It's difficult to meet the doe-eyed, effortlessly stylish Francesca Amfitheatrof without hating her, just a little. Not only is the 46-year-old the design director of arguably the world's best known jewellery brand, she is on track for adding sex appeal to a rarefied house - her minimalist first collection for Tiffany & Co is set to be a commercial hit, thanks to her ability to strike a fine balance between being on-trend and timeless.
Named Tiffany T, the collection is a riff on the stark lines of the letter - not unlike the initial "H" that has marked some iconic designs from Hermes. Taking the design inspiration further, the British-born Ms Amfitheatrof has translated the letter "T" into minimalist, sleek creations that could easily be assimilated into any woman's wardrobe.
"My criteria for the first collection was that it had to be about a new beginning," articulates the jeweller and trained silversmith. "It has to feel kind of contemporary, modern, like things have changed. Choosing the letter T, it's quite obvious. It's always been there. It's a classic, but it's also new."
Demonstrating how each link in a chain swivels in all directions without catching, how a statement cuff easily clicks on and off a wrist, or how to seamlessly stack rings to create a new look, it is evident that the collection is tailored for the contemporary dresser who craves easy, functional style. In other words, it's a collection made for women, by a woman.
"When I first started at Tiffany, I didn't realise I was the first design director to be a woman," says Ms Amfitheatrof.
"Women now buy their own jewellery. Unless we're talking diamonds and more expensive and more important pieces - we still are very happy if men bought them. But I think women now approach jewellery as accessories, in fashion terms. I think it's very important that I design also for me, I design for my friends, also I design for the people around me."
But as much as she seems the right fit for the New York company, the road leading to Tiffany was meandering, to say the least. Prior to joining the company last year, the Central Saint Martins and Royal College of Art graduate had designed jewellery collections for Chanel, Fendi and Alice Temperley; jewellery and accessories for Marni; jewellery and silverware for Asprey & Garrard; and a men's collection for Kauffman Stanley in Switzerland.
Apart from bling, her tabletop designs and gifts have been featured by Alessi Italy, and she has designed furniture and lighting for interior designer Muriel Brandolini. She has even developed fragrances for private clients and The Claridge's in London, and served as an art consultant and curator for major collections, museums and private individuals, including a group show in Seoul, Korea with works by Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and Cindy Sherman.
"I remember when I was at Central Saint Martins, in my last year, I had to go and see a career specialist," recalls the high fashion aficionado, who cites Haider Ackermann, Preen and Calvin Klein Collection as some of her go-to labels. "And I remember saying, 'I want to do this, I want to do that, I want to do this and that,' and he said, 'that's too many things. You have to choose one thing in life.' I was like, 'okay, I want to work for Tiffany'. And the funny thing is, I have done all those things, and I work for Tiffany, so the career specialist was wrong."
Having worked for such a broad array of clients from an even wider range of industries has also provided Ms Amfitheatrof with the ability to oversee all aspects of the business, from creating the jewellery to curating store display and advertising visuals.
In future, she would also be helming the various categories such as men's jewellery, leathergoods or even fragrances. Her two decades in the design and art business has also led her to take a pragmatic view towards acceptance of her work.
"When it comes to working for a brand like Tiffany that everybody loves and everybody has an opinion about, I don't want to feel like I have to satisfy everyone," reveals the heels-wearing aesthete, who nevertheless reveals a weakness for Chanel's Spring/Summer 2014 sneakers. "I prefer that people either love it or hate it, but at least they talk about it. You want to polarise a room, you don't want everybody to say it's fantastic because then the next day they're bored, they want to move on."
If this debut line serves as a gauge, it's likely that Tiffany fans are going to stick around for some time yet.
This article was first published on August 16, 2014.
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