You’ve seen them sparkling in the windows, you’ve seen them dazzling up your favorite stars—Swarovski is in its strongest era yet with a whole new look, but with the same festive flavor it has always been loved for around the globe. The brand, which was once reserved for classic jewelry pieces and beautifully crafted home decor favorites, now boasts a range of baubles that toe the line between elegant and edgy. Multicolored crystals come together for a playful effect in the Chroma collection, the iconic Swan gets a new-age revamp with gold crowns and pop hues, and cheeky little sculptures of pineapples and exotic birds find their way into collectible jewelry pieces. Among the many names who can’t get enough of Swarovski these days are some of the coolest women in the world—Doja Cat doused herself in scarlet Swarovski rocks at Schiaparelli’s Paris Couture Week show, Bella Hadid has joined her name to the brand’s as brand ambassador, and Michelle Obama is a fan of the crystal house’s Matrix Vittore earrings.
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One of the main names behind the brand today is Alexis Nasard, Swarovski’s very first external CEO—who also happens to be a noteworthy personality of Lebanese origins. In the midst of a whirlwind trip to the UAE, the powerhouse, who has over 30 years of experience in the industry and counts himself as the first leader from outside the Swarovski family to hold this role in the brand’s 127-year-history, sits down with Vogue Arabia to deconstruct the method behind the madness, and what we can expect from Swarovski’s shining future.
Vogue Arabia: First off, Welcome to Dubai. How does it feel like to be back here?
Alexis Nasard: There is a very special vibe in Dubai. There’s a vibe of success, a vibe of progress and increasingly, it’s becoming a platform for fashion, for trends, for luxury and an important part of our strategy at Swarovski.
VA: You are the first CEO of Swarovski who’s not actually from the family, how did that come about?
AN: In November 2021, the shareholders decided to professionalize the governance of the company. That started by creating a board of directors, majority of which is composed of non-family members and non-shareholders, so independent directors. And today we have a board of directors where five out of eight are independent directors and the shareholders/family members are three out of eight. For the first time, you have an independent chairwoman and that board also decided to appoint an external professional CEO in my person, and that’s how it came about. I think it’s a very good setup because it strikes the right balance between the family, that brings the legitimacy to the company, that brings heritage, that brings history and the family values – which are quiet foundational for the creation of our company. And we keep that whilst we talk that up with professional management that has been trained in different schools around the world to lead the company.
If you want to look at the results in 2022, we posted the strongest growth in seven years. We grew by 10%, if we exclude Great China, we grew 18% which is well above the jewelry market, and we grew in various parts of our business: in our retail business, in our component business, we grew online, we grew offline. Our strategic market in the US grew by 20%, which is really remarkable. It’s too early to cry victory, but the early signs of the implied strategies are definitely promising.
As a man of Lebanese origin, it’s a very proud moment for the region to see someone like you taking care of a brand that’s loved globally. Was entering this industry always a dream, or did it happen almost like a surprise in life?
I always loved brands, and I always loved designers, and I always liked fashion. I have been in the branded business for all my career, and I have always liked art, modern art design. I personally paint in my spare time, within the renounces of my control. I am quite involved in the collections, so for me the industry is a fairly natural fit, because it is about all the things that I love to do, and I have passion for.
It’s evident that Swarovski has made a major shift in its aesthetic in the past few years. Can you tell us a little bit about the role you played in giving it this new flavor?
Every time society goes through a dramatic or tragic phase, like world wars, or civil wars, or lately the pandemic, there is always a wave of joie de vivre, as we say in French. People realize that life is unpredictable, and they want to live it to the max. So they spend more, or go out more, or they want to self-indulge more, and this is why we have shifted our collection to something a little bit more bold, a little bit more colorful, to represent that joie de vivre as we call it, and that is something Swarovski has been always good at… reading, understanding and sensing what is moving society and cultural trends and reflecting that. Not only in our product collections, but also in our store concepts, you know with the new famous outlook, as well as our new marketing campaign with Bella Hadid, which is very much a reflection of the brand positioning which is all about joyful extravagance.
Can you tell us more about the process of selection? Why did you choose Bella Hadid and what were the reactions Swarovski received for it?
As part of our desire to continue the “luxurization” of the brand—which includes the collection, the retail experience, the communication, the customer service—we felt that occasionally collaborating with a celebrity can be a good win-win for evolving the image of the brand. We love Bella. She’s beautiful, she has a discrete elegant beauty, she represents a very modern rendition of elegance and she has a massive following. She was rated as the No.1 model in the US. And we felt that she and Swarovski were a good fit, and business results are a true testament to it. Now, does that mean we will only communicate with the celebrities in the future? Not necessarily. But we will do it once in a while when we have a celebrity that really reflects the values of the brand.
In the end, what is luxury about? Where are the profound ingredients of luxury? Thinking about price only is a very simplistic way to think about luxury. There are deeper things behind it. You have heritage, you have creativity, luxury brands invent new codes. You have craftsmanship. These are all ingredients Swarovski has. So we can translate that into product solutions and execution that inspires the customer, gives her joy, self-expression and self-indulgence, which is really an essential part of the luxury experience. And we are able to do it, because we have a very unique capability of creating what I called a ‘beautiful complications’. We like to use the word ‘complication’ in segmenting our collection in high-mid-low complications. The analogy with watchmaking is actually quite easy and tempting, because a complication in watches is the ultimate example of sophistication and craftsmanship. And that’s something we do and we are one of the very few brands in Austria, made in Europe. We are kind of proud of that heritage!
Do you think that the new era of Swarovski is also aiming at a different buyer? Are you looking closer at Gen Z?
The answer is yes and no. By the way, Gen Z and millennials represents 67% of our consumer base, so we are relatively young skewed, and that has increased lately. But to be clear, we are not one of those brands who are always chasing youth and Gen Z. As you know, purchasing power increases with age in many parts of the world. So we want to make sure we have a healthy stream of recruiting amongst the youth to keep the brand current and relevant, but we are also happy to cater to the need of our current consumers because, as you know, the price to serve an existing customer is lower than recruiting a new one. We have a very balanced way in architecturing our consumer bills.
With everything that you’ve worked on with Swarovski so far, what would you say as the biggest challenge?
The most challenging thing, when you lead a new organization on a transformation agenda is pacing the amount of change. If you go too fast, you will lose the organization on the way. If you go too slowly, business results don’t come. So it’s a constant. As I said earlier the job, of a CEO is a constant balancing act and for me at this juncture of the development of such an old company with very established value, is always tracking the right balance in pacing that change.
What do you think you would say is your proudest accomplishments so far for Swarovski?
A CEO can never say he has a personal accomplishment because a CEO never works alone. Any accomplishments we had is with my colleagues of the executive community and the 18,000 Swarovski employees we have. I would say we brought results quickly. It may sound boring to you, you would prefer to talk about the millennials, but at the end of the day we are running a company, we are not running a museum and we need a beautiful brand, a brand of dreams, but we also need business of dreams and I think our challenge as an executive community is to make both happen.
What inspiration do you think you can take from the Middle Eastern Swarovski buyer? And how did they inspire you to keep growing?
I think as brand builder, relying on loyalty is a dangerous thing. I think the branding game is a permanent seduction. You cannot take any consumer for granted. None of them. Even if somebody has been with us for years, we have to permanently seduce her. And we seduce her with all the tools that we have. To respond to your question directly, the Middle Eastern consumer is a bit more extravagant than average. So generally when we see an uptake in certain collection in the Middle East, that inspires us to think or to believe that some collections actually have legs and potential for the future. Here is a fun customer that actually is a little bit more of a risk taker than average, which is a fun experience for us.
Do you have any plans for the future specifically for the Middle East? Any special collections that we can keep an eye out for, any new spaces, stores, experiences, that you would like to tell me about?
Generally the platform is global, because we are a global brand, but we occasionally do launch capsules which are event relevant, culturally relevant, collaboration relevant, like the Ramadan capsule, which features all these green dancing stones. We might also do more of those in the future. We will also be refurbishing our store, and we are going to come with a local influencer that we are going to be using in a lot of our communication in the next few weeks. Can’t tell you who that is! That’s still our little secret.