28th Aug 2016
Looking for something brilliant to wear and forever in-season? Take your cue from one of the world’s most creative and stylish jewellers. Rosaleen McMeel meets Tiffany & Co design director Francesca Amfitheatrof.
As the first female design director of Tiffany & Co, Francesca Amfitheatrof is revolutionising the jewellery industry from within. We meet in Paris at the tail end of Couture Week as she launches the latest Masterpieces collection, a bold, artistic high jewellery showcase with price tags befitting the craftsmanship. Our interview takes place at the H?tel Particulier Pourtales located near the Place de la Madeleine – a favourite of those who regularly grace magazine covers and red carpets. Rumours of Kanye sightings in the corridor are quickly overshadowed when the collection is revealed. Graduated colour gemstones, South Sea black pearls, mixed cut diamonds and artfully draped creations are just some of the items that momentarily make me toy with the idea of remortgaging. As the storied jewellery house’s first female design director, Amfitheatrof imbues modern luxury with an unexpected hint of eclecticism in her work for Tiffany & Co. The trained jeweller and silversmith, born to American and Italian parents but educated in England, cut her teeth at brands as diverse as Chanel, Fendi, Garrard and Marni before landing her current role.
Her first collection had a bold, modern aesthetic centred around the iconic T and was refreshingly new, yet still distinctively Tiffany, becoming an instant hit with consumers worldwide. Now, as she launches her latest collection, she reflects on three years at the helm, advises on investment pieces, and predicts the trends worth buying into.
ROCK OF AGES
If I were to invest in one piece of jewellery, I would choose diamonds. Diamonds are so rare. I love emeralds, but emeralds have been overmined, so the quality has gone down. You don’t want to support a dictatorship in Burma, so I wouldn’t buy rubies until things change, but I think diamonds are going to become more and more rare.
I love pearls, but I think they are often treated in a stuffy way. Some people feel very frightened or unable to have fun with jewellery, but I am a bit irreverent with it. I think a lot of our clients, even those of an older generation, want new things and to feel alive. I think there is a lot of possibility in high jewellery in terms of moving things on. You can’t change things from one day to the next – you have to take it step by step.
FOUND IN TRANSLATION
I’m an odd creature in an American corporation, and what is amazing is that I arrived and was shown the launches we were going to do that year, and I questioned why we were going to launch more of the same. I opened my sketchbook and showed them the T collection, and the current CEO and previous CEO said, “I think you’re right.” They stopped the production line. To have their trust was phenomenal, and I’m able to direct design with some level of freedom. There are a lot of jewellery houses where designers have their hands completely tied because there are men in suits who change things and you feel like they’ve designed by committee, but fortunately I don’t have that.
Right now, I’m wearing a lot of the Out of Retirement collection. I also wear the wrap T bracelet, which I love. I tend to wear yellow gold a lot, but I always mix it with diamonds. I’d love to be able to wear some of the beautiful diamond necklaces from the Masterpieces collection, but that’s not exactly realistic for every day. I designed a new automatic watch in gold with a double strap, which I cannot wait to get. It’s beautiful.
IT?S A KEEPER
If you are storing your pearls away now, I predict a return for them very soon. I think we’re ready for really beautiful coloured stones, baguettes and emeralds, which are a bit old fashioned, but we’ve been in this fine jewellery world for a while, and that’s about to change. Having had’so much of the Kardashian influence and very decorative fashion, I think there’s going to be a move on from that. Jewellery is going to become more elegant. Fashion is going to go more into androgyny, so there’s going to be more of a 1990s comeback.
I always wear clothes by people I really love. I wear a lot of Preen because the designers are my friends, and no one wears a lot of Preen in America. Having lived in England for so long, I have an English sense of style, I think. New York is very sharp and well put together. I’m a little less like that. I love patterns and I love a silhouette. I always wear jackets, and I’m very into covering up rather than showing too much flesh. My style is expressive of my creativity.
The jewellery industry has been very male dominated, and it drives me a bit crazy. I’m honoured that I’m the first female design director [at Tiffany], but I’m also amazed it’s taken this long because I always thought of Elsa Peretti and these female designers surrounding the house, but when you look inward, it was very much a man’s business. As a woman, I feel emotionally and instinctively in tune with our clients. Wearing the items helps me to design them; earrings cannot weigh more than 10g; clasps have to be easy. I’m obsessed by the way things feel. I’m also a technology nerd, so the engineering is very important. I’m very aware of how they should function and then?because I wear them, I’m very aware of how they should feel. I’m learning more and more how important it is to have female influencers. It’s really fundamental.
It’s quite personal how relationships with celebrities and Tiffany come about. Jessica Biel was on a trip with our previous CEO Mike Kowalski, and they were snowed in for days in a hut in Alaska and realised they shared this passion for the environment. We’ve become friends. She’s a really wonderful, amazing woman. Reese Witherspoon embodies the power that women can have to succeed in a very male environment. When she started producing films, nobody wanted to know, but she played them at their own game and won. She’s a very clever woman and I really, really admire her. We also had Eve Hewson – she’s amazing, such a sweetheart. It’s so nice to support young talent. I’ve become friends with most of these people. We also work with Cate Blanchett, who is a phenomenally stylish, regal actress. She’s become very interested in what we’re doing. She wants to see things when they’re drawings and when they’re made; she wants to follow the whole thing. When she wore that turquoise bib two Oscars ago, it was like, ‘Who needs a dress?’ It was amazing.
Tiffany & Co is available exclusively from Brown Thomas, Dublin. See this interview and more in the IMAGE Magazine September issue; on shelves nationwide now.
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