"Even in a downturn, people want to dress up and look good," says Werner Baumgartner, managing director, Swarovski Middle East. Baumgartner should know, because he is the man responsible for turning the abaya into a sparkling fashion statement, thus establishing Swarovski's most important business segment in the Middle East. "And fashion has not been hit as badly as some of the big projects we were working on in the design field".
So with vertical markets such as architectural lighting hit by the downturn, is fashion going to be a key focus for the company this year? "Our focus has shifted now from big projects to individual homes. People still have a lot of money in this region and are interested in doing up their homes."
Baumgartner says that when it comes to interiors, the company is still "learning to walk" compared to its century-old association with the fashion industry which started with haute couture icons like Coco Chanel. "We are currently in the process of finding big design names in the region who we could approach to come up with concepts and ideas in the application of crystals," he says.
Swarovski comprises two major businesses: one producing and selling loose elements to the industry while the other, established in the mid-1970s, uses these same elements to create finished crystal products, jewellery, fashion accessories, objects and homewares, sold through a global network of over 1,150 Swarovski stores.
The crystal components, known by their product brand names Crystallized - Swarovski Elements for fashion and Strass Swarovski Crystal for architecture and light, have become an essential ingredient of international design.
Today, Swarovski's lighting systems combine modern lighting ideas, such as fibre optics and LEDs with the mood-enhancing qualities of cut crystal. Their current portfolio includes down-lights, recessed spotlights, shimmering starry sky ceilings and illuminated crystal panels.
"In newer segments like interiors, customers may not know about us yet. We come up with ideas and then approach companies that are the best fit. Swarovski crystal elements have become a glamorous ingredient in furniture, fabrics, wallpaper, bathrooms and accessories."