Sense and sensibility

In the 1961 film, Breakfast At Tiffany's, Audrey Hepburn's character Holly Golightly memorably seeks refuge at Tiffany & Co. whenever she needs cheering up.

More than 50 years later, another raven-haired woman with bold brows looks set to make an impression with the New York-based jewellery brand.

She is the brand's newly appointed design director Francesca Amfitheatrof. The first woman to take up the post in its 177-year-long history, she replaced Mr John Loring, who retired from the position in 2009 after 30 years. As design director, she oversees all facets of design for the brand and supervises a team of 20 designers.

The first collection designed by Ms Amfitheatrof will hit stores here on Monday. Named Tiffany T, it takes its cue from the brand's roots in the city of New York. The simple motif is visible in the collection, appearing on everything, from bracelets to rings.

"I really wanted to create a collection that had a sense of modernity," says the 46-year-old who was here in July to promote the line. She has been with Tiffany since last September.

"It's very much about effortlessness because I feel our lives are so full today and we need pieces of jewellery that are so easy that you wear everyday.

"To me, the T is square, tall and graphic like New York's gridlike layout. It has the elegance of the city that New York women have," she notes.

The light and modern pieces, which will be rolled out over the next few months, range in design from a curved T-shaped smile pendant to a silver cuff inspired by a man's shirt cuff. Pieces, such as the thin T bracelet, lend themselves well to mixing and stacking. Prices start from $800 for a sterling silver ring and go up to $145,500 for an 18K gold necklace embellished with citrine, turquoise and diamond.

UNIQUE BACKGROUND

Ms Amfitheatrof, who was born in Tokyo and has lived in Rome, Moscow, New York and London, trained as a jeweller and silversmith at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art in London.

Over the course of her 20-plus-year career, she has been commissioned to design jewellery for fashion heavyweights such as Chanel, Fendi, Alice Temperley and Marni, both as an independent designer and as part of the label's in-house team.

"Fashion is so important because it's a reflection of what's happening globally and of people's moods and emotions," she says, on how fashion influences her designs. "If you're designing beautiful jewellery but it's not relevant to people today, you're living in your own bubble."

She has even lent her skills to design silverware and furniture for brands such as Asprey, Alessi, Wedgwood and Muriel Brandolini.

She credits her ability to rise to a challenge as the reason she was approached to design in areas other than jewellery.

When she was designing the jewellery for Chanel and Fendi at the same time, Karl Lagerfeld's right-hand man at Chanel kept asking her: "Are you sure you can do this, Francesca? If not, just pull out of Fendi and do Chanel. This is too important."

Lagerfeld is Chanel's head designer and creative director, and Fendi's creative director of fur and ready-to-wear.

But Ms Amfitheatrof fulfilled her design duties for both the luxury labels. She says serenely, with a smile: "I've never been of the mind that if you hadn't trained in it, you couldn't do it. I think as long as you're doing something creative, you can approach anything."

3-D DESIGNER

Her experiences in other fields - such as tableware and furniture - have left an architectural imprint on her jewellery design aesthetic, and she describes herself as more of a 3-D designer than a 2-D one, for sure.

"You know how fashion designers can sketch beautifully draped clothes? I sketch it and it looks like it's made out of cement," she jokes, adding that the engineering and "how" of creation fascinate her as well.

But jewellery is her first love, and she gets to indulge it fully in her new role at Tiffany & Co.

"I love the properties of metal and its possibilities," she says, pointing out an elastic gold cuff in the collection that looks solid but flexes surprisingly easily. "You can make anything out of it."

Adds Ms Amphitheatrof, of the brand's plans going forward: "The overall sensibility of Tiffany will stay the same but there's going to be a fresh evolution. I don't think it's about dramatic change but it's definitely going to be a journey."

llim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sept 12, 2014.
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