- LILY TEMPLETON
Swarovski Continues Reboot With Creators Lab Concept and New Flagship
These new developments further the crystal-maker's push into accessible luxury, as it overhauls its governance with non-family board members.
As Swarovski pushes forward with its all-encompassing transformation that includes an executive shakeup and overhaul of its offering, another facet of the 126-year-old crystal-maker’s reboot was unveiled in Zurich this month: a new flagship concept.
While working on a new store experience during the first part of the pandemic, creative director Giovanna Engelbert felt consumers needed to feel rewarded even if they didn’t buy anything, so she wanted to offer them “a moment of wonder.”
Encouraged by the feedback from the initial Instant Wonder idea, meant as a quick-win application of the fresh direction impulse by former chief executive officer Robert Buchbauer, she went all out for this new address, located on Zurich’s affluent Bahnhoffstrasse avenue, also home to hard luxury cornerstones Bulgari, Tiffany & Co. and Cartier.
“We come from very small white jewelry and I thought that perhaps people weren’t going to buy [the new styles]. But on the U.S. market, they love the Lucent cocktail ring, which is huge, yellow and bold. It’s interesting how the perception can be easily swayed,” said Engelbert. The Millenia style, recognizable by its large octogonal gemstones, ended up being so popular that she jokingly compared it to a secret handshake of a cult.
In Zurich, each of the three floors of the flagship has been given its own color, used from floor to ceiling. The pink-toned ground floor reprises the wall-to-wall vertical array of octagonal compartments seen in the Instant Wonder concept, which has since been rolled out to 27 locations including Milan, Paris and New York.
Bordering the stairwell connecting all three floors were full-length screens that looked like doorways into a futuristic crystal-filled universe — the latest Swarovski campaign film featuring Adwoa Aboah. Openings in the staircase’s central pillar are lined with mirrors, reflecting the large crystal suspended in each niche to infinity.
Upstairs, sunny yellow dominates, from the carpeting and furniture to the busts jutting out of the wall and used to display new eyewear lines inspired by the Dulcis, Millenia or Lucent lines. Maximalist touches of golden buttons embossed with the revamped Swarovski swan and a giant crystal-in-a-crystal topper looks playful rather than imposing.
“It’s an evolution so after having [products presented] vertically, I wanted to have a more tactile experience, in a living room in this spaceship-meet-candy-store-meet-jewelry-box,” said Engelbert, ahead of the inauguration of the boutique.
Round tables offer a profusion of designs set on velvet trays and jewelry holders. This creates the kind of ambiance that the creative director intended to showcase the new product offering she has been working on since her appointment last year.
As for the lower level, decked in deep emerald green, it’s styled in the manner of a bank vault, as a nod to Zurich’s position as a financial hub, and features hunks of uncut crystals Engelbert dubbed “man-made magic” in geometric recesses all around the room. Here, too, items look as if they’ve just been brought out of a safe to be tried on.
After the Swiss city, Swarovski is revamping its Shanghai flagship located in the Hong Kong Plaza mall, slated for the end of the year. But don’t expect an identikit rollout, cautioned Engelbert, who hinted that its design would tap into the more futuristic aesthetics of the Chinese metropolis. A third concept store is set to open within the next two years, outside of Europe.
As for its store network, changes are afoot there as well. The next big chapter is the adaptation of the Wonderlab concept, a moniker that encompassed both the aesthetics deployed in the flagship but also the unification of Swarovski’s business lines.
This is an opportunity for the company to right-size its retail network, with a 25-to-30 percent reduction of its doors by the end of 2023. A relaunch of its website and e-commerce is also on the cards, while social channels will get a revamp to align with the expectations of a more digital-savvy consumer. Strategic partnerships with e-tailers are in discussion.
“It has to have ‘wonder-scalability’,” Engelbert said, pointing out that Swarovski’s 3,000-strong store network was around 10 times larger than hard luxury brands. Five test stores will be opening over the next few months, including London, Milan’s Corso Buenos Aires and a yet-undisclosed location in New York.
Part and parcel of its repositioning in accessible luxury is the overhaul of its product offering, with jewelry being the first segment to get an update. Coming up next are watches, which call for longer development times, and due sometime in 2022, according to Engelbert. Figurines also will get a makeover, as she wants them to be “fun, but no huge investment space and money-wise,” although she admired the workmanship of a sculpture with a five-figure price tag.
“The message I hope I can help spread about creativity is that it’s crystal at the end of the day, a very serious business that we can take in a very light and bright way,” she said.
Although new design families have been introduced and older designs are being progressively retired, Swarovski’s pricing has largely remained the same, with entry-level items starting at under 100 euros and the bulk of new products added at the 145 euros-and-upwards mark. Discounts and promotions will be offered less frequently.
“We’re not moving away from what and who we were,” said interim CEO Michele Molon at a dinner party celebrating the new store, underscoring heritage as one of the factors of success for the company. “Our founder Daniel Swarovski always had this vision of creating something very democratic, something that really speaks of accessible luxury.”
Another chapter of the product offering’s restructuring is Swarovski’s designer collaborations. In a bid to clarify the style direction being led by Engelbert, the Atelier Swarovski range and its rotating roster of guest designers has been discontinued. In its stead is the Creators Lab, which will see brands add pizzazz to their designs with crystals.
These products, which made their debut on Nov. 22 online and in dedicated spaces at Paris’ Instant Wonder store and the Zurich concept store, are billed as “yet another point of entry into the crystal lifestyle.”
“It’s basically a curated selection of fantastic products. Swarovski has always been about co-creating. We give the material and make the magic together,” Engelbert said, pointing out a glittering “smiley face” globe by apparel label Ma®ket; a Judith Leiber clutch in the shape of a candy dispenser, and an F.A.O. Schwartz nutcracker statuette.
Among the first collaborations are Amina Muaddi sandals and the Nike Women’s Air Force 1 LXX, which will be decked in retroreflective crystals inspired by road reflectors – another business line of the crystal-maker. Already out of the gate is a handbag collaboration with designer Marina Raphael, who is also a sixth-generation Swarovski.
But rather than the usual in-store-only or digital-first release, the consumer journey can have multiple entry points, from in-store samples featuring a QR code that will take consumers to the swarovski.com e-commerce site to the partner brand’s digital property. A pilot deployment of the Creators Lab will be rolled out in eight markets, including the U.S., the U.K, a selection of Continental European countries and Australia.