As the creative director of Tommy Hilfiger in the 1990s and then of Coach, which he transformed into a luxury brand, Reed Krakoff has long been a shaper of American design. So it seemed right that he landed at the all-American jeweller, Tiffany & Co, as its first chief artistic officer. Since 2017, under his eye, things have really been happening at the brand. He’s reinvigorated fine jewellery, launched a men’s collection, recreated the opening scenes of Breakfast at Tiffany’s with the actor Elle Fanning wearing a hoodie, and is currently redesigning the most famous flagship store in the world. Last month, with the brand freshly acquired by LVMH in a $16bn deal, he unveiled T1, a new evolution of the Tiffany T motif that has featured in the jeweller’s collections since the 1980s.
In rooms above London’s Old Bond Street store, Krakoff, 56, is all informality, in speech and style – dressed in a weather-appropriate waxed jacket. It’s an attitude that suits the new collection, which he describes as “irreverent”. As I get my hands on the goods (momentarily, alas), it’s clear why. Diamonds and 18ct rose gold? On paper it sounds too feminine to be true, but these nine pieces, plus a high-jewellery choker (and additional designs in yellow and white gold to follow this summer), pack a punch. “One of the biggest challenges for this collection was to create something that was a bit edgier for the concept,” says Krakoff. “Taking that rose-gold material and rendering it into something bolder and more graphic was an interesting way of interpreting it.”
Whereas previous incarnations of the collection, which first appeared under John Loring, design director from 1979 to 2009, have used two facing T motifs, Krakoff has refined it into a single looping T. And everything – rings, bangles and the wowzer diamond choker that Charlize Theron debuted at the Baftas – features a bevelled knife-edge profile, which lends a certain cocksure street attitude. For full impact, I recommend trying on all of it at once.
In the inner suite, Krakoff hands me the necklace that Theron wore. It’s a beauty: it weighs 14 total carats and features more than 240 hand-set diamonds. “We’ve just finished it,” says Krakoff. “It was straight off the jeweller’s press in New York.” Each one of the baguette diamonds is custom cut. “To create this kind of setting takes really amazing craftspeople. For it to be as soft as it is and to follow that curve so that it hugs the body is something that’s difficult to do.”
The T collection hasn’t traditionally featured high jewellery such as this, but it’s testament to the way Krakoff can operate as the artistic director of the whole brand (“sometimes I’m just orchestrating, sometimes I’m sitting down with a pen, sketching”), rather than, say, only designing the jewellery. “We were working on the campaign and I wished we had a diamond choker in it, so we went back to design,” he says. “What we’re trying to say is that bold, graphic, everyday luxury is something we want. And if we want to communicate that, we can go back and make it.”
Even the most extraordinary pieces can be worn casually, Krakoff says. Theron’s choker could as easily be worn with a sweater, jeans and trainers as with red-carpet attire. “Jewellery is not just ‘put it in the jewellery box and take it out’ or ‘put it in a safe and take it out occasionally,’” he adds. “People don’t dress that way any more; it’s not so occasion-based. It’s much more about the things they love, they wear. And that’s very much tied to this idea of American luxury that Tiffany embodies.”
That number “1” in the collection’s new name is a significant addition. Any notion of a fiancée meekly accepting that famous blue box is banished here. Instead, T1 reflects how the acquiring of jewellery – and indeed the acquirer – has changed in recent years. “It’s about the idea of purchasing something for yourself,” says Krakoff. “The ‘1’ relates to the first T motif found in the archive in the 1980s, but it also relates to the idea that you are ‘the one’. And that is a major trend.”
Krakoff, who was born into a wealthy family in Weston, Connecticut, and studied at Parsons School of Design, grew up “in house where design was important”. He has memories of being a child in the Tiffany store on Fifth Avenue. “I remember knowing instinctively that there was something special and magical about that store,” he says. “I long wanted to be part of it.”
When he got there, he spent a lot of time in the archive, looking at The Blue Book – first published in 1845 as a catalogue for customers and now an annual collection highlighting rare gems and craftsmanship. “I looked at every single one,” he says. “I spent time in the marketing archive, with products, everything, just to kind of absorb what it was. And then you put it away. You have it somewhere in there, but you can’t follow that. You have to kind of take it as a jumping-off point, but that’s what’s exciting. Nothing comes back the same way twice.”
Krakoff, who says “Work is life and life is work”, is almost as well known for his houses and interiors projects as for the brands he’s worked for. He and his wife, Delphine, with whom he has four children, live in Manhattan and have renovated properties including a New York townhouse, a house in Palm Beach, and Lasata, Jackie Kennedy’s childhood summer home in East Hampton, filled with art and significant furniture and featured in many magazines over the years. His redesign of the flagship Tiffany store in New York, due to be revealed next year, will be interesting territory.
He’s conscious of being a custodian of memories. “Everyone who’s ever visited has a feeling about the store, but it’s less about what it looks like; it’s more about how it feels,” he says. “How you capture that is exactly the question. It’s tricky because if you ask people what colour the carpet or the walls were, they might remember – but probably not. They remember the entire experience. It’s imbued with so much emotion. And it’s a bit nebulous, but that’s something we’ve been working on for a few years now... how to capture that magic?”
Sounds like he’s caught it – to a T.