Tiffany & Co, one of America’s oldest luxury houses, has a reputation for peddling elegant baubles for the traditional set. Its trademark blue box tends to promise both quality and caution. But Frederic Cumenal, 57, the company’s chief executive since April 2015, is keen to remind shoppers that Tiffany offers more than solitaire engagement rings and sterling silver heart pendants. “We’ve always been interested in working with young, emerging talent,” he said in the wood-panelled library on Tiffany’s executive floor. “Warhol, Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, when we were partnering with them they were still edgy artists.”
“Edgy” may not be the first word that comes to mind to describe a jeweller that still uses pictures of willowy brides to sell its bling. But beneath a rather stern oil portrait of Charles Lewis Tiffany, who founded the company in 1837, the Bordeaux-born executive insists that creative irreverence is at the heart of Tiffany’s DNA. Given the many changes he has overseen since joining the company in 2011, from hiring Francesca Amfitheatrof, a modernist jewellery designer with a playful streak, as its first female design director, to launching the brand’s first campaign on the social-media site Snapchat, Cumenal is plainly eager to update the retailer’s fusty image. “Not taking things so seriously has been a big part of the history of Tiffany,” he explained. “My ambition is to bring back this wit and spirit.”
Cumenal’s view that Tiffany’s storied past offers a roadmap for its future has been handily bolstered by the success of its “Out of Retirement” collection. Launched in late 2015, this suite of 18 items refashioned from the company’s archives feels timelessly cool. Several 18k rings inspired by styles from the early 1970s are now arresting geometric statements for both men and women. A wry money clip in the shape of a dollar sign, based on a design from 1942, is now a bestseller. A stunning bracelet of interlocking 18k gold and rosewood bangles reimagines a 1975 piece made with macassar ebony. (Making this bracelet proved especially tricky, but Amfitheatrof became devoted to the task after growing attached the prototype.) The collection was initially sold exclusively at Dover Street Market, a too-cool-for-school retailer with storefronts in London, Tokyo and New York. But its tremendous popularity has meant these pieces can now be bought online and in several Tiffany shops, including the flagship on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Tiffany also plans to add several more items to the collection, including more options in silver.
The company’s partnership with Dover Street Market developed organically, but it appealed to Cumenal as a way to reach a younger, hipper clientele. He admits it has been challenging to repackage Tiffany for younger buyers, as they don’t see the multi-page spreads in glossy magazines and “their attention span is three seconds.” By getting Tiffany products where they shop – and by experimenting with social media and sponsoring the next three Whitney Biennials in New York – the brand hopes to establish connections that will repay over time. The market for wedding-related jewellery may be flat in most Western countries, but self-made purchases offer a “real opportunity for growth”, Cumenal predicts. Rising global anxiety may be grim, but it does not depress a man who believes he is selling objects of enduring beauty. “The more uncertain the world is, the more I can make the case for the need for what is essential for the soul, for the spirit,” Cumenal says.