Selina Denman lunches with Tiffany & Co’s first female design director, Francesca Amfitheatrof, who was in the capital for the launch of the brand’s latest fashion-jewellery line, Tiffany T, an unapologetically modern collection that proves that the 177-y
There is something of the Audrey Hepburn about Francesca Amfitheatrof – a steady, wideeyed gaze and easy grace that are reminiscent of the famous actress. It is quite the coincidence, then, that Amfitheatrof is the design director of Tiffany & Co, the legendary jewellery house immortalised by Hepburn’s most famous film.
It took Tiffany almost five years to select a new design director a er John Loring, who retired in 2009 a er 30 years. Granted, when set against its 177-year history, five years is a relatively short period of time, and this is a company that likes to get things right.
There are few names in the world that are as ingrained in the popular consciousness as this one – and it’s not just the “Breakfast at ...” thing, either. This is a company that sold jewellery to Queen Victoria and Russian tsars, was responsible for creating the invitations for the opening of the Statue of Liberty, and more or less invented the engagement ring.
Then there’s that famous picture of Steve Jobs, sitting barefoot and cross-legged in his first home. There’s no furniture – because he couldn’t find anything that matched up to his exacting aesthetic ideals – save for a Louis Comfort Tiffany lamp, the iconic piece named for and designed by Tiffany’s first design director.
“People love Tiffany so much,” Amfitheatrof acknowledges over lunch at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, during her first-ever trip to the UAE. “They all feel like they have a little bit of Tiffany inside them – or that they have the solution for you. Which is kind of endearing, because everyone is very connected with the brand.”
If Amfitheatrof feels any pressure about taking on the responsibility of such a weighty role (she is the company’s first female design director and only the eighth person to hold the title since the company was founded in 1837), she’s not saying so.
“It’s a huge learning curve and I am still reading a lot about the history of Tiffany,” she says. “There are so many great stories. In that sense, it’s thrilling and an honour. The biggest challenge is not to lose yourself. To make a Tiffany for the 21st century, you have to be very focused on bringing all the categories under one hand. Whether it’s fashion jewellery or engagement or couture or statement pieces – all of them need to feel like they are made by the same hand.”
Born in Japan, to an Italian mother and a RussianAmerican father who was a foreign correspondent for
magazine, Amfitheatrof grew up in New York, Rome, London and Moscow. She remembers making her first piece of jewellery – a silver hairpiece with etched stones – when she was just 15 years old.