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As deeply etched in the American psyche as Central park and New York City itself, Tiffany is a chic reminder of the best of the American Dream.

Audrey Hepburn, a vision in state-of-his-art Givenchy, pearls and wraparound sunglasses, steps out of a New York taxi into the early dawn light of Fifth Avenue. Nibbling genteelly on her croissant and sipping her morning coffee, she looks beyond her reflection deep into the magnificent window displays of a grand store. This was Breakfast at Tiffany, one of American cinema's most enduring moments - a tableau that was a picture-perfect study in style and elegance.

For Holly Golightly, Truman Capote's enduring anti-heroine, it was the only way to cure the 'mean reds' a devastating form of sadness that could only be dispelled by a trip to Tiffany & Co. "It calms me down right away, the quietness and proud look of it...nothing bad could ever happen to you there", mused the oft-pixilated gamine in haute couture in Capote's masterful novella on the foibles of New York society. Bewitching as she still is, in this tale of her adventures and eccentricities, all roads and byways inevitably lead back to Tiffany, etching it forever in the American psyche.

For Tiffany's is not only a jeweller par excellence but as important a national icon, perhaps as the Empire State Building. Tiffany's exists in the American imagination as a symbol of luxury and wealth, synonymous with impeccable taste and exuding an aura of stately grace and sophistication. Everyone at one time or another, has wanted to browse at least, through Tiffany.

Tiffany & Co. is jeweller to presidents and princes, movie stars, moguls and millionaires yet beyond the faultless profile and famous client base, the superlative Tiffany design and craftsmanship can be evidenced throughout the strata of American life. From the Great Seal of the United States, to the annual Superbowl Trophy which traditionally has the name of the makers' favourite team engraved inside for luck; from the Congressional Medal of Honour to the countless engagement rings which display their solitaire diamond in a 'Tiffany Setting', Tiffany must be the only jewellery institution in the nations' history to have such a prominent place in the American Dream. But its presence is not confined merely to the parameters of North America.

"We have people from practically every country in the world", affirms Tiffany's Design Director, John Loring, a tall imposing man possessed of a rich baritone voice who himself embodies the charm and urbanity of the historic company he has helped propel into the nineties. "You will find in most of Europe's palaces, Tiffany silver and Tiffany objets d'art, even some very modest things. Princess Diana was given a not very expensive Tiffany pen by one of her friends. On the other hand, there are some very wonderful isolated objects that the very rich or the very privileged enjoy having created for each other...."

The very model of discretion, Loring refuses to elaborate on the many privately commissioned pieces Tiffany has created citing 'professional privilege', not unlike a physician or a clergyman charged with inviolate confidences. Yet, history is less discreet, revealing such extravagances as the thirty-five foot candelabrum crafted for New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennt; the solid gold bathtub forwarded to Sarah Berhardt in response to her plaintive cries that the American mid-western towns were "so dusty", or the solid gold chamber pot complete with jewelled 'eye' set in its vase which James Buchanan Brady had made for Lillian Russell. All idiosyncratic pieces to be sure, but Tiffany draws the line at good taste - the definition of which is self-imposed, strictly-adhered to and entirely unwavering. Even 'Diamond Jim', had to purchase his signature rings elsewhere, Tiffany at the time, deeming mens' diamond rings "tasteless and pretentious". Not that this in any way affected Brady's patronage. A dinner he gave for himself and twenty chorus girls saw each place setting accompanied by a crisp, new five hundred dollar bill, and a Tiffany diamond sunburst.

In more recent times, a request for a man's ring with a ruby swastika setting was politely, but firmly refused. Tiffany's remains a store of still unwavering standards, no matter how important or powerful the client - as President Eisenhower discovered. "Having just been nursed back to health by Mrs. Eisenhower, the President came into Tiffany and selected something in appreciation for the First Lady", explains Loring. 'Does the President of the United States get a discount at Tiffany & Co.?' enquired Eisenhower. He was told: 'Well, Mr. President, Abraham Lincoln didn't!' "Tiffany, was one of the first stores to display prices which were, and remain, not negotiable, putting an end to potentially inappropriate scenes of undignified haggling over priceless merchandise. As anyone who has ever entered the regal portals would know, such a display would simply never do.

Whilst the powerful have been humbled, the humble have always been most welcome to peruse the exquisite Tiffany offerings "without the least obligation to make purchases", as the inaugural mail order catalogue of 1845 - another first - declared. International style icon, Paloma Picasso, agrees. "In Paris, the minute that you walk into such a place, they start adding up what you are wearing, but at Tiffany's anybody can walk in and be treated equally". Tiffany attracts visitors because it is more than a store, it is an institution steeped in the history of its country, from its beginnings in a burgeoning frontier town named New York City, to its position today as an international landmark in the world's most international city brimming with wealth, confidence and a style all its own.

The worldwide enterprise that turns over hundreds of millions of dollars annually began as just one more American Dream, when the son of a successful Connecticut textile manufacturer borrowed one thousand dollars from his father so that he and a former school mate could set up a stationary and fancy-goods store in Manhattan. Charles Lewis Tiffany and John P. Young set up shop in 1837 at 259 Broadway and by the end of the week's trading, Tiffany & Young had made a net profit totalling thirty-three cents!

Tiffany, however, was himself an entrepreneurial gem. He had after all, singlehandedly managed his father's business for a time at the tender age of fifteen. Using his solid education and exceptional taste, he scoured the wharves for Chinese and European curios and purchased quality American artefacts, and the store gained a reputation for purveying exotic wares, thus initiating a healthy trade.
Some years later, jewellery was added to the general merchandise and although it was only costume jewellery, it was touted as the "best quality of imitation jewellery" and was to prove a fortuitous addition to the store's wares. This fortune was compounded when, in 1848, Young arrived in Paris and fatefully found himself in the middle of a revolution against King Louis Phillipe. Instead of the usual curios, he decided to invest his money in French Imperial jewellery which was understandably, selling at bargain prices. The expedition took on an heroic quality when Young nearly lost the jewels and his life to rebels who suspected him of being a Royalist.

An astute Tiffany, leaked the story and the New York press took it to its collective heart, ensuring some healthy publicity for the store and a title, 'King of Diamonds' which was strangely given to Tiffany rather than Young. This was an error Tiffany did not bother correcting, aware as he was of the benefits of a little notoriety. In any case, Tiffany, perhaps a little more than Young had found its niche.

Tiffany was to develop his flair for self-promotion, his talents at attracting publicity and profiting handsomely from it, into a higher art. Purchasing a leftover piece of otherwise worthless transatlantic cable for a pittance, he sold four inch bits of it complete with mud and certificate of authenticity to the tune of over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Purchasing the famous 'Gridle of Diamonds' belonging to France's Empress Eugenie, an exquisite four strand necklace composed of two hundred and twenty-two large, perfect diamonds; in addition to many of Marie Antoinette's favourite gems, he ingratiated himself with America's new millionairesses. He was elevated to a position akin to that of a Royal Jeweller brining, as he did, the old world nobility of the European Court to the newly monied society of New York.

It did no harm to Tiffany's reputation when Mrs. John J. Astor appeared at a Vanderbilt ball displaying $800,000 worth of their diamonds, or that Mrs. Leland Standford could claim to own sixty pairs of their diamond earrings. Yet perhaps, Tiffany's greatest coup came in 1878, when he purchased the world's largest and finest canary diamond after it was discovered in South Africa's Kimlerley Mines. After years of intense study, he ordered over half of it cut away to leave a flawless 128 carat gem with an extraordinary 90 facets. Christening it the 'Tiffany Diamond' - what else? - he put it on display in his store where, even in its most recent premises, it remains Tiffany's single greatest attraction.

At the other extreme, he displayed the hide of one of the legendary P.T. Barnum's circus elephants which had run amok. "The animal was slaughtered after killing a number of its keepers", explains Loring. "Tiffany put the skin in his window before transforming it into a range of leather goods. The store was mobbed and the police had to be called in to control the crowds. Of course, our windows are much more tasteful today...l" he smiles, referring to the works of art devised by Gene Moore since 1955, when he joined Tiffany & Co. and virtually created the window dressing profession. Given the curious initial brief - "Do what you want, but don't try to sell anything" - his displays continue to be amongst the most beautiful sights on Fifth Avenue and occasionally one can glimpse the inspired contributions of New York's finest artists.

Tiffany's clever merchandising is a legacy of Charles' own public relations skills which, inspired as they were, were matched by an equally perceptive business acumen. Setting up shop in Paris in 1850 ensured him first choice of Europe's finest gems. He introduced the superior English sterling silver standard to America, a standard that was later written into the law books. He devised the 'Tiffany Setting', in which diamonds were mounted on six prongs to show off all their previously concealed brilliance. Loring elaborates: "The Tiffany diamond solitaire ring is the symbol of the American wedding ring which, in turn, is the central American celebration so Tiffany has become inextricably linked with that aspect of culture. Even our competitors sell 'Tiffany'.

More importantly, Tiffany persuaded New York's finest silversmith, John C. Moore, to join the firm - he, in fact, bought out Moore's company - and established a reputation for quality silver that remains unsurpassed. It was, however, the inspired work of Moore's successor, his son Edward, that consolidated that reputation. "Edward C. Moore was a great genius of design and had a great understanding of both the arts and the craft movement and of what America's role could be in that. Some of his designs are still amongst our bestsellers", insists Loring. In fact, Moore's silver designs, when exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1867, were responsible for Tiffany being the first ever foreign silvermaker to win a coveted European prize. At the 1878 Paris Exposition, Moore's Eastern and Oriental designs collected the Grand Prix, Tiffany added a number of Europe's royalty to their clientele and Charles was admitted to the French Legion of Honour.

These were Tiffany's golden years. Over the next three decades the company collected awards with increasing regularity. A handful of artisans grew to a force of 500. Tiffany's was one of the first stores to introduce mechanisation. A London branch was opened in addition to the existing French store, and with the expertise of a young minerologist named George Frederick Kunz, who appeared on the doorstep one day with a handful of semi-precious stones, the store virtually created the market for such gems as tourmalines, American sapphires and topazes. Within a few years, Kunz had been appointed as the firm's Chief Gemologist and Vice President.

By the mid-1850's Tiffany, Young and Ellis (the firm had acquired a third partner, J.L. Ellis and installed itself in larger premises) were all very wealthy with Young and Ellis ready to retire. Charles bought them out, renamed the firm Tiffany & Co., and once again relocated the flagship store further uptown. He commissioned a large sculpted Atlas supporting a clock and positioned it over the entrance. Another legend, Tiffany did not deny concerned Lincoln's assassination, when it was said that the clock stopped at the exact moment of his death, 7.22 a.m. on April 15, 1865. Today, the hands of time continue to turn as Atlas surveys the passing parade outside Tiffany's most famous premises.

For Charles, however, the hands of time did stop in 1902 and his death saw the mantle go to his son, Louis Comfort Tiffany. A reluctant merchant, L.C.T., as he signed his work and was referred to by the dilettantes of the era, could bet be described as a bohemian who had spent his early years as a painter, interior decorator and glassmaker, achieving recognition with his beautiful hand-blown, favrile glass and his now famous Tiffany lamps. It was Edward Moore's influence that cultivated L.C.T.'s interest in the Orient and his development as a leading light in Art Nouveau, an irony considering his mixed fortunes at Tiffany where his work, though critically acclaimed went largely unappreciated. "The Tiffany Glass Project", as Loring terms it, "carried the name of Tiffany further around the world, it won every known prize and is in every major museum in the world but, financially, it was a disaster". The greater irony, is that the work of L.C.T., his lamps and inventive jewellery in particular, is today, highly sought after and extremely valuable. Christies sold one of his lamps a few years ago for $US300,000!
Without its founder, it seemed the Tiffany gem had lost its sparkle. The new century ushered in the jazz age and Tiffany began to look a little matronly. A relieved L.C.T., saw the company's reigns go to Charles' original hand-picked successor, Charles T. Cook who moved the store once again, to a custom built Italian style palazzo on fashionable Fifth Avenue, and then promptly died. Control of the firm was then handed to John C. Moore II, a man of somewhat conservative vision, who sadly, lacked his grandfather's creative genius, and watched the firm slide into a reactionary lethargy in which it wallowed for five long decades.

Moore's one memorable contribution came in 1940, when he inexplicably moved the store one final time, to its present, priceless premises at 727 Fifth Avenue. That the limestone and pink granite showcase of Deco understatement was designed and built at a cost of almost $2.5 million during lean times when, with the exception of the war years, red ledgers were commonplace only adds to the mystery of his initiative. Perhaps he foresaw the brief business boom when Tiffany's silversmiths began producing precision parts for anti-aircraft guns, just as they had manufactured surgical instruments during WWI, or assembled and sold armaments; made gold braid and insignia in addition to acting as a supply depot for the Yankees during the Civil War.

Despite this inherent adaptability, their merchandise was looking very dated beside the modern, streamlined creations of the 1950's and it seemed certain the company would soon join its founder. Aggressive takeover bids in 1954 promised that very fate when a man Loring calls, "the Prince of American retailers", appeared as saviour. With flawless credentials that encompassed the best of New York's retail industry, the then head of Bonwit Teller, Walter Hoving, convinced reluctant Tiffany executives to hand him the reigns. In return, he presented them with Tiffany's second 'Golden Age'.

Hoving arrived on a platform of superlative taste and moved swiftly, orchestrating the company's one and only clearance sale in which he disposed of everything which affronted his aesthetic sensibilities. Then, like Tiffany before him, he began to surround himself with brilliant creative minds. He appropriated the Director of New York's Parson School of Design, Van Day Truex to inject Tiffany's china and silver with the boldness of his designing vision. Truex moved in fashionable circles and was sought after as a dinner guest. Indeed, much of his work was done at these soirees as he would rework the designs of his respective hostesses china for his own pieces. Reinterpreting classical forms was the essence of his design philosophy as he believed that outside of technological advances everything had been done and it was foolish to try and reinvent the wheel.

Truex also used his society connections, as did Hoving, in a continuing series of celebrity table settings, in which the stores most celebrated clients, the likes of Gloria Vanderbilt, Cary Grant and even the infamous Andy Warhol, would arrange a table setting in the store. In this way, Hoving showed America how to eat in style. Warhol, incidentally, created a 'Dinner in Jail' where bread and water was served on vermeil and in crystal. In essence, Hoving began selling, through Tiffany's, his version of style and taste to America. Echoing this philosophy, Loring explains: "The marketplace doesn't really know what it wants, only what it thinks it wants. So the role of Tiffany is to design the things it really wants".

Hoving successfully sold this concept on a foundation of great creative talent of which John Loring became a part in 1978. His appointment followed an eclectic career that included setting up an Yves St. Laurent boutique in Venice, success as an exhibiting painter in New York and editing the prestigious Architectural Digest magazine.

Truex approached his friend Loring in 1978. The two had become acquainted through Loring's work with Architectural Digest and art criticism for other publications and, as Truex' health was failing, he was looking for a successor and thought that Loring could offer some suitable suggestions.A number of very civilised lunches later and Loring himself was talking about the position with Walter Hoving. Loring started with Tiffany & Co. one year later, only months before Truex died, and has since proven an outstanding choice.

"I brought a younger outlook toward the merchandise and possibilities for the company that they previously didn't have", he says with modesty. In truth, John Loring has been instrumental in realising those possibilities to the tune of 350 million dollars a year. He sees his role as Design Director this way: "You act as an orchestra leader, thinking, what can I design to make this craftsperson perform on a higher level?' They all play their instruments beautifully, but when we all play together, we bring out the best in each instrument".

Tiffany craftspersons play very beautifully indeed, and are assembled from around the world. "There is not a great tradition of craftsmanship in America", says Loring. "There is no great glass here. It is not noted for its ceramics. We do not have the great traditions of countries such as Spain, Italy and France".

If Tiffany employs only the very best, it treats them accordingly. Its jewellers for instance, are housed in a spacious Fifth Avenue penthouse with spectacular views of Central Park.

As to its designers, Tiffany is the only jeweller to not only condone, but actively promote their individual work under the designer's own banner. The legacy of L.C.T. has been carried on, by firstly, the legendary Parisian jewellery designer, Jean Schlumberger, whose distinctive pieces graced the fashions of couturier Elsa Schiaparelli in the thirties as well as such style setters as the Duchess of Windsor. His iconoclastic work has enjoyed its own salon on Tiffany's mezzanine since the mid-fifties. In the seventies, then President, Harry Platt, the great-grandson of L.C.T., and the last of the Tiffanys to be involved with the store, recruited Roman aristocrat Elsa Peretti, a former fashion model who has since been designing beautiful organic forms exclusively for Tiffany, attracting a younger following.

The latest addition to these 'superstar designers' is John Loring's very own protegee "I knew Paloma when she was a girl living in Paris with her grandmother. I knew her training and the things she'd already done. But it was her ability to project her personality that told me she was the ideal talent and personality to be promoted as a designer". He considers a moment, then adds: "I have always believed that the best design is designed as a portrait of the designer. The portrait of Paloma Picasso is about the most interesting self-portrait you're going to get these days. Her work is colourful, aggressive, generous in scale and has a wild sense of chic". More than a portrait of Paloma, it is a reflection of the best of cosmopolitan American society today and perhaps explains her phenomenal success.

Today, the firm itself, enjoys that success, although there was a brief but ultimately unsatisfying takeover upon Hoving's retirement by the gigantic Avon Corporation. "The union was inappropriate", says Loring diplomatically, giving voice to the obvious. "Tiffany is a rather rare and gentle flower and if you touch it too much it will wilt on you". The firm is now in private but gentle hands after a group of investors led by William Chaney, the present Chief Executive, prised it away from Avon.

Under Chaney's expert eye, Tiffany's future can be summed in one word - expansion. As John Loring says, "if you do something well, you may as well do it for more people". In addition to the flagship Fifth Avenue institution, Tiffany have branches across America; Western Europe continues to see new stores, there are sixteen boutique stores in co-ownership with Japan's Mitsukoshi department store, a second store in Hong Kong heralds expansion into South East Asian market, and there is even a branch in Australia.

The firm is also expanding its merchandise and whilst they don't plan to return to the heady days of 1837, there will be a greater variety of 'fancy goods' with a variety of leather goods of the highest quality joining the jewellery. Additionally, Loring has designed a range of beautiful silk scarves and the firm has recently introduced TIFFANY, a fragrance that has been a resounding success in the multi million dollar, high-risk world of perfume.

The combination of Chaney's business skills and Loring's design vision appear to be the perfect formula to take Tiffany & Co. into the second millennium and even further into the American -and the world's psyches. Reflecting on the firm's enduring success, Loring states: "Tiffany is a house of quality and refinement. It's a constellation made up of highly talented and gifted people. These things are always appropriate...."

Casting an expert eye over the stately showroom, he considers the exquisite Tiffany diamond, its glowing brilliance smouldering by the rear of the chamber. He considers the priceless merchandise glittering and shimmering in its glass cases beneath subdued lights. He considers the ghosts of the past; the whirling energies of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the brilliance of Edward C. Moore, the marvels of Truex and Schlumberger, the surrealist expressions of the wit and chic of Gene Moore which are displayed in the windows beyond; the loyal patronage of Vanderbilts and Astors, the Lincolns and the Kennedys, Diamond Jim and Diamond Lil. He considers the creative spirits of the present, of Peretti and Picasso, indeed of his own input to the enduring Tiffany "constellation". And he considers Tiffany & Co. another one hundred and fifty years from now. As in the past, one thing will not change about Tiffany, the Holly Golightlys of the future will still breakfast outside the Tiffany windows peering beyond the displays into a treasure trove of definitive style.

Chic is a timeless concept.

 

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