Posh Punk: Tiffany & Co Ushers In A New Era For High Jewellery
When I received an invitation to attend the launch of Tiffany & Co’s Blue Book Collection last year, I was flummoxed. First came a poster featuring handwritten scrawl. The only clue that it was from the storied New York luxury brand was the inclusion of strips of adhesive tape in robin’s egg blue. Next came a “formal” invitation, again in a style I’d describe as punk-luxe.
The last time I attended a Blue Book Collection, it was an opulent affair held under a giant diamond-shaped marquee erected in one of the inner courtyards of Beijing’s Forbidden City featuring hundred-strong choirs, Ming dynasty-style furniture in blue and a performance by disco legend Donna Summer.
So the punk-luxe certainly came as a surprise and it was with great curiosity that I went to New York to see where the brand was headed.
Gone was the black-tie formality, the pomp and pageantry. In its place, a Chelsea warehouse whose walls were lined with chipboard and gaffer tape, while video screens played arty vignettes that explained the collection’s themes.
A cast of the city’s glamour elite were present, Kim Kardashian West, Zoë Kravitz, Mary J Blige and the star of the hot new show The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan, enjoying the eclectic music selections delivered by Bob Marley’s granddaughter, Zuri Marley, whose thick, dusty blonde braids flailed as she got into her mixes. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Tiffany & Co’s hoary old chestnut, was nowhere to be heard.
There are five themes to the latest Blue Book Collection—the four seasons, plus colour theory—and each was expressed in different parts of the space. Most striking was the winter zone, which featured a 91-carat necklace which, through impressive setting techniques and stunning design, evokes cracking ice. The wall opposite displayed a video of solar flares from Nasa, and somehow the combination of the ice cracking and the boiling sun combined to create a statement about the changing climate.
Indeed, these are new times, and new times require new definitions of luxury. I met with Tiffany & Co’s chief artistic officer, Reed Krakoff, at the company’s slick offices to ask him about the new direction.
This collection been a spectacular evolution for Tiffany & Co.
It was nice to do something different for high jewellery. Luxury has become radically different in the last five years. It’s changed more than it did probably in the previous 20 or 30 years. It’s become much more democratic. It’s become much more unpredictable, unexpected, much less traditional.
You know, you think of all the pop-ups around the world, of all the major luxury brands essentially doing things other than the traditional selling, whether it’s online, whether it’s social media—the way people are being introduced to luxury is entirely different than the way they were not even 10 years ago.
So I think, as part of that group of the most elite luxury brands, Tiffany & Co has also changed the way we approach all these aspects of the business, design, marketing, store environments, all these different things.
Tiffany & Co is a global brand that appeals to a lot of people around the world. Do you modulate your expression of luxury for different regions, like Asia, for example?
In the main, no. Everyone shares information essentially, everyone sees everything, and you can go online and shop for anything. And, you know, there’s no regionalism left in the world like there used to be—you go to Paris and you buy certain French designers; you go to New York and you buy the young designers; you go to Milan and you buy the big designers—it just doesn’t exist anymore.
I just think about creating a story. The next chapter that’s exciting to people in general. Because when you think about it, if you were to go, let’s say visit one of our stores, you have people of all ages from all parts of the world who are interested in different pieces of the brand in different ways.
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How has social media affected notions of luxury and how do you maintain exclusivity amid the so-called democratisation of luxury?
Social media has informed people; people just have so much knowledge of brands these days. I think the sophistication of customers is much higher. And it makes it tougher, actually, to convince them that you’re worthy of spending time with as a brand.
We’ve recently seen creative directors appointed to houses who’ve made complete changes to the brand, with contentious results. Do you see a clear distinction between Reed Krakoff and Tiffany & Co the brand?
Tiffany & Co has been a vital brand for over a hundred years. It’s really the only American luxury brand and, because of that, it’s a different set of challenges.
And because we have such a strong history, it wouldn’t occur to me to abandon that. You know, it’s something you have to embrace but you have to bring it forward. Tiffany & Co has been a really innovative brand for many, many years.
You know, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg did windows for Tiffany, and Andy Warhol did Christmas cards for Tiffany.
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Last night, the pieces were displayed in front of spray-painted stencils of a portrait of the brand’s founder, Charles Lewis Tiffany. I thought it was fun in an irreverent way. Is humour part of what you do?
I would say I’m reviving it because the truth is that it’s been there forever. As I’ve gotten deeper into the history I’ve seen things that I wanted to do.
Like Jean Schlumberger—he was really the first design director—and he made all these things that are exactly the kind of things I started making, and it was truly in isolation, like he made a fruit basket out of sterling silver.
Even the staples were sterling silver. It was the same as what I was doing with the silver tin cans. This idea of utilitarian luxury is something that is uniquely American.