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Celebrating Francesca Amfitheatrof, Tiffany’s Latest Triumph

We spoke to Tiffany & Co.'s first female design director about bringing change to such a large and established company.

Staring down at a strategic arrangement of two Tiffany & Co. hinged cuffs and a chain bracelet, a bizarre image pops into my head. Although the three pieces aren’t physically connected, I’m almost sure they’re intended to be a designer pair of handcuffs, set in sterling silver. But I’m at a Tiffany T opening night celebration, an intimate yet impressive fête at a Chelsea gallery space for the brand’s latest line. Tiffany? Handcuffs? Is my imagination running wild?

“No. Definitely not,” Francesca Amfitheatrof, Tiffany & Co.’s first female design director, assures me. “I found out [Harry] Houdini was one of the great clients of Charles Lewis Tiffany. [They] were very close. And I thought, we’ve got to make handcuffs. They’re in our history.”

Amfitheatrof, who started at the 177-year-old house in September 2013, is a tour de force: a clever, captivating artist and silversmith who’s designed jewelry and accessories for Alessi, Chanel and Fendi. “What’s funny about Tiffany is that you always think it’s a very sort of classic, proper company. And it is, but at the same time, it’s had this kind of artistic, crazy, irreverent side,” she enthuses, her tone becoming more affectionate. “It’s got to come back. We’ve got to bring it out.”

On Thursday night, at an event to celebrate Tiffany's new "T" line of 18-karat gold and sterling silver jewelry, a new kind of energy was in the air. Music, spun by DJ-of-the-moment Harley Viera-Newton, blared. Guests, including Olivia Palermo, Coco Rocha, Karlie Kloss and Eva Chen, took pictures on their mobile phones, showing off Tiffany T bracelets and rings. If they hashtagged #MyTiffanyT, they’d find a neat little printout at a nearby photobooth. Inside a white Tiffany train, situated in the center of the open, high-ceilinged space, an engraver was hard at work, the latest pieces of the collection on display. Outside, Michael Geier, better known as Puddles Pity Party, crooned his covers of “Dancing Queen” and “Chandelier,” his baritone voice a complement to his towering, operatic presence. It wasn’t your average Tiffany party.

At the world's premier luxury jeweler, Francesca Amfitheatrof finds that she has much creative freedom, an independence that allows her to bring that artistic irreverence back to life. “You can go to very big brands and you can say, ‘I’m going to change things, I’m going to do things,’ but you don’t have the support. I had the support from day one,” she tells me.

Earlier in the day, I visited the Tiffany & Co. flagship store on Fifth Avenue, where many Tiffany T pieces are currently on display, a few campaign ads strategically hanging in the elevators. One of the saleswomen I talked to told me that the designs have been well received. Another showed me that the thinner gold wire bracelets are malleable, memorizing the shape of your wrist.

“The thing with this collection,” Amfitheatrof says, “is that it has a lot of engineering behind it. The [Tiffany T] collection appears effortless. But behind it there’s an amazing amount of discovery through engineering possibilities. Only a company like Tiffany could do that.”

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Still, it’s Amfitheatrof who lays the blueprints, unique designs and energetic shapes plucked from her own dreams. “Tiffany is a big brand,” she confirms. “It took me three months just to learn the size of it, just to start to touch the edges of it.” Yet she is already having an impact on its vocabulary. “I sort of hit the ground running. So from day one, I arrived with this [Tiffany T] collection and everybody said, ‘Great, we’re going to start, and we’re going to do this.’”

One of her fans is the multifaceted Karlie Kloss, who arrives 20 minutes after Amfitheatrof. Before we discuss Tiffany, I want to learn about Kloss’s most personal piece of jewelry. I show her two Cruciani bracelets on my left wrist, explaining that I don’t particularly like them — aesthetically, that is. They’re frayed. They never go with anything I wear. But they have meaning. Like charms. With positive associations.

“Yeah,” she says, catching my drift. “My mom and dad bought me these beautiful diamond studs for my 16th birthday. Every girl wants the perfect pair of diamond studs. They were [designed by] nobody special. They’re very coming-of-age, classic things, things that I’ll have forever,” she explains. “I wear them all the time.”

Kloss, 22, tells me that she has three sisters. “Plus my mom and myself, so five girls in one household,” she adds. Just from our brief meeting, she makes it clear that the Kloss women are lucky girls. “Every birthday, every Christmas, every Val...” — she balances scales — “every birthday for my entire life my dad supplies us with a little blue box.”

Instead of asking what’s inside, I’m curious how old she was when she first remembered the image of the blue box.

“I was five,” she says, without hesitation. She goes on to explain the ritual of receiving the gifts. “I mean that white ribbon, a little bow...” her declarative description ringing over the blaring lyrics of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.” “I love all things in a little blue box,” she rhapsodizes.

Once the event is over, I check her Instagram. Her latest photograph, a shot of her forearm framed by Tiffany & Co. scrim, shows her wearing four of Amfitheatrof’s new Tiffany T designs. The caption reads: “There’s nothing quite like a blue box.”

Was Kloss paid to be at the Tiffany event? Probably. But the less cynical side of me couldn't help but marvel that after 177 years in business, Tiffany & Co. still has the power to excite one of the most beautiful, fashion-conscious women in the world.