NEW YORK — On a crisp fall day, Stephen Burlingham wanders casually through the Metropolitan Museum’s sunlit American Wing. As other visitors admire the sculptures, take photographs and even sit on benches knitting, he continues to stare straight ahead at an exact replica loggia of the estate that once belonged to his great-grandfather, Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The tall and stately columns are diminished only by the enormous Tiffany glass windows, for which his great-grandfather was renowned, depicting dogwoods in bloom and cascading rivers. “This is the house my grandmother summered in,” Burlingham says, referring to the original Oyster Bay, N.Y., manse, called Laurelton Hall. “Poor thing.”
Since last week, antiquities and objets d’art from Tiffany’s home, which burned down in 1905, have been displayed here, including the famed “Four Seasons Under the Sea” window series. But the exhibit — “Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall — An Artist’s Country Estate,” which runs until May 20 — will not be one that causes Burlingham to recapture misty memories. He only visited the estate once or twice as a child, he says, and has no recollection of his stays.
Instead, he was raised in England by his parents, Robert Burlingham Jr. and Mossik Sorenson. There, the family maintained a close relationship with Sigmund and Anna Freud, whom Burlingham’s grandmother, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, initially befriended in Vienna before the Nazi occupation. “My grandmother was a rich American heiress who went to Vienna to find out about the internal workings of the mind,” he says of Dorothy. “She shed all her trappings of wealth to pursue a life of other depths. That was the environment I grew up in. I have a great appreciation for things visual and tactile, but I’m also looking for the internal emotional connection.”
In his late teens, Burlingham moved back to the U.S. and went on to study under sculptor Dorothea Greenbaum, where he honed his skills as an artist. Meanwhile, his grandmother sold her share of Tiffany & Co., which was founded by Burlingham’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Tiffany, severing her side of the family’s ties to the jewelry empire. Yet Burlingham’s skills seem to fall perfectly in line with the Tiffany aesthetic of sculpture and beauty. “There were times when I tried to begin a relationship with the company,” Burlingham admits, “but for one reason or another it never evolved.” (Ironically, he did once design jewelry for Cartier.)
This story first appeared in the November 30, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Now, the dapper gentleman, who will reveal his age only as “old enough to know better” (public record shows he’s 57), runs his own growing fragrance business — the first scent, called Truly, was released in 2004. “This is my reference to my jewelry side of the family,” he says, fingering Truly’s faceted emerald green glass bottle that resembles a finely crafted gemstone.
“Initially I didn’t think the world needed another fragrance,” he says. “Then I looked around and found that most fragrances didn’t attract me to women. They actually acted as a barrier. So I thought I could create something for myself that drew me to a woman.” Now the scent is carried in Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York and Takashimaya and in the U.K. at Harrods and Selfridges. In the next three years he hopes to follow with two more scents, Madly and Deeply.
“The trilogy is about the emotional response of attraction. You choose your emotion as it were,” Burlingham says. “The question is: How do you want to be loved?”