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NEW YORK — Tiffany, meet Francesca.
This story first appeared in the September 10, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
British jewelry designer Francesca Amfitheatrof has been named design director of Tiffany & Co. The job had been vacant since celebrated design director John Loring retired from the post, which he held from 1979 to 2009. Loring became design director emeritus following his departure, and will retain that title. Amfitheatrof, who will oversee a team of 23 people, will report to executive vice president Jon King, who oversees design.
In an exclusive interview, Tiffany chairman and chief executive officer Michael Kowalski told WWD: “If you look at our history, there have been times when design has been directed by people who have a public presence and also times when that’s not the case. As we’ve expanded globally, we thought this was the right time to bring on Francesca.”
The ceo said his company had “seriously” been on the lookout for someone to fill Loring’s shoes for about a year. Although the jeweler never worked with Amfitheatrof before, Kowalski said he was impressed by her résumé, which includes designing collections for Chanel, Fendi and Marni, as well as for private clients.
Amfitheatrof, whose wares have sold at Colette in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, most recently served as founding partner of RS&A, a London-based firm representing contemporary artists. What drew Tiffany to Amfitheatrof was her training as a jewelry designer and silversmith, the ceo said, referring to the importance of silver to the brand’s entry-priced fashion collections, which range from $200 to a few thousand dollars.
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In addition to strong craftsmanship, Kowalski highlighted Amfitheatrof’s global experience and ability to design for a wide range of categories, from jewelry and eyewear to home and handbags.
Amfitheatrof’s clean, yet modern aesthetic will likely infuse a more fashion-forward look into the jeweler’s collections, which is a primary focus for the brand going forward.
Although in its most recent quarter the retailer posted better-than-expected second-quarter earnings that rose 16.3 percent to $106.8 million, Tiffany called out the need to improve its fashion jewelry collection. With the bulk of its growth coming from Asia — specifically Greater China — as well as its fine and statement jewelry lines, Kowalski noted that the brand must concentrate on strengthening its U.S. business and lower-priced pieces. That’s where Amfitheatrof will play the most immediate role.
“Since 2007, 2008, our statement sales, higher-price-point sales have done just fine,” Kowalski said. “The pressure that we’ve felt has come from the lower price point and that’s come from the customer, who has felt pressure…higher unemployment and a lack of consumer confidence. This has been exacerbated by the increased cost of gold and silver.”
The ceo said the luxury space had “benefited” from an economic “tailwind” prior to the downturn, but now, in order to “grow,” Tiffany must expand its “product innovation and new marketing.”
The jeweler, which uses mainly silver and platinum, set out on that path when it introduced Rubedo, a recently developed copper-centric alloy. But the brand isn’t moving downscale; in fact, it’s planning on moving up prices and infusing more gold into its pieces.
Although Amfitheatrof’s first real influence on a collection won’t likely be seen until next year, the brand said the designer, who began working from the New York headquarters on Thursday, will have input on strategy moving forward, even though her primary focus is product.
“We all want things to happen as soon as possible,” Amfitheatrof said. “Everyone is very keen for a chapter to open up…for brand new collections…and new lines from existing collections.”
At first blush Amfitheatrof’s past creations — which include an elasticated sterling silver necklace that looks a bit like a delicate string of mini slinkies and a bracelet she created for Chanel made of a sterling silver perforated disk with an onyx bead atop an elastic band — may not fit the Tiffany mold. But the designer said of all the brands she’s ever worked with, Tiffany “feels closer” to her “personal style.”
“The synergy between my design aesthetic and Tiffany’s is that we have a certain clarity and likeness, a certain purity that I have in my work,” she said. “Of course, Tiffany has some very well-known existing lines that are part of their DNA that I would like to work on.…That’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to start new collections.”
The designer said she hopes to “challenge the Tiffany customer” by mixing materials such as gold and silver with white enamel and wood.
“I want to really surprise people,” she said, noting that she’s already drawn inspiration from Tiffany’s post-World War II collections. “I’d love to bring in the fashion-conscious consumer. We want to be leaders and we want customers to follow us.”
With that in mind, Amfitheatrof hopes to revamp Tiffany’s somewhat conservative handbag line, as well as shake up its eyewear collection, which is produced by Luxottica Group, and its tabletop business. The designer, who helped launch eyewear for Marni, underlined that she isn’t abandoning Tiffany’s heritage, which is known for its classic, high-end, gem-encrusted jewelry.
“I don’t have a snobbishness to materials. I love designing for the high end as much as I do the lower end. I love wearing the stuff together,” Amfitheatrof said. “Having said that, I have no problem wearing diamonds for breakfast.”