The king of luxury Christmas ornaments has returned

by Roxanne Roberts of The Washington Post

The Ornament King
Christopher Radko is back in the ornament business — although you probably didn’t realize he ever left.

Dubbed the “Czar of the Christmas Present” by the New York Times, Radko became a household name in the 1990s for his exquisite, handblown glass ornaments — a throwback to the vintage pieces created in Europe a century earlier. His pieces took traditional themes and gave them an elegant twist: Heavy glass, rich colors, detailed characters, glamorous embellishments and modern touches that stood out from mass-produced spheres and kitsch. They were expensive ($50 and more) and sold at 3,000 upscale department stores and boutiques. Celebrities (Oprah Winfrey, Elton John, Barbra Streisand) raved about them; he decorated the Red and Green rooms for the White House holidays in 1996. In the billion-dollar Christmas industry, Radko was a shimmering, undisputed star.

It was too much, too fast. He sold the business and his brand name in 2005, in a deal that included a noncompete clause that lasted until 2021. Now, at age 63, he’s back with a new, small company called Heartfully Yours™, adding another a new chapter to the convoluted Radko legacy.

“I was thinking, ‘Well, what am I going to do the rest of my life?’” he said last week. “People tell me all the time, ‘Christopher, you have no idea. Your ornaments mean so much to my family, to my mother, to my grandmother. People tell me what a heartfelt connection they had with the ornaments, and I care a lot about making a difference.”

The new company looks a lot like the old company: Beautiful glass and hand-painted ornaments that have the Radko touch but not the Radko name. That belongs to holiday decor company Rauch, which has sold a line of Radko ornaments for the past 18 years. Which is not to be confused with the robust collector’s market, where Radko designs can go for hundreds of dollars — eBay alone has more than 33,000 listings.

The question, then and now, is whether anyone needs a $50 ornament. The rational answer is unequivocally no, but Christmas has never been about common sense or restraint. It’s about sentiment and nostalgia, generosity and glitter, a touch of magic in a mundane world. A cherished ornament — from the Popsicle stick frame made in kindergarten to the gold-plated showstopper — becomes part of the ongoing holiday tradition, carefully stored away and then rediscovered every year as it is unpacked and hung on the tree.

Radko’s origin story started with all the ornaments collected by his family over the years, including many by his grandmother. “She was born in 1900, so she could point to each ornament: ‘This is when I was 5 years old, this is when your mom was born in 1927.’ The whole tree was like a family diary.”

He bought what turned out to be a faulty tree stand, causing the tree to fall over, breaking the ornaments and his grandmother’s heart. During a trip to Poland, the recent college graduate tried to assuage his guilt by bringing back a few handmade replacement pieces.

That quickly ballooned into an improbable success story, with Radko creating the whimsical designs, and craftsmen in Poland, Germany and Italy bringing them to life. The native New Yorker founded his company in 1985 and found an enthusiastic audience among the city’s shops and celebrities. Soon Radko ornaments were all the rage; Tipper Gore, as huge fan, asked him to decorate the veep’s residence.

By the 2000s, the company was a $65 million business and Radko was traveling eight months a year. An entrepreneur more than a numbers guy, the exhausted and stressed Radko found himself clashing with his own executives. In 2005, he sold his brand and walked away, eventually settling into the small town of Garrison, N.Y.

He led tours to European holiday markets and then became a lavender farmer, which was the most relaxing profession he could think of. But the Christmas itch was still there. By 2021, when the noncompete clause expired, he decided he wanted back in. For the past two years, Radko and Rauch has been in court battling over whether he can use his name in any capacity when it comes to Christmas decor. A judge temporarily ruled that he can be identified as the artist, but the new ornaments cannot bear the Radko name. (Radko’s attorney says both sides are very close to a settlement; Rauch did not respond to requests for comment.)

In an effort to keep life more manageable, Radko’s new line is limited editions of 50 to 200 ornaments produced in Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy. The designs range from $60 to $120 each; and he’s only selling online and at a few small boutiques. He estimates he will sell a maximum of 100,000 ornaments per year, a tiny fraction of all the ornaments adorning the 50 million American trees erected this season.

Radko would not reveal his sales since Heartfully Yours launched last year, but said he sold more than $1 million in ornaments at his first trade show in January 2022. And he’s already got a new generation of celebrities: Kylie Jenner and Adele are fans of his work, Radko said.

Ann Free has about 600 Radko ornaments — she’s lost count, but has been a serious collector for decades, spending hours and hundreds on eBay sourcing rare offerings. This year she’s moving from Washington to Nashville and not putting up her tree, but she bought some of Radko’s new line to give to friends. In the gift note, she wrote: “Now you can become part of the magnificent obsession.”

She loves his colors, his humor, the throwback to old European ornaments, with detailed faces, gold wire and other vintage touches. An otherwise pragmatic and no-frills person, her collection triggers a flood of Christmas memories. “Your childhood comes out,” she said.

St. Nick’s Christmas and Collectibles in Littleton, Colo., carries a number of vintage and retired Radko designs purchased from a collector (they sell from $40 to $200), the current Radko brand ornaments produced by Rauch and the Heartfully Yours line.

“A lot of people buy all of it,” said owner Sue Sealy, who has run the family business for 47 years. “I’m happy he’s back because he’s so creative and talented.” What sets Radko apart, she said, is the craftsmanship, the playfulness and a special fine glitter typically found on old European ornaments: “Now, the glitter is awesome,” she said.

Her customers range from longtime collectors to younger buyers, and surprisingly none are balking at the prices.

It’s all relative, Radko said. “For $60 or $70, you can probably get a really good bottle of wine if you’re going to someone’s house as a gift. But they’re just not going to remember who gave it. They’ll just have the hangover the next day, and who needs that? But with the ornament, they’ll think of you every single year for decades to come.”

His Christmas wish? A future where he’s long gone but his work is still remembered: “When people are living on Mars or wherever, they’ll take out their holiday ornaments and they’ll say, ‘My great-grandmother back on Earth bought this ornament by this guy named Christopher Radko.’”

Pre-Ordering for Heartfully Yours Opens March 4

Heartfully Yours™ Gold Star Retailer, Celebrate365.com

We proudly announce that we have achieved Gold Star retailer status with Heartfully Yours™.  Our website re-opens tomorrow.  You may begin pre-ordering from the styles and quantities that we were allocated for the 2023 season.  Quantities are extremely limited.  Reserve for choices for later delivery. 

Please read the revised terms and conditions on the website or request an email copy.

Winter at the beach …

Lovely day to work outside with the great view & in the shade with the breeze. Love the view from beneath our shaded picnic area?

This will be the hottest day we have experienced and the heat index makes it feel even warmer … we need to hydrate!

This is my work location this morning with a cup of coffee (not good for hydration!). I think that the scenery helps make the spreadsheet work less mind-numbing!

The 2023 updates for all three designer ornament lines are nearing completion … Leslie (faithful web guru), Benita (sister), Brenna (niece), and Azhar (graphic editor in Pakistan) have all contributed to this massive yearly project.

Did you, as a collector, realize that a complex spreadsheet is the “brains” behind what you see when you view a listing on the internet? And, every punctuation point must be in place!

We will begin to roll out Heartfully Yours™, Soffieria De Carlini, and Thomas Glenn Holiday for pre-ordering soon!

Now, back to work!

Pre-Ordering open for 2022

It’s taken a bit … most of you know that I underwent serious surgery on April 11. I am recovering well here at home and I will not require further treatment. But, enough about that subject for now … let’s talk about something a bit more fun. How about Italian ornaments?

De Carlini Retro-Throwback Styles

In early January, you viewed all of the free-blown glass designs when we ordered them at America’sMart in Atlanta at the Soffieria De Carlini showroom. While I love their contemporary designs, my heart just “soars” when I’m presented with throw-back styles from the 1960s and 70s.

We have most of the new designs on the website now and available for pre-ordering with an anticipated fall 2022 delivery. I’ve divided the image presentation into two themes: retro styles and fashion ladies. Several retro styles feature multiple colorations. Look and shop to your heart’s content

De Carlini Fashion Ladies
De Carlini Fashion Ladies

Although pandemic conditions seem to have waned, for now, other issues continue to plague global business. War is on Italy’s doorstep, and fuel costs have skyrocketed. Just like in the U.S., it’s difficult for Soffieria De Carlini to purchase paint, trims, packaging … really, all of the supplies that they require to create their free-blown ornaments. 

Many do not realize just how “tiny” the Soffieria De Carlini workshop is. They employ a mere ten skilled artisans, two of whom are the husband and wife owners, Luca Terruzzi and his wife, Sabrina.

I’m giving you this bit of background information to let you know — this year I will not be able to place re-orders for ANY of the styles shown online. The workshop actually has MORE orders than they will be able to produce. What does that mean for you, as a collector?

When an available quantity shown online reaches zero (0), our website is set to automatically ask you if you would like for us to re-order the style. Well, yes … we can do that. However, the ornament won’t arrive until 2023 and the pricing will increase.

While I dislike making dire predictions about a topic that should be simply FUN, this situation is now our global supply reality. So, buy it when you see it in 2022!

Thomas Glenn 2021 Collection Has Arrived …

It’s a different kind of year …

Thomas Glenn “Haunted” Halloween Collection

The pandemic coupled with weather events has disrupted traditional shipping patterns internationally.  Instead of sending the yearly bulk order by container across the Atlantic, this year the Polish workshop is shipping smaller quantities every few weeks.  While the process might take longer overall, the benefit is that they have been able to contain shipping costs, at least for this year!

We recently received nearly 3/4 of our yearly order.  Not every style has arrived.  Further, we might have only received a few of a given style.  But things ARE arriving and in a timely manner!  The challenge is the difficulty in creating a website that reflects current “in stock” inventory while also letting shoppers know how many more might be arriving.  I still have a lot of data to tweak on the site.  BUT, I wanted to get things up online, available for browsing AND shopping!

New Halloween styles are now in stock and available for immediate shipping.

Many of the 2021 styles are available as well.  If something sells out, let me know.  I might be able to reorder it for you.

You will also find that some items are shown as “Available for Pre-Order”.  That means that the design has not yet arrived from Poland.  You have the ability to put that item into your shopping basket, pay in advance, and have it shipped to you as soon as it arrives here in western Ohio.

Take a good look around … think Halloween … but think Christmas as well.  While I’m hoping that USPS delivery service improves this season, I don’t think that we can count on that.  Expect shipping delays and surcharges as Christmas nears.  Like nearly all businesses nowadays, the post office is understaffed.  We all need to plan ahead.

Happy looking … and enjoy the creativity of Thomas Glenn Holidays 2021.

Thomas Glenn Holidays:  The FULL Catalog
2021 styles will have the label “NEW”
Reorder styles will be labeled “HOT” (popular)

Thomas Glenn Holidays:  Halloween

Have questions?  Don’t hesitate … the best way to get my attention is through email or Messenger.  And, don’t forget Facebook!  I post the most up-to-date info there.  It’s a quick way to communicate.

Happy Halloween!

Connie Mitchell Porcher