It’s the name that conjures up the sheer glamour of diamonds, New York, Audrey Hepburn… Now Francesca Amfitheatrof has brought pieces from Tiffany’s archive out of retirement for the house’s first-ever fashion collaboration.
There are few women whose heart wouldn’t skip a beat at the sight of a duck-egg blue box with a perfectly tied white ribbon bow. Whether what lies within is a cluster of twinkling diamonds or a simple silver pendant, the recipient is immediately swept up in the romance and history of one of the world’s most famous jewellers.
It was Charles Lewis Tiffany, aka the ‘King of Diamonds’, who saw the opportunity to buy gems in exchange for from aristocrats who were fleeing political upheaval in France and in need of cash. Tiffany’sempire grew as he became the man to whom America’s newly minted elite flocked when they wanted to treat themselves. Today, Tiffany has expanded from a single shop in New York to 300 stores across the world.
The gleaming flagship on Fifth Avenue is an institution, a destination for eyeing up fantastical creations and beautifully refined everyday pieces, as well as the world-famous yellow Tiffany diamond, which the company acquired in 1879 and has been worn only twice – once to a ball in the 1950s and later by Audrey Hepburn to promote Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
The woman responsible for refracting the heritage of Tiffany through a 21st-century lens is design director Francesca Amfitheatrof. Her idea of Tiffany style today is inspired by elegant women who have come to typify the Tiffany ‘look’ over the past 50 years.
‘You can see it in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You can see it inJacqueline Kennedy, especially that photograph where she’s wearing a T-shirt, jeans, no bra and just a single Tiffany bracelet,’ says Amfitheatrof. ‘I mean, that is so Tiffany style. Just one and you’re done…’ She trails off, before adding, ‘It’s partly in me as well.’
Part-Italian, part-Russian (the origins of that majestic surname), part-American, Amfitheatrof is slight with a refined, gamine profile and spirited doe-eyes that make comparisons with Audrey Hepburn almost inevitable.
Timeless simplicity and elegance, coupled with an easy wit and charm are the Tiffany codes that Amfitheatrof has been extolling and reimagining since she joined in September 2013, relocating from east London to New York with her husband, Ben, and two young children, Nikolai and Stella-May.
We’re meeting today at the avant-garde London concept store Dover Street Market for the unveiling of Tiffany’s first-ever collaboration. Given that collaborations have become two-a-penny in the world of fashion and jewellery, the fact that this is the brand’s first really is quite something.
The appealing point of difference of the collection, called ‘Out of Retirement’, is that it is pure, unadulterated Tiffany, imbued with all the easy glamour and playfulness that legions of fans have come to know and adore.
The 18-piece collection revives and reinterprets classics from as far back as the 1940s.
There are trinkets that represent the sense of humour and tongue-in-cheek approach that has always been a big part of Tiffany’s gifts and objects offering. For instance, a gold money clip, first created in 1942, comes in the shape of a dollar sign, while a 2003 silver puzzle is intended to take pride of place on the desk of ‘the man who has everything’.
There’s proof that life’s mundanities have long been elevated by the magical Tiffany touch with a silver ring for clasping trousers as you cycle, which was originally conceived in 1971. The iconic silver party hat and miniature trumpet that were introduced to celebrate the millennium are also back, just in time for the festive season.
Then, of course, there’s the jewellery, which is tweaked from Tiffany’s signature sculptural 1970s pieces. Amfitheatrof has adapted two sets of bold cubist cufflinks into 18ct-gold earrings; one pair is dotted with a square of pavé diamonds while a single diamond and vividly deep emerald-like tsavorite stone embellishes the other.
There are two chunky, almost architectural, knuckleduster rings in solid 18ct-gold, which are like works of modern art for the fingers but also unfussy enough to wear every day. As we speak, a pair of interlocked bangles, one in gold, the other in deep rosewood, jangle on Amfitheatrof’s wrist, ‘I’ve been wearing this for a month so it’s gone beautifully dark,’ she tells me, holding it up for comparison against the display version. ‘It was originally in agate, but I changed it to wood, which just feels so much more modern.’
The name Out of Retirement refers to a unique and rather lovely Tiffany philosophy where ‘we treat jewellery like people’, so instead of just discontinuing a piece, it is rather genteelly retired. This is the first time that Tiffany has played with an idea that musicians and sporting heroes have been taking advantage of for years; once you retire, it simply means the world is waiting for a comeback.
The idea emerged from Amfitheatrof’s chats with Dale, a ‘phenomenal lady’ who has worked at Tiffany for countless years. She came to New York just after her 21st birthday as a Tiffany obsessive, set on landing a job with the company. She had been given a single share in her beloved jewellers as a birthday present from her parents.
Dale is now responsible for looking after the Tiffany diamond, and is a bit of an institution herself. ‘She’s ageless and priceless,’ Amfitheatrof laughs. If there was anyone who could combine the incisive insight of an insider with the pure adoration of a lifelong fan, Dale was the woman.
‘The way that she described the emotion of the brand and how it was such a place to go in New York – I loved the idea of bringing that back,’ Amfitheatrof explains. It was also Dale who dropped in the romantic, old-school terminology, such as Tiffany being ‘a purveyor of fancy goods’ and ‘retiring’ pieces, which has inspired this latest project.
Before coming to Tiffany, Amfitheatrof, 44, had worked for 20 years across the worlds of jewellery, art and design. She co-launched the art agency RS&A, created jewellery for Chanel, Fendi and Marni, curated exhibitions at Museo Gucci, took major modern artists such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst to Seoul, designed furniture for Alessi and developed fragrances for private clients.
While she is first and foremost at Tiffany to create jewellery, Amfitheatrof’s curatorial skills are helping to unlock wonderful stories from the company’s history and tell them in new ways. Out of Retirement, for instance, is being shown in surreal installations inspired by Gene Moore, the window dressing ‘legend’ who created Tiffany displays from 1955 until his retirement in 1994.
They were ‘such a cult thing that people would stumble out of Studio 54 and go up to see Gene doing his windows at the store,’ says Amfitheatrof. It’s Elsa Peretti, though, the designer who created an elegantly abstract and perfectly simple aesthetic after joining Tiffany in 1974, who has made the biggest impression on Amfitheatrof.
Peretti is responsible for many of the pieces that you might be hoping to find under the Christmas tree this year: the sensually modern open-heart necklace, the abstract bean that appears on delicate silver necklaces and refined drop earrings, or the pared-back single stone on a delicate chain.
Amfitheatrof was studying jewellery design at Central Saint Martins in London during Peretti’s heyday at Tiffany; the Italian’s work became her ‘biggest obsession’. In proper fangirl mode, Amfitheatrof remembers that ‘she was the one person you could identify yourself with’ as someone who eschewed piling diamonds on to everything in favour of a pure approach that was about silverwork and silhouette.
‘She changed the way people wore jewellery. Elsa was a true inspiration and bit of a god for me.’ It’s an ongoing love affair. ‘Her jewellery is as fresh today as it was when she designed it 25 years ago.’ If Peretti’s fresh attitude transformed what Tiffany dreams were made of back then, it’s Amfitheatrof’s instinct for what women want from their jewellery that is creating a buzz around Tiffany now.
She has introduced T, a collection she describes as ‘modern but also timeless’. There are clean-lined bangles, art deco-like hoops and understated necklaces, all with a recurring angular T motif, readily identifiable to those in the know.
The gold chain necklace Amfitheatrof is wearing today is a perfect example of the subtle engineering that she has made sure is imbued in every piece. To the onlooker it’s cool and bold (part of the reason that the collection has so quickly gained classic status), but there’s more to it than that. ‘We’ve made it so fluid, it will never kink,’ Amfitheatrof explains. ‘It’s made to feel good on your body so that it becomes part of you.’
And who wouldn’t want a little part of themselves to be made of Tiffany?