Our Editor-in-Chief, Haleh Nia interviews Tiffany & Co. Design Director Francesca Amfitheatrof on the inspiration for her debut Blue Book.
“Water has endless permutations. Never still, never the same, it is nature’s most changeable element, able to shift shade and form, movement and mood in a matter of moments”, reads the description for the 2015 Blue Book by Tiffany, which was designed in its entirety for the first time by a woman, Design Director Francesca Amfitheatrof, who turned to the seas and oceans for inspiration for her debut Blue Book.
During a trip to New York to preview the collection ahead of its launch, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amfitheatrof in her personal office in the Tiffany design studio, which she has entirely redesigned in the last several months. It is one of many positive changes she has made during her short time at the storied brand, which has she completely revitalized and modernized during her tenure thus far.
Below, she reveals her design process, her inspirations, and what it’s like to be a successful working woman in today’s world.
Francesca, it is my third time interviewing you this year, and each time I am more convinced of your incredible aura and magnetism. I was watching you yesterday at the Blue Book launch and everyone was flocking to you as if you had some gravitational pull. It is remarkable what you are doing with Tiffany and how you’ve revitalized fine jewelry.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Haleh. It’s always a pleasure seeing you. I’m thrilled we could have you with us here in New York.
Tell me about the 2015 Blue Book, Francesca. What was the process like of creating it for the first time?
Well, it was very interesting for me, because I approached it like “What is the Blue Book, how do you do this?” I sort of thought to myself “Well, I have to make a book, so I have to make 100 pieces so that I have the book and that I understand the parameters around it.” It is a very different process from designing a fashion collection. Blue Book is this incredibly rarefied world where you have over a year and a half to create it. It’s an incredible possibility. There are no boundaries. There is no one that says “No, we won’t make it. It is too much money. It is too difficult. It is impossible.” So you can go pretty much everywhere; you have very few constraints.
[On how she designed it] I like to start with a theme, with a concept. I like to start with a story. I like to completely immerse myself in that and so I really thought that after the ‘T’ collection, I really wanted to work with something that had a lot of breadth and sort of nature, and water was just perfect. And I find that there is no better way to really try and capture the energy of the sea than through gemstones. And so we literally locked ourselves in here [Francesca’s office and studio, where we are conducting our interview] and we spent two weeks working flat out and it was quite amazing for me and the design team because I had just arrived at the company (and I had pretty much sketched out the ‘T’ collection before I got here), so I got to know the team a little bit, and they got to know me, because we hadn’t really sat and designed together from scratch. So we did that. We went at it and we pretty much did the whole book and then laid it out, page by page. We invited everybody in, all the executive team, and we went “Here you go.”
And this is the place that it happened.
Yes, and interestingly enough, it [designs for the book] didn’t change. Those designs are Blue Book. We pretty much did it in two weeks. And of course you know we started to source the stones, and amazing stones arrived. And of course you design around the stones, some other pieces, some other colored diamonds. They don’t need all that fussiness sometimes. They don’t need that much around them, you just need to set them beautifully. But pretty much it just kind of came really from the gut.
So you and your team were pretty much sleeping over here at night, camping out?
We were camping out. There was food and music, and it was a mess. It was a great mess.
We were camping out. There was food and music, and it was a mess. It was a great mess.
Is there a particular moment that stands out with your team?
I think when we did the underwater garden, that was a great moment. I wasn’t so sure. You know when you challenge your own taste, you ask yourself, “Is that going to be good? Are we going to like this? How are we going to make it and is it going to work? Is it going to work structurally?” There are a lot of different directions in this Blue Book. There are a lot of possibilities; there are a lot of great conversations that one could continue. So when things flow, it’s always a wonderful experience, and I think the underwater garden part was memorable because I was challenged by it.
You mentioned to me yesterday that you immersed yourself so much in the process of designing Blue Book that you actually went undersea, right?
Yes, I’d been diving before too. I dove in Madagascar years ago and the underwater garden is a memory of that, of seeing the coral reefs and seeing this world that down there, totally surprises you. You think something is going to be squidgy, but then you touch it and it’s hard. Everything is not as it appears. And again it challenges your perception which I found just incredible and also, I realized the most beautiful paintings, the most beautiful tapestries, the great beauty that man recreates, it is all there. It is just phenomenal.
So we saw the exquisite collection yesterday after our Breakfast at Tiffany experience, and I am certain you can’t decide on a favorite, but if you had to select one piece, what would it be?
So I had a ring on last night, which you didn’t see.
You were up on stage so I couldn’t see it, but that necklace you were wearing was just breathtaking.
The necklace I love, obviously, and the idea came from this pocketwatch at the turn of the century, which is just incredible. And we obviously changed it quite a bit. The ring that I had on at the top had this incredible set of green tourmalines that anybody else would make a pair of earrings out of, but instead I set them back to back. This is definitely one of my favorites. The wave cuffs, I pretty much love. It is difficult choosing one. I have a lot of mixed emotions today because pieces are selling and people are fighting over them and I am super happy, but I am also a little bit apprehensive about it.
Well, you have been working towards this day for over a year and a half. It must feel incredible to have this strong response from all the press and your clients.
It is amazing. I can’t even tell you. You live in this bubble; you literally are talking to yourself quite a lot of the time, and to be able to finally show it to everyone and to see people’s reactions is just incredible. I don’t know what you expected. Blue Book has stayed on the same path for quite a lot of time. And suddenly I opened a window to a new world. It’s quite bold as well. It is not for the faint-hearted. I definitely design things for strong women with quite a lot of strength in them. I think it is exciting to see that everyone’s reception has been so wonderful. Because it was quite unexpected.
I hear you had free reign over these designs. It is quite a broad base of trends, but if you were to select one or two emerging trends in fine jewelry in the coming year, what would they be?
I think the biggest trend is to make jewelry at that level feel young. I think with a lot of couture jewelry or statement jewelry, there are pieces that you could have from your grandmother, but you sometimes put them on and you think, you don’t feel like yourself. You sort of feel like you have someone else’s piece from another period. What I really like about this collection is that you still really feel like yourself when you are wearing it. It doesn’t hold to you – you still feel that you’re very comfortable in your own being. And I think that is important.
What I really like about this collection is that you still really feel like yourself when you are wearing it.
What is the symbolism of the Blue Book for a storied house like Tiffany, and how do you feel being the first woman in history to design it?
It is amazing and it is really quite phenomenal. I think I totally owned it and was sort of floored by it. It has been in existence since 1845, so it is incredible. So many people wait for this little book to suddenly arrive in their homes and I think it is going to be really interesting to see. Even people who don’t come and buy anything in our stores, but just love seeing what is in the Blue Books.
I showed it to my kids this morning and they were so proud of me. My daughter of course wants the pink diamond, and so I feel completely honored. It is also incredible for the brand and it is a massive group advert. You can imagine from the artisans to the whole production team to the stonecutters and gemologists, for everybody to rally around and say ‘Let’s do it, let’s just go.’ It is phenomenal. It is phenomenal to have that freedom and it is phenomenal to live in this world where everything is possible, and you can challenge everything. It’s been an amazing journey.
Everyone is looking for you to lead the pack of successful working women. Do you ever feel there is any level of undue pressure on you to pave the way for other women, having been the first-ever female Design Director at a company as large and well-known as Tiffany?
[Laughs] I try not to think about it that way, to tell you the truth. It is like when people tell me the numbers [sales figures] here at Tiffany, I try not to think about them, because then I get a little bit spooked out. The other day I was walking out the gym, and I bumped into the woman who headhunted me for this job. We went for lunch together and she sat down and she said ‘You know Francesca, I have to tell you this. I knew that you were right for this job, but now I am just convinced.’ I said ‘Oh great, but why are you saying this?’ She said, “Because you haven’t changed.” I said “I can’t change now, I am a bit too old to change.” “No, no Francesca”, she said, “you haven’t changed at all.” And I thought it was so interesting because of course, I don’t realize, I am just me, and I just go about my own thing and I am probably always striving for things to change and we are all sort of on this journey together here at Tiffany. So I don’t look at it that way, but when people tell me it does sort of surprise me.
Last night I sat at dinner next to this actress, Olivia Wilde, and she bought the house I used to lived in, and she said “Oh, I think I bought your house, because I keep receiving your mail. And I can really tell what kind of person you are from living in your house. When I first came to visit the house, I just knew I wanted to live in it, because I really admire you and what you have done with it.” There are all sorts of things like this that I never think about, because I am just too busy getting on with things. It’s a lovely compliment, and I am super happy.
Photos: Courtesy of Tiffany & Co.