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The Fate Of A 179-Year-Old Jewelry Brand Is In This Woman's Hand
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Police barricades still surrounded Tiffany’s flagship store a month after the presidential election, but the party inside, to celebrate a small collaboration with jewelry designer Eddie Borgo, was going forward. The launch had already been postponed once because of “post-election related activities” outside the store, which sits next door to Trump Tower on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.
Guests mostly entered the side door instead of the main entrance, and security guards were posted in the corners of the room, even though all the jewelry had been removed from the cases, with the exception of seven pieces in the center of the floor. Well-dressed fashion editors and stylists air-kissed and chatted amiably. And in the middle of it all, Tiffany’s design director Francesca Amfitheatrof wore a bright smile as she assumed her role as master of ceremonies.
In theory, this is exactly what the 46-year-old designer was hired to do: reinvigorate the 179-year-old institution with fresh energy. Borgo, an American, has a punky, jagged-edge aesthetic that’s been celebrated by a new generation of in-the-know jewelry buyers. But to fit the simple, yet elegant aesthetic of Tiffany, the designer draped solid gold over bracelets and necklaces that had been fashioned with safety chains, giving them a more fluid quality. “We do something at our studio that’s very specific,” said Borgo. “Tiffany—their audience is large, it’s not a niche brand. There are different things that you’re up against.”
n other words, how do you design jewelry that can appeal to everyone?
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Few people are more familiar with this reality than Amfitheatrof, a part-Italian, part-Russian, Japanese-born, London-bred Renaissance woman who, over a peripatetic career, has designed tabletop accessories for Alessi, developed fragrances for private clients, and, for two decades, created jewelry at Chanel and Fendi under the direction of her mentor, Karl Lagerfeld.
In the three years since she came aboard, Amfitheatrof has given Tiffany a buzz it hasn't had in a very long time. Before the Borgo collection, she partnered with trendsetting Dover Street Market on a 2015 line called “Out of Retirement” that reinterpreted classic Tiffany styles. Celebrities have gravitated toward her as well: At the 2016 Academy Awards, Cate Blanchett wore a pair of Tiffany diamond drop earrings and ring while Reese Witherspoon dazzled in more than $1 million worth of Tiffany jewels. Earlier this year, former Vogue creative director Grace Coddington was brought on to direct the fall catalog, featuring actresses Lupita Nyong’o and Elle Fanning—the first time the brand has used celebrities in a campaign.
Her first collection, simply called T, signaled the new direction. The styles are refined with a subtle nod to the Tiffany name, yet the bracelets, which appear straightforward at first, veer off abruptly at a right angle, creating a T-shape at each end. The ends of the necklaces and earrings form slight smiles, adding a bit of whimsy. The collection is just the sort of simple, glamorous, effortlessly chic, and quintessentially Tiffany accessory.
A Year With Little Sparkle

Beyond the buzz, however, are well-known economic challenges. Tiffany has cut profit forecasts and share prices have fallen. It suffered a failed joint venture with Swiss watchmaker Swatch. Annual sales have hovered at just over $4 billion since 2014, during which times Tiffany's stock has dropped more than 40 percent. In the three years since Amfitheatrof’s appointment, Tiffany has replaced nearly its entire top executive team with a luxury-heavy group: Philippe Galtié, a longtime executive at Cartier; Jennifer de Winter, a retail veteran at Saks Fifth Avenue; and Jean-Marc Bellaiche, a former senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group. Michael Kowalski, Tiffany’s chief executive officer, retired in 2015 and handed the reins to Frederic Cumenal, a straight-talking Frenchman schooled in luxury throughout his career at Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, where he was president and CEO of Moet & Chandon.
The brand’s Asia expansion has struggled like those of just about everyone in the luxury market there, thanks to a strong dollar. More urgent is its decline in the eyes of American consumers. “I don’t think the Tiffany brand is impaired, but product reception is of the utmost importance,” said Simeon Siegel, an analyst at Instinet. “Right now, it’s a work in progress.”

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