An Intimate Lunch with Francesca Amfitheatrof, the ‘Tiffany T’ Designer

An Intimate Lunch with Francesca Amfitheatrof, the ‘Tiffany T’ Designer
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Imagine my delight when I meet with the designer of my favorite new accessory, the Tiffany T bracelet, for an intimate lunch in Dubai. Her name is Francesca Amfitheatrof and she is visiting our lovely city from her home in New York, where she has just moved from London for her role as the new Design Director of legendary jewelry company Tiffany and Co. She also happens to be the most talked-about jewelry designer in the world at the moment.

I walk into La Petite Maison on a Wednesday; it’s around noon and it’s bustling with both movement and hoards of people. Amongst the crowd, I notice a supremely elegant woman who I recognize from the photos in Savoir Flair’s more formal interview last month (interestingly, she looks even more like Audrey Hepburn in the flesh). I sit down for our tête-à-tête and she instantly notices the two Tiffany T bracelets I’m sporting on my right wrist. She looks at them with the fascination of someone who wasn’t responsible for their creation – a trait I can only liken to a wonderful combination of humility and inquisitiveness, which she displays further throughout our lengthy lunch. After a hearty meal of burrata, quinoa salad, and grilled tiger prawns, I turn the voice recorder on…

I have the pleasure of sitting here with the lovely Francesca Amfitheatrof, who is on her first trip to the Middle East for a whirlwind series of events with Tiffany and Co. over the next few days. Fran, what has your reaction to the city been thus far?
[Laughs] We were just talking about this now. I absolutely love it. I really, really love it. I think it is the people that make the place, so you know you can have expectations, but actually I think Dubai is much, much richer and more soulful than I expected. I’ve met some amazing people. We’ve done a lot in four days. We visited as much as we could. I definitely tried to use my time. We’ve seen a lot and I really like it.

You’re the creator of the world’s most covetable ‘It’ item of the moment. Everyone is talking about Tiffany T right now! My feed on Instagram is flooded with photos of people talking about or buying the collection. How does this universal and incredible reaction to your collection make you feel?
You know, it is so exciting. It really is incredibly exciting. The amazing thing is that I wanted to create a collection that really spoke and was global, and that spoke to the modern woman everywhere. I think we are all the same and we are influenced by the same music, the same films, the same culture. The elements of culture that you see here in Dubai are the ones that I see in New York, and that the girl in Rome sees. You know, it is at this point, one world. I think it is this modern global woman that I was really identifying and I think it is so exciting that T is loved and accepted and coveted; it is incredible.

During lunch, you were telling me that that you were inspired by this anonymous New York woman, but at the same time you say there is a universal appeal to this collection. It is incredible to see that one piece of jewelry can be as well-loved in your part of the world, as it is in mine. I previously interviewed Melvyn [Kirtley, Chief Gemologist at Tiffany and Co.] in New York and he shared some amazing insights on the Middle East consumer, who typically prefers bigger, more colorful pieces than something as relatively simple as Tiffany T. And that’s the amazing thing about Tiffany T – it’s quite the opposite of the big, colorful pieces that Arab women usually love, yet it is enormously popular. That universal appeal, I personally think, no one has really achieved that for probably decades.
I think when you try and strive for really great design that has to do with proportion, scale, and weight, then jewelry becomes something that sits on your skin and becomes a part of you. Literally, you mould around the piece of jewelry. It is so important how it feels and how when you fiddle with it and interact with it, how much it gives to you. And I think that T was what we were striving for, which was to create something that seemed effortless but with a great piece of design. And when you have something that is a great piece of design, you don’t know why you love it, but you just do. You love it every day a little bit more. It is not one of those pieces of jewelry that you just love passionately, and then a month or two later, you just have to put it away. What I really wanted to do was for this to become classic and become an icon, because it is just good design. So therefore it is understood universally. It is just one of those things, when something is just the right size and right proportion. It is not overly feminine, but it is not masculine. It is just that balance. You don’t have to be young, you don’t have to be old. It doesn’t matter where you live geographically. It is kind of so elemental, that people get it.

I see you’re wearing the square bracelet in yellow gold, as I am. Is there a particular piece of the collection that you like most?
I love the T bracelet, but I also absolutely love the chains. I find the chains amazing, because again you can detach them, you can wear the thin one as a triple bracelet. You can wear them long and you can wear them separately. Again it was striving for the perfect gold chain that everybody has to have. When you are traveling, you are always going to put it in your bag. Because of course it is your favorite black dress, your favorite jacket, your favorite jeans, your favorite shirt. You just always have to have them. And I really wanted to do a necklace that you could wear in a lot of different ways, because when you have something like this, it has to be able to kind of change and adapt depending on your look and your feeling.

Do you have any interesting stories of meeting your fans in Dubai? Any funny or touching moments?
Something that was really sweet – last night we had our opening party and it was incredible the amount of women who you wouldn’t necessarily consider to be fashion-forward, or trendy, or cool, who were just so in love with this jewelry. It was so adorable that they just wanted to meet me and tell me in the sweetest way possible, some with really quiet little voices, and others just shouting… It really means something for me to see people that I’ve never met loving the jewelry and wearing the jewelry. Also the fact that we allowed everyone to try the pieces on, that was amazing. Usually with jewelry it is under a glass, and you have to overcome a little bit of shyness and ask someone to help you. We had it all out on everybody was playing and trying, and stacking and laughing, taking photos. It was just so lovely to see that.

Anything you noticed in particular about the way women accessorize or dress here?
I think women here have a great understanding of jewelry. It is in the culture. I think it is something that they love, they really love. And then what is interesting is how they reacted to T, and I think this is also to deal with the fact that T is so modern. The way it is based on New York city, but Dubai is also based on New York city. There is energy that has similarities and has parallels. I think women here have a lot of strength in the way that they approach jewelry. They are not shy about it. They really love jewelry. I think it is interesting how they reacted to the fact that they wanted a bit of edge. They want a little bit of coolness and I think they are really kind of open for that. That is fantastic.

I know you visited our traditional gold souks a few days ago. How did you like them?
I loved everything, because mainly the jewelry is 24-karat gold, and I love gold. I love that. I love seeing the power of the color of gold. I also find that there were some really beautiful neckpieces, and some really great long chains. Stunning. I love the scale of the really big dress pieces.

It is almost visually blinding how much gold there is displayed in the vitrines. It literally hurts my eyes at night.
[Laughs] You are going to the stores and then it is like ‘vrooooom’!

You were telling me earlier about your kids and this endearing story about traveling with them in Greece while designing Tiffany T. You showed them the collection’s work in progress, and a year later, they felt a so much pride when they saw the billboards go up all over New York.
Yeah, my kids are amazing. I miss them so much right now as I’ve been on this worldwide tour for several weeks now. I always have a reminder of them with me though; these two strings I am wearing are from them. I am wearing two strings, one from my son and one from my daughter for about three years now. They got them for me from a beach in Italy and they are so thin that I didn’t think they would last for more than a year, but they are still holding strong. It’s just one of those things that you think is good luck, and I am pretty superstitious, so I am never going to cut them off. I even wore them in my professional company portraits when I first joined Tiffany! Jewelry means so much to me and I think it does to so many of us. It doesn’t need to always be precious; it is also about memory and love and emotions.

So you believe in the high-low mix?
I really do. It is like your life. You have things that your grandmother gave you and you have things that you bought on holiday. You have the things that you bought because you love your husband or your boyfriend. Everything has a meaning. That is what is so amazing about jewelry. The power of this tiny little object is so strong. I totally do, absolutely.

Any jewelry faux pas? Any rules to follow? Some people say don’t mix silver and gold. I personally mix it all the time.
No, I just think it is totally subjective on the person. Some women, like you, can carry off a lot of jewelry. Some don’t. Personally, if I wear a necklace, I don’t wear earrings. For me it drowns me, but some women look phenomenal with huge earrings and big necklaces. So it is completely down to you as a person. I tend to wear something that is fluid and linked and hard with something soft. Or I like to mix things that are vertical with things that are horizontal and just play around with proportions.

What do you think about French idea that women shouldn’t wear diamonds before they are 40?
I disagree. I really disagree. I think you should wear diamonds for breakfast. And I don’t think you should worry too much about size either. Never big enough.

[Laughs] Of course you would say that! So you moved to New York for this incredible job and position at Tiffany, which of course has its incredible legacy behind it. How has your first year been thus far?
It’s been really amazing. You know, over lunch you used the word ‘gracious’ about the Tiffany brand and its people, and I think that is such a beautiful word to describe them. Tiffany is a brand that has a lot of graciousness. It’s been an amazing and incredibly exciting year. What is really amazing is how people are within the brand; it is a very nurturing and a great environment to be in and work in. What is amazing is that Tiffany is going through a slight transformation at the moment – it is a real moment of evolution for the brand. It is from the top all the way down, therefore there is this great moment of excitement. So when I arrived I said that I am going to design these two collections, and everybody was so excited and everybody backed me up. It is incredible because in brands of that size, you normally have filters and blocks, and not always do people agree with you. And to have this focus and energy which meant that we were able to launch globally exactly a year later (I’ve been there now a year and two weeks) is just phenomenal. So what is incredible is to have that happen at Tiffany right now means that we are on a journey and everything that is going to happen in the next few years is going to be very exciting. It’s been a huge learning curve because it is a big brand and you need to meet a thousand people. We’ve redecorated the whole studio. We are hiring designers, we are restructuring how we work. It is a very interesting time. It feels great.

Photos and Video: Courtesy of Tiffany & Co.

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