Expressing oneself through the choice of jewellery, accessories and clothes is a crucial art, believes Nathalie Colin, creative director of the Consumer Goods Business division of the Swarovski Group, the world’s leading producer of cut crystal. Although Nathalie’s world is divided into many compartments, it somehow gets interlinked to help her produce some of the best creations in jewellery and lifestyle products. Her key to success lies in the fact that she is on the alert to soak up the visual stimuli around her.
A graduate in marketing and fashion, Nathalie got the chance to work with the greats like Perry Ellis and Marc Jacobs. Learning the ropes quickly, she worked for a decade at Promostyl, a French trend agency, where she was in charge of developing the design bureau’s consultancy activity. In 2000, Nathalie, who has a fascination for Asia, founded Cultural Sushi, a brand and design strategy consultancy agency. Six years later, she joined Swarovski as creative director to explore crystal’s manifold facets. In her words, ‘Cut crystal is a living material, impregnated by its environment that creates an infinite number of poetic reflections and reveals indefinite mysterious facets.’
Today, she endeavours to retain the rich heritage of Swarovski by integrating it with modern-day freshness and cutting-edge spirit.
BY SHANOO BIJLANI
Your first tryst was with the fashion world and you studied marketing at the French Business School Ecole Supérieure de Commerce (ICN). How did you get into the world of jewellery and accessory designing?
As far as I can remember, I have always been attracted to accessories, especially to jewellery and shoes. I think accessories have no equivalent to bringing in versatility and personal touch to an outfit. You could wear an exact same outfit but depending on what you are going to style it with, you can create a casual look or upgrade it for a much bolder and fashionable effect. I like the playful and multifaceted idea behind accessories.
Were you aware of your artistic abilities as a young girl?
I liked to sketch, but my true passion was to look at fashion catalogues and add accessories on the models!
Tell us about your journey at Promostyl, the international style and trend office?
I truly loved this experience which enabled me to sharpen my perception and understanding of markets, as well as the needs and expectations for multiple international brands, including among others, Nike, Ray-Ban, Shiseido, the retailer Selfridges, Disney, World Gold Council, and the French Lingerie fair. During these years, I started to consult for Swarovski on projects related to trends, colours, and early product concept development.
When did you join the Swarovski Group and the Daniel Swarovski couture line as the creative director? And what is your role?
I joined Swarovski as creative director in 2006. My role is to evolve the brand, to find the fine balance between the rich heritage and the freshness of new ideas, technologies, materials and techniques. It is essential to remain true to the brand essence, but at the same time, to push the boundaries of creation each and every season. Now, my role has been extended to executive vice president communication. As such, I ensure consistency across all creative aspects of the Swarovski Consumer Goods Business division from products and collections through to communication campaigns.
How different is the creative process when designing a piece of jewellery or producing a piece of accessory?
The design process is exactly the same for me. It starts with spotting trends we believe are right for Swarovski and able to reflect our brand signature. We define strong directions and colour palettes, before the design team starts sketching, turning 2D into 3D, and then we edit to really focus on the pieces which exemplify the very essence of the collection.
When designing jewellery, what are the sources of inspiration?
It varies from one collection to another. Lately, it’s been nature, gardens in particular. It is a fabulous source of inspiration. Generally, inspiration comes from my travels, music, and the art scene. And this nourishes fruitful and rich exchange with the Bureau de Style, an internal trend lab, and the design team. We are lucky enough to work with a material which is so versatile, so full of endless possibilities that it keeps me loaded with ideas.
Is designing dictated by demands based on market research?
More than market research, the starting point is really the trends; what do we feel like? Is it going to be a season of minimal lines, or a season of opulence? Are we more into accumulating thin pieces or do we want more of bold eyecatchers? We then, of course, consolidate the construction of our assortment taking into account market learnings. We address real modern and multifaceted women, so it is important to understand what they like, what they miss, what they wear.
Your brand Cultural Sushi hinted about your liking and leaning towards Asia. Could you tell us in detail about the reasons why you are attracted to Asia? Is the initiative still on and are you part of it?
I am indeed a big fan of Asia. I love the food, the colours, the culture, the mix of heritage and modernity. When I need to reload, I head to Vietnam or Thailand which are so peaceful and relaxing. Japan and Korea are super powerful sources of inspiration, not to mention China which has evolved so fast and where there is a strong attraction to fashion. In fact, I have lived there for two years. I discovered India more recently and love it for the exact same reasons: fascinating craftsmanship, amazing colours, intricate combination of tradition and contemporary elements.
After joining Swarovski, how did you bring in your influences in crystal? Tell us more about your understanding of working with crystals. How does it inspire you?
You got it! I love colour. This was one of my first topics, to inject some colour into the palette, and to modernise and interpret Swarovski’s distinctive DNA and brand signature in a fashionable, modern way. Crystal allows so many interpretations: you can play with the cut, the size, the colour … which you can hardly do with natural gemstones. It is so exciting to create for millions of women all over the world, offering them affordable pieces which can truly make a great fashion statement. I feel privileged to accompany them through collections that suit each and every moment, from day to night.
How did you get the idea for the signature Swanflower pattern?
This was a feminine and graceful way to play with our logo, combining four swans to form a kind of delicate flower.
Swarovski has changed the way the world looks at crystal today. How did you manage to mix poetic and highly feminine aspects to create futuristic jewellery?
First of all, I believe a great asset we have at Swarovski is to offer a wide array of styles, from subtle easy-to- wear every day, to more fashionable and on-trend. This permits women to wear jewellery from the office to a night out, and to really incorporate it as a fashion accessory and not only as a special add-on they reserve for special occasions. To me the true change is in the daily use of jewellery, which is no longer a precious piece that is protected in a safe most of the time; it is something women appropriate for themselves, play with and use to inject something personal to their looks. Our collections feature minimal and organic inspired pieces, some are more classical, some more timeless, some very fashionable, but all carry the same commitment, which is to bring women a touch of sparkle and glamour.
Importantly, I like to mix crystal with other material which adds a twist: leather, epoxy, Plexiglas. I often add masculine chains on very statement and bold necklaces, again to inject a contemporary feel.
How important is innovation in helping a designer create new collections?
Innovation is the key, and it is part of the Swarovski brand’s DNA since the very creation of the company in 1895. Not only is it through technical innovation, but also through a will to constantly stay tuned with our consumers and with the fashion, art, and the music scene. This is a fascinating process to translate Swarovski’s codes into today’s parameters.
Tell us about some of your most important collections.
To me each and every collection is equally important; in each, I have some favourites which I like to mix and match no matter the season. These days, my addictions are Celeste from the Spring Summer 15 Crystal Garden Collection, with Plexiglas parts and vibrant crystal gradation, and Dusky from the Fall Winter ‘Winter Garden’ collection that has a very organic and contemporary feel.
One piece of jewellery designed by you that you feel every woman would love to possess?
Stardust bracelet! It is so easy to wear, to mix and match, that every woman can wear it; it fits all styles and instantly injects a touch of sparkle with its tiny crystals captured in a fishnet. For Fall Winter, we designed a deluxe version with a metallic fishnet which brings even more brilliance.
What is your design philosophy?
My motto with crystal is “design, don’t decorate’. We have this great material at the core of our identity and collections with a unique expertise and colour palette. This must prevail in all the thinking behind any piece.
Moving on to your latest collection inspired by India, we would like to know more about the design drift.
We wanted to pay tribute to the Indian design heritage with Swarovski’s signature twist of modernity and excellence in craftsmanship. Inspiration mainly came from Indian traditional motifs such as paisley, lotus and peacock feather; these motifs have been explored in a three-dimensional way, mixing the sparkle of Swarovski crystal with the richness of Indian fine jewellery techniques. I was also fascinated by the richly ornate and intricate lattice work, popularly known as Indian filigree, and wanted to interpret it with a modern twist. And of course, I cannot think about India without thinking of the eyecatching and vibrant colours, which we re-created by favouring crystal stones such as Emerald, Siam, Rose and Montana in combination with delicate shades of golden shadow and vintage rose. The collection is priced from H3,000 to H17,000.
Anything else you may wish to add.
I would love to encourage women to be daring and to have fun with their jewellery. Don’t apologise, accessorise, which I know Indian women already do greatly.