Ornament designer turns Christmas mishap into big $$$

By By Anthony Breznican/AP Entertainment Writer
Dec, 24, 2000
LOS ANGELES (AP) How did designer Christopher Radko launch a multimillion-dollar ornament business that caters to some of the biggest names in Hollywood?
He says he simply ruined Christmas.
Radko's family blamed him for toppling their Christmas tree in a 1983 accident that destroyed hundreds of blown-glass decorations passed down from the Old Country through generations.
My grandmother said I ruined Christmas forever,'' he said. And guilt is a powerful thing.''
While visiting relatives the next summer in Poland, Radko tried to replace his family heirlooms. But most of the artisans who had made the delicate, blown-glass decorations were long dead.
A similar version of their technique lived on, but was used mainly to create vases and other glassware. Radko commissioned several of those glass-blowers to recreate his grandmother's Santas, angels, stars and bells, sketching a few of the designs for them.
He sold a few of the ornaments to friends. Then he sold some more. Demand was so high he eventually launched a business, and became one of the top ornament manufacturers in the world.
I want my ornaments to give people an appreciation for whimsy or fantasy,'' he said. They're very traditional. A lot of my ornaments are still inspired by the ones on my grandparents' trees.''
Radko's silvery, paper-thin creations often come with a hefty price, between $30 and $70. But Catherine Hale, a Hollywood set designer whose company Santa Claus Productions specializes in Christmas decorating, said the price is worth it. Each decoration, she said, takes an artisan about seven days to make.
They are exquisite. You would never, ever, ever believe what work goes into them,'' she said.
Radko has amassed dozens of celebrity collectors, including Vice President Al Gore, Barbra Streisand, Katharine Hepburn and Robert De Niro.
Last week, he finished decorating the White House and the Vice President's official residence in Washington. It's a very cheerful home,'' he said, despite Gore's grueling election loss.
The designer had one rule when decorating the woodland cabin of tough-guy actor De Niro: No cutesy.''
He loves Christmas, but he's very traditional,'' Radko said.
This year, Whoopi Goldberg commissioned Radko to design an ornament showing her face to give guests on her television show, Hollywood Squares.''
Radko has also created a Santa in the image of Elton John. Proceeds from that decoration, which features the flamboyant singer in a red cap and star-shaped glasses, are donated to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
His next celebrity-inspired ornament will be an Arnold Schwarzenegger Santa to raise money for the actor's Inner-City Games program.
Barbra Streisand once took him to task, Radko said, because he made no decorations for Jewish holidays.
She sent me a note: 'When are you going to do Hanukkah ornaments?''' Radko recalled. So I started designing dreidels, menorahs and Stars of David.''
Now he sells Buddhist and Kwanzaa ornaments as well as glass-blown decorations for Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Halloween.
I think of them as three-dimensional greeting cards,'' Radko said.

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