic motifs like evil eye, good luck charms, personalised charms. We see a lot of cocktail rings coming back; and layering is still key. You can mix two pairs of earrings in a very personal way.
You're right. The trend for jewellery pieces with protective or good luck charms and symbols continue to grow.
I think we all need different elements of reassurance in our lives. There are many things that provoke a lot of stress and people are looking at things that give them confidence, comfort, and protection.
What's one piece of jewellery you wear all the time?
I love cocktail rings. It could be in different designs but I always wear one. I like combining a big cocktail ring with a very dainty ring to create a duo. I created a few duos like that in this collection; for example, a statement ring featuring a large crystal, with butterflies and scarabs surrounding it almost like they're overlooking a pond, worn together with a very simple, delicate double ring with just one butterfly and a pearl. I love the story that pairing creates.
How has social media changed the perception of Swarovski?
It makes the brand less static. It becomes more accessible, more interactive, and our followers can comment, and engage with the brand. We're also working with more local influencers and that helps us to become closer to our local audience. Here in Malaysia, Neelofa, or Venice Min, would be more relevant to the market than say, Karlie Kloss.
What's one app you use on a daily basis?
I love Instagram. It's very visual and helps me keep connected, and see what's on people's mind.
How do you keep pushing the brand forward?
It's something I constantly think about: how to keep Swarovski fresh. We have more than 120 years of history, but that does not mean that we can sit back and relax. We have to constantly push boundaries, challenge ourselves to be inventive, and push creativity. It's what I'm making myself and my team do. To think ahead, and not just look at the past. We're looking at how to link social, digital with the drive to store or our online platform. It's a 360-experience.
Has your in-store experience changed at all?
We are currently working on a new store concept. I've just briefed an architect on what will come next—it's still very early stages of brainstorming right now.
Can you tell us a bit more about the starting point for your next collection?
It's about light. I was thinking about the properties of crystal, and how we can build a story around that, how light changes in different regions around the world, and how it evokes different emotions.