Christopher Radko is an iconic name in American home décor. He began designing and producing keepsake ornaments, gifts and home décor items in 1986. The entrepreneur sold his Christmas Company several years ago, but the legacy lives on in his beautiful creations. Even today, the radiance and originality of each piece brings joy into households throughout the world during the holiday season.
In the 1990’s, Radko did a significant amount of work in Washington, DC. He decorated the White House, Naval Observatory and the Kennedy Center. His most iconic holiday gift to Washingtonians was when he wrapped a quarter mile of 8-foot-wide red ribbon around the entire Kennedy Center. It was this feat in which Radko turned this beautiful piece of architecture into a gigantic Christmas present and earned the title of the “Czar of Christmas” from the New York Times.
Every family can look back on special moments in their past, important events that shape their history and become topics for conversation at every family gathering. For some families, these events not only give them something to talk about, but they also set the family on a new journey that takes them to places they never dreamed of. The Radko family has that story.
While many companies don’t often start in tragedy, the Christopher Radko brand starts with a Christmas disaster. As the story goes, Christopher had always had the job of cleaning and storing his family’s old, rusty, cast-iron Christmas tree stand. When the 22-year-old was at the family home for the holiday in 1984, he decided it was time for a replacement, and the family’s 14-foot tree was placed in a new red-and-green stand. They decorated it with over 1,000 European mouth-blown glass ornaments, some of which had been in the family for four generations. Each ornament had its own story, making the collection a kind of living diary.
While the decorating of the tree went perfectly, the stand didn’t do its job. The following day, Christopher and his family were startled awake in the middle of the night by a terrible sound. Their Christmas tree had toppled to the ground, smashing most of the vintage hand-blown glass ornaments – priceless family heirlooms, collected and treasured over the years. Devastated, Christopher set out to find replacements, but quickly discovered they didn’t exist. Nothing that he found matched the quality, workmanship and meticulous attention to detail that characterized his family’s cherished ornaments.
Radko hadn’t exactly been in his father’s good graces before the boughs broke: At Columbia University, Radko rejected his father’s entreaties to go pre-med and dropped the sciences to major in English. After graduation, Radko’s father put down a deposit for Radko’s first semester at Law School, but Radko went to Paris and taught instead. At the time of the tree disaster, Radko was in New York working in a talent agency’s mailroom earning $8,000 a year, far from the advanced-degree professional his father had envisioned.
The following spring, Radko was visiting a cousin in Poland and mentioned his Christmas saga. She noted that many Poles still hung glass ornaments. As they talked, they walked by a pharmacy that had in its window, beautifully blown testers and beakers for making moonshine vodka from potatoes. Radko met with the proprietor and under his direction, the man created glass ornaments similar to those that had adorned the Radko family tree. Radko sketched some of his family ornaments and a few of his own designs, and the glassblower produced several dozen. Radko brought them back to the United States and showed them to his coworkers at the talent agency, who placed orders. Soon after, Radko began taking a shopping bag of samples door-to-door to Manhattan retailers on his lunch hour, hopeful of supplementing his mailroom wages.
In the business’ first two years, Radko used two weeks of vacation from the talent agency to travel to Poland and work with artisans developing the ornaments he had designed. Together, they perfected a seven-day manufacturing process that starts with the glassblowing and ends with each piece receiving a dusting of glitter and the trademark gold Radko crown. Radko then would fill a container with ornaments, ship it to his mother’s home in Westchester and fulfill orders out of her garage, employing out-of-work actors to help him with the packing.
His first retail account was Georg Jensen, a top-of-the-line jewelry store, I. Magnin, Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s followed shortly thereafter. In 1987, Radko moved the business to his studio apartment on the Upper West Side and hired his first full-time employee.
Radko was his own publicist, sending samples to magazine editors and hoping coverage would bolster sales. What he couldn’t have predicted was that celebrities would be drawn to the product. One day he received a call from a retailer telling him that Bruce Springsteen had just been in and placed a large order. Dolly Parton, Julie Andrews and Tom Cruise have his ornaments, as do Katie Couric and Oprah Winfrey, both of whom have featured Radko on their shows. Barbra Streisand convinced him to make Hanukkah ornaments. Hillary Clinton asked him to design Christmas displays on the mantels of the White House Green Room and Red Room, and he decorated the vice president’s residence when the Gores lived there. He also has lent his design touch to New York’s Gracie Mansion during the holidays.
Today, after over thirty years of designing and creating, the Christopher Radko Company has produced more than eighteen million fine European glass ornaments that have become a part of family traditions across the United States. The company that bears his name designs about 500 exquisite glass Christmas ornaments each year in addition to other holiday decorations. Designers today draw inspiration from Christmas classics, fine paintings, suggestions from collectors and life events. The Radko team works tirelessly to prepare the utmost perfect edition of art for the ornaments.
Presently, Christopher Radko’s creations are available in over 2,500 stores which carry ornaments, cookie jars, snow globes, and other Radko collectibles. These include retailers such as Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, London’s legendary Harrods and Fortnum and Mason. Many fine independent gift shops carry the line all year long. You can also find these delicate pieces on the Christopher Radko website.