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It is with a very clear, modern vision of beauty in mind that Francesca Amfitheatrof begins her third year of accomplishments as the first female design director of Tiffany & Co. As the company enters its 178th year of global business, Amfitheatrof is the first female design director that Tiffany has ever seen. “We have such amazing female designers here that have been so instrumental in changing the protection of the brand—and changing, really, jewelry, and how we wear jewelry,” she told us when Whitewall sat down with her recently to discuss how she started at Tiffany and her vision for its future.
WHITEWALL: Before joining Tiffany & Co., you previously worked in consulting and curating art, and in jewelry design, fragrance, furniture, and interiors—working with brands like first, Alessi, and then Chanel, Fendi, Marni. How did you get your start?
FRANCESCA AMFITHEATROF: When I had my first show in England, Jay Jopling, who runs White Cube Gallery, gave me my first sort of introduction, really, so he curated a show for me of my jewelry and my pots—I used to make silver pots—in a gallery. So I’ve always had one foot in the art world and one foot in the jewelry world. And I immediately got picked up by a lot of good stores and brands. At the same time, pretty quickly, fashion brands also liked what I did, and Karl Lagerfeld was one of the first. He asked me to do Fendi, then he asked me to do Chanel, then he asked me to do Chanel and Fendi together—and I think what I always did was I always delivered. Even though I would make everything myself, I would. And working for Karl is a bit of schooling, because Karl orders a lot for a show.
I think when you are creative but you deliver, you attract people. And so from there, it just went from one house to another. It allowed me to have a lot of experiences. And I also have a ton of energy, so I think that really helps. [Laughs.]
WW: How did you end up working with Tiffany & Co.?
FA: I got a call from a headhunter, and they asked me whether I was interested. It’s the most incredible brand; it has the most amazing history, and it’s one of those things in life you just can’t say no to. It’s New York City and it’s Tiffany. You can’t say no.
WW: What is your favorite part about living and working in New York?
FA: I love the fact that within five minutes you can be in different worlds. You can literally turn a block and be in a different world! There are all of these amazing workshops that we have, and you go up to the flagship and there’s all this history there. There are so many nooks and crannies, and everything’s sort of hidden by this quite severe facade. The minute you scratch behind the surface, you find these phenomenal different worlds. And I think that’s very attractive to jewelry. Even if you go up to the Diamond District, and you see what’s going on there—it’s quite amazing.
WW: The “Tiffany T” collection—your first at Tiffany & Co.—made up of rose, yellow, and white gold, and sterling silver cuffs, bracelets, chains, pendants, rings, and earrings—has a strong, bold presence. Tell us a little about that.
FA: When I first arrived, I already had that drawn. I worked on all of the collection, all of the advertising, and I worked on all of the positioning. And it’s the only collection, since I’ve been here in the last two years, that truly embodies my vision. So it’s very dear to me because it’s something that really came purely from the vision that I had for the brand.
WW: What about the “On the Rocks” necklace from the 2015 “Masterpieces” collection?
FA: I was very inspired by nature in all of the collections that I’ve done for couture, and so the first one was really inspired by the art of the sea. The second one was inspired by ice. And so, one of the inspirations around ice was also ice in a clinking glass. I loved this idea of having diamonds being the water, and the ice being black onyx. And it just looks like your vodka on the rocks, in a way. It’s very New York, that idea of just having your evening drink, and it’s such a fun collection. All of the pendants are actually a dish—a shallow dish that’s a very sexy shape. It’s kind of fun, and it just puts you in the right mood.
WW: As Tiffany & Co. celebrates its 178th year in business, what do you hope to accomplish as its design director?
FA: I think that there’s a lot that can be accomplished because of having such a long history. I think that Tiffany is on the brink of something extremely exciting when it comes to its design and its vision. And between the very, very high-end couture collections that we do for Blue Book, all the way down to bridal, and then to fashion, my focus and my objective is to make it all come together. I think that Tiffany is poised to be the brand that is the most relevant for jewelry, because we’ve always been so modern.
WW: What type of modern jewelry aesthetics do you think speak to women of today?
FA: Aesthetically, I think that clean, beautiful design is absolutely the aesthetic that we all sort of live in. And that goes from everything—from an iPhone to a car design, from furniture to art. And I think that aesthetic, that is very Tiffany, is really what we’re all going toward. Sometimes over-fussy, over-decorative, heavy pieces don’t really feel right today.
WW: What is your take on technology in the creative workplace?
FA: I’m quite old-fashioned and I like to hand-draw everything. I think that technology is the next frontier, but anything that you put on your skin—anything that you put on your body—you want to feel that it’s been made with a human touch. You don’t want it to feel cold. Even though we used extreme advancements and technology to manufacture and make things and communicate, when it comes to designing, I always go back to a sketch and I always go back to making things by hand. If it touches you, it needs to have that warmth and that charm, and technology doesn’t always achieve that.
WW: Where, if you could pinpoint any specific place, do you gain the most creative inspiration?
FA: Always by the sea. If I’m by the sea, I’m so happy. Possibly even in the sea—even better. But you know anywhere—on an island, by the ocean. Anywhere by the sea, I feel completely inspired. I feel different. In a way, Manhattan is surrounded by the sea, so . . .
WW: Can you tell us a little bit about the new Tiffany & Co. store in Miami’s Design District?
FA: Miami was a store that I was involved in. I’m a collector of art, and I’ve always been around the art world. Because of where the store is, the brand was open to allowing me to be a little more adventurous with art in a retail environment. It is very clean, very open, and we played around with that. We always have the Atlas sculpture outside our flagship, and in front of a lot of our stores around the world—and we had the Atlas sculpture sort of reworked with David Altmejd, who’s a phenomenal artist. We bought one of his sculptures, which is a standing figure all made out of mirrors. We also worked with other artists that even embodied the color of the brand, or the expression of the brand, in their work. I think it just allowed the store to be a bit more playful, and a bit more expressive in a way. It’s been great fun actually, and people seem to respond very well.
This article is published in Whitewall‘s winter 2016 Luxury Issue, out now.