Something Blue | Francesca Amfitheatrof

For hundreds of thousands of women, for over 150 years, happiness has been delivered in the form of a little blue box. More than just jewellery, Tiffany & Co. is a symbol of beauty, innovation, generosity, a marker of milestones – an icon. 

“Jewellery has a phenomenal power.  It is not just timeless, it is emotional, it is magical and it becomes part of you so it is also very spiritual,” says Francecsca Amfitheatrof, Design Director of Tiffany & Co. “There are very few things in the world that has the power that jewellery does.”

The daughter of an American journalist – her father wrote for Time magazine – and an Italian publicist, Amfitheatrof grew up living all over the world including in Moscow, Tokyo, Rome and attended boarding school in England. She strayed from her parents’ wishes for her to attend university in America, opting instead for London where she attended art school at Central St. Martins followed by the Royal College of Art, where she received her masters in silversmithing and training with a master craftsman near Padua, Italy. 

She spent years running with the likes of now-famous artists such as Damien Hirst, brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman and Tracey Emin in a sort of art world rat pack known as the Young British Art Crowd – or YBAs – and her first show featuring her jewellery and silver work was at her good friend Jay Jopling’s White Cube Gallery in the early ‘90s. 

Since then, she has been commissioned by Chanel, Fendi, Gerrard Marni, Wedgewood and other leading labels to create jewellery, accessories and housewares. In 2013, Amfitheatrof was officially appointed the first female Design Director of Tiffany & Co., where her eye and love for art has seen her quietly bringing the 177 year-old brand’s roots in cheeky creativity and innovation back to the surface. 

Most recently, Tiffany announced the first ever Out of Retirement collection, an unlikely yet brilliant collaboration between Tiffany and Dover Street Market, the multi-brand retail concept by Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garcons. 

“It was the original concept of Dover Street Market to break down all barriers, tear up the rule books of department stores, ignore long established standards and create beautiful chaos, to excite the customer and make them feel like there was a new meaning and a future to retail shopping,” says Adrian Joffe, Kawakubo’s husband CEO of the US$230 million Comme des Garcons empire. “Beauty and creation are not things one can or should control. And they cannot happen without freedom.”

Exclusive to Dover Street Market, Tiffany’s Out of Retirement collection features 18 limited edition pieces including eight jewellery designs and ten gift items, each based on a desing from the Tiffany archives. The saying goes – Tiffany designs are never discontinued, they are simply retired. 

“Dover Street Market is always pushing the boundaries and at the same time appreciates tradition. We have enjoyed this collaboration immensely.  It's amazing how many similarities we discovered - even though it may seem that we are very, very different brands in philosophy, we approach the creative work we do in a similar fashion,” Amfitheatrof enthuses. “The whole experience, including Adrian and the whole Dover Street Market team, has been amazing.

Tell us about how this collaboration with Dover Street market came to be.

I couldn't think of anyone better for us to collaborate with than Dover Street Market.  There is no other retailer that is always on the cusp of something new and collaborates with brands and designers in a very open minded, innovative way. It seemed so wonderful to be able to work with Dover Street on this out of retirement collection to bring these pieces back. They feel just as relevant and fresh now as they did when they were first designed which is such a Tiffany philosophy.  It really is about modern, beautiful designs that stand the test of time. This collaboration has been an absolute joy from beginning to end.

So many people know about Tiffany and Co.’s more classic pieces and not so much about playful innocent designs like those in the Out of Retirement collection… 

Tiffany throughout its history has always had a very particular sense of humour and wit – full of incredibly charming and quite funny objects. I think it's only in recent history that Tiffany's perception has become more traditional.  Throughout all its history leading up to the 70’s, Tiffany was always an innovative, modern brand that really embodied the New York spirit. We are just bringing that back.

Do you think people will be surprised to see Tiffany at Dover Street market?

I think the whole point is to surprise people and make them look at you in a different way.  This partnership is intriguing, so interesting and a little bit unexpected so yes; I think it's fantastic.

What inspired the out of retirement to collection?

We have this fabulous lady called Dale at the flagship who has been working at Tiffany all her life and she is the most extraordinary character. One day she told me that at Tiffany we do not discontinue our designs but instead we retire them and she showed me her personal collection of exquisite witty and unusual gifts. That's really where the idea came from.

How did you choose which pieces could be part of the out of retirement to collection?

 The collection is made up of 18 pieces. All the jewellery pieces are in yellow gold, the aesthetic is always very clean, sculptural, beautifully proportioned and have a great deal of presence. The gifts are witty, hilarious, unusual and beautiful. This collection is so truly Tiffany that no other brand could ever dream up of such pieces.

Is there a lot of pressure on being the Design Director of Tiffany’s 177-year-old legacy?

What is the most exciting part of my job is the creative aspect. It is through dreaming and connecting emotionally while expressing creatively my thoughts into beautiful pieces of jewellery, objects and accessories which I passionately believe in. I do not stop and think about anything else. Even though what does put a smile on my face is that I am the first woman Design Director that has ever worked at Tiffany, and I think to myself… about time!

What's the secret of finding the perfect balance of heritage and innovative modern design?

Tiffany has always been about classic modernism. By creating these timeless, beautifully designed pieces you create classics that stand the test of time. That is the essence of Tiffany and that is really close to my own design sensibility and therefore it's a perfect match. I want to design a piece of Tiffany jewellery that is always going to be freshly modern and a classic at the same time.

Beyond the Jewelry what do you love about Tiffany and Co. brand?

I love the culture at Tiffany. I love the fact that it is a little bit old fashioned, very polite, has a lot of grace and a great deal of wit. All of these are very old school American attributes and seeing that my father who was a European American, and was such an incredible influence on my life, I'm reminded of him every day and I love it.