Out of the Box
Direct from transforming Coach into a multibillion-dollar empire, Reed Krakoff took the reins at Tiffany & Co., where, as chief artistic officer, he has been on a Warholian mission to elevate the ordinary and make the rarified accessible.
ALINA CHO: Let’s start at the beginning of your tenure at Tiffany: You started as chief artistic officer in February of 2017. The first day, you’re handed coffee in a paper cup in Tiffany blue, and you had a thought—what was it?
REED KRAKOFF: The thought was that it was sort of the perfect representation of design and usefulness or utilitarianism, which is probably to me the foundation of American design —something that’s perfect and beautiful and at the same time, useful. It’s this idea of everyday luxury.
AC: You’ve always considered yourself more of a brand architect than a designer. And so, on the face of it, some people might think, here’s Reed Krakoff, this pillar of fashion design, taking a job that is some ways a departure from that. How did you feel when you got the job?
RK: First and foremost, I’m a designer. To be someone who can lead a brand, you have to understand and be able to do all the things that go into it; obviously, design’s a big piece of it. Marketing’s a big piece of it. Communications are a big part of it. I was incredibly honored to be the first chief artistic officer that the company ever had. They’ve actually never had a creative director before, so I’m overseeing all creative aspects.
AC: Let’s talk about that, because you’ve had quite an accomplished career. It’s well known that you were the face of Coach for many years. You brought that brand from $500 million to $4 billion and, and I’m sure that Tiffany knew that when they [laughter] hired you.
AC: You grew up going to Tiffany as a child, coming in from Connecticut with your mother and looking at table settings made by Vladimir Kagan. Historically, Tiffany has obviously been considered a major luxury brand, and in some ways, for some people, it might seem daunting just to walk in those big doors. But you are making a real effort to really bring function and everyday objects into the mix. Why do you think that’s so important?
RK: Just to back up: I have an incredible responsibility to be respectful of the past, to honor the past and, let’s say, to leverage and to hug the amazing past and the amazing history of Tiffany, but at the same time, it’s the beginning of a new chapter. It’s not any diversion or any change in direction at all. It’s really just a next chapter. You know, I’ve spent a lot of time in the archives. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with people within the brand, a lot of time speaking with people who have long been part of the brand and really understanding, really being in the brand itself.
Spending time in the archives has been amazing, informative and given me a great foundation. To go forward, you need to understand what came before. We thought about motifs and themes that have run throughout Tiffany’s history. There’s been a long history of representing nature in all its forms. The idea of a flower motif seemed like a starting point. The trick was how to make it modern, while still being connected with the past, to create a contemporary, modern interpretation of nature within the jewelry selection. So we started playing with the motifs of the iris, abstracting it and slashing it out, cutting shapes out of paper.
Taking something historical or traditional, like a floral, making it modern, creating design and silhouettes that can become part of someone’s wardrobe is a new way of thinking about high-end jewelry.
AC: The result feels like something that you don’t have to lock away in a safe. That was a part of your goal, right?
RK: Exactly. One of the main principles I began with is that everyday luxury isn’t formal, necessarily. And to me, it extends to the American way of interacting with luxury, wearing luxury. The experience is more understated. It’s not creating something that’s meant to be put in a jewelry box and worn once a year. Whether it’s diamonds, platinum, gold or sterling, it is meant to be worn and become part of your everyday wardrobe. Now, obviously, there are red carpet pieces that are clearly meant to be worn on very particular occasions, but the majority of the collection was meant to be worn whenever we wear jewelry. A kind of confident, off-handed sensibility was a big goal for this collection.
AC: Let’s talk a little bit about the everyday objects because—did I read this correctly? You saw a window display, and there was some sort of rendering of a Warhol soup can, and you had someone go out and buy a can of Campbell’s soup?
RK: I was going through the archives, and I found an image of an installation for Tiffany that was done by Warhol, and there was a soup can in it, mixed in with some incredible jewelry and amazingly rare objects, and I loved the juxtaposition of something industrial and everyday with something extraordinary. That rhythm is something that, again, speaks to the ease of dealing in luxury, and sort of the everyday way it can be incorporated into your life.
AC: How did that translate into a collection for today? You made that can in sterling silver?
RK: Well, to begin with, we took the tin can and brought it to our shop in Rhode Island. They made an exact replica of the way it was constructed. The printing and the paper were re-contextualized so that, you know, a utilitarian, everyday object was transformed into an extraordinary thing. That tension is something that has really existed for many years in Tiffany’s history. You think of the windows by Gene Moore, you know, the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s. He famously took a strand of pearls he had in a window; he didn’t love the way they looked, and he happened to snap the strand and let the pearls kind of roll to the front of the window. To him, that was creating a narrative and creating interest, by taking something extraordinary like the beautiful strand of pearls and then disrupting it in a way that felt surprising, and creating this tension again, this idea that mysterious things are meant to be embraced.
AC: I know you’ve owned many homes on the East End over the years. You once owned the former estate of Jackie Onassis. Wow. But you sold that.
RK: We’re looking at some properties right now, actually.
AC: You have long been a mainstay of the East End of Long Island. What do you love most about being out there?
RK: It’s a place I’ve been going since I was a kid. It’s a very special place. I think at different times in your life, you do different things. What’s amazing about it is you can be social or you can be private here, and those work very well together.
“Everyday luxury isn’t formal, necessarily. It’s something that is meant to be worn and become a part of your wardrobe.”
AC: That is the best thing, yes. I’ve always known you as being very tall and fit and trim. I’m just wondering: Do you have any wellness secrets?
RK: Thank you. You know, my wife, Delphine, cooks almost every night. And I wish I could tell you something magic, but I don’t have any answers to that. We eat as a family almost every night, and we don’t really have a regimen. You know, I have a trainer, but I think it’s just…
AC: Everything in moderation?
RK: That’s really it, though. My wife, being French, doesn’t believe in all these sort of radical approaches to diet and all that. And for me, it seems to work as well.
AC: Besides blue luggage—what else do you offer in that Tiffany blue so I know to go and buy it?
RK: We try to introduce it into places you wouldn’t normally see it—we have sterling silver Sharpies with Tiffany blue ink. We have a beautiful Bauhaus-inspired porcelain made in Tiffany blue, and Tiffany blue ping-pong paddles made out of handmade walnut and sterling silver. We did one perfect tote in Tiffany blue, which has been extremely successful.
AC: I want one.
RK: They are available [laughter].