How We Met: Nadja Swarovski & Julian Fellowes
'I was having my nails done and I screamed out loud because Julian was on TV'
Julian Fellowes, 63
A screenwriter, actor, director and Conservative peer, Fellowes is best known for penning period dramas such as 'Gosford Park', the mini-series 'Titanic' and the much-lauded 'Downton Abbey'. He lives in London with his wife.
Nadja's parents live in Florida, near Vero Beach, and they sold some land to an old friend of mine (to set up a club), which is how I got to know them. I have great memories of visiting their beautiful house in the 1990s, three-hour lunches around the pool, and their daughter Nadja being part of that.
I think in those years I didn't appreciate how hard-working Nadja had become. She joined [the family crystal-making business] in her mid-twenties, and she shook things up; she wanted to move beyond [glass] animals and back to high fashion. I can imagine all the [management] back at HQ fainting!
What I like is that Nadja still respects the traditions of Swarovski's use of crystal, but goes to designers to make-over, say, a 1950s chandelier. And what Nadja has done with new chandeliers, I have done with the classic period drama, reinventing it for a new audience. Though one difference is how calm she is: she gets rattled far less than I do.
In the past, Swarovski had a great connection with film – it made the ruby slippers in Wizard of Oz, the Marilyn Monroe dress when she sang "Happy Birthday, Mr President". But that side had gone into abeyance and I knew she wanted to bring it back, so last year my wife and I suggested a collaboration for our new film of Romeo and Juliet.
I was particularly impressed with her at our [pre-shooting] launch in Cannes. Someone had arranged for a soirée by the water for the launch. But on the night, high winds struck the beach and going down to the party felt like Lawrence of Arabia fighting through the sandstorm. But there was Nadja, standing serene for photos as sand was filling her eyes and nostrils, refusing to be diverted from her goal.
She's a high achiever, and rejoices in it, which is true of me, too, but in England I feel I have to conceal my ambitions as a lot of people don't warm to the fact that sometimes you have to break blood vessels to get there – and that's something we recognise in one another.
Nadja Swarovski, 42
After joining the family crystal-making business in 1995, Swarovski has risen to become the firm's creative director, transforming the company through collaborations with designers such as Zaha Hadid and Yves Behar. She lives in London with her husband and children.
To me, Julian is the quintessential Englishman, with his pinstriped suit, cufflinks and shiny black shoes. I met him in the mid-1990s when a friend of his lived near us around Vero Beach, and my parents were members of this club [his friend] had created. Julian and my parents would go shooting together, and they connected with him over a shared love of nature and intellectualism. And on his visits for lunch, Julian and I found a shared passion for creativity and we'd spend hours chatting.
I'm insecure chatting to him in English as it's my second language – I'm half-Austrian. And sometimes he will say to me, "Darling, one day I will teach you [proper] English." And I would say back in Austrian, "Darling, one day I will teach you German." Though when this very English person gets chatting he's so verbose you sometimes have to grab yourself out of the conversation!
I think it's fascinating how his career has developed. He was a [character] actor until it was suggested to him that he should try to write scripts instead, as acting had been hard for him. So he wrote the script for Gosford Park and he got an Oscar for it. I was there in LA with his wife and my husband, and I was so proud of him for that recognition: I screamed when he went on stage! Actually I'm always seeing him on TV and screaming: I was having my nails done at my gym watching the televised Queen's Speech and I unexpectedly saw Julian there [as a life peer] and screamed out loud when I saw him.
I started watching Downton Abbey after seeing my husband watching it, and before I knew it I was watching five episodes in a row: it's a clever and thoughtful insight on British heritage, and being half-American it's fascinating watching the American characters and the contrast of money versus title.
Recently we've started working together. He said to me, " I've rewritten Romeo and Juliet for a new generation: I want to clarify Shakespeare." It was magical being in Verona when they filmed the final few scenes.
I think he deserves all the recognition he's now getting; and, creatively, there's much more to come.
Digital Crystal, a Swarovski exhibition, is at the Design Museum, London SE1, until 13 January. Fellowes' 'Romeo and Juliet' will be in cinemas next autumn
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