EXCLUSIVE: Beyoncé and Jay-Z Meet a Blue Basquiat in Tiffany’s New Campaign

While no one could ever upstage Beyoncé and Jay-Z, together for the first time in an ad campaign for Tiffany & Co., it’s fair to say there is a third star in the spots: a never-before-seen painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat in the jeweler’s signature robin egg blue.

Tiffany recently acquired the spectacular artwork, which had been in the possession of a private collector since the early 1980s, adding another surprise and layer of storytelling to a vast, yet nuanced advertising effort, which is to break in print next month.

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Now controlled by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Tiffany is putting major firepower behind the yearlong campaign featuring the Carters, which includes a short film that depicts Beyoncé singing “Moon River” to her husband. It’s destined for major exposure in the coming months, including a takeover of all the digital billboards in New York’s Times Square.

Unveiling the first campaign image exclusively to WWD, Alexandre Arnault, Tiffany’s executive vice president of products and communications, also told the back story of the project in his first sit-down interview since joining the historic New York jeweler last January.

Jay-Z and Beyoncé in the new Tiffany campaign. - Credit: Courtesy Photo/Mason Poole for Tiffany & Co.
Jay-Z and Beyoncé in the new Tiffany campaign. - Credit: Courtesy Photo/Mason Poole for Tiffany & Co.

Courtesy Photo/Mason Poole for Tiffany & Co.

The ads mark the first time the two music superstars will appear together in a campaign and the first time the famous Tiffany Diamond — with its 128.54 carats and 82 facets — will feature in one. Only three other women — Mary Whitehouse, Audrey Hepburn and Lady Gaga — have ever worn the famous gemstone, which was unearthed in South Africa in 1877.

It’s also tantamount to a record release, with Beyoncé debuting her own interpretation and arrangement of the famous song from the 1961 movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” as Jay-Z filmed her with a Super 8 camera. For the film, or call it a music video, she conscripted director Emmanuel Adjei, the co-director and creative collaborator of Beyoncé’s acclaimed musical film “Black Is King.”

Meanwhile, the Basquiat painting, dating from 1982 and titled “Equals Pi,” ties a neat ribbon around a spectacular talent package, being a legendary New York artist that the Carters also admire, relate to — and collect.

“We don’t have any literature that says he made the painting for Tiffany,” Arnault related over Zoom. “But we know a little bit about Basquiat. We know his family. We did an exhibition of his work at the Louis Vuitton Foundation a few years back. We know he loved New York, and that he loved luxury and he loved jewelry. My guess is that the [blue painting] is not by chance. The color is so specific that it has to be some kind of homage.

“As you can see, there is zero Tiffany blue in the campaign other than the painting,” he added, noting that the artwork will ultimately take up permanent residence in Tiffany’s flagship boutique on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, currently undergoing renovation. “It’s a way to modernize Tiffany blue.”

The campaign featuring the Carters is also serving to further renovate Tiffany’s image, with Arnault touting modernity and inclusivity among the overarching ideas he’s introducing — along with daring. It reflects LVMH’s renowned expertise in supercharging heritage brands by blending history and the zeitgeist.

Since Tiffany joined the French luxury conglomerate, also the parent of Dior, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Givenchy and Celine, the brand has been speaking more frequently — and outside of the moments one expects jewelers to communicate, like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. It’s even garnered some rancor with its divisive “Not Your Mother’s Tiffany” spots.

While acknowledging that Tiffany is a large brand that speaks to many different audiences, and markets a diverse array of products priced anywhere from $300 to $3 million, Arnault said the Carter campaign reclaims the company’s roots as a high jeweler, while giving more hints about where LVMH plans to take the company.

To be sure, the young executive aimed high, describing the trifecta of power players in the campaign as follows: “She’s the best singer in the world, and he’s the best rapper in the world, hands down. And we’re the best jewelry company in the world, right? So we kind of had to marry ourselves together to produce this.”

And what sparks this triangle produced.

“We’ve shared the film with a few people in the company, and they had tears in their eyes. They work for Tiffany’s so it’s biased, but still,” he mused.

The Tiffany Diamond is worn by Beyoncé in the campaign.
The Tiffany Diamond is worn by Beyoncé in the campaign.

Arnault said he pitched the idea to Jay-Z at the top of the year, reckoning that the campaign would surface as the world emerges from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, providing a message of hope and a story built around New York, Basquiat and his marriage with Beyoncé.

“We at Tiffany stand for many things, love being at the forefront…. And they embody modern love, in my opinion,” Arnault said, mentioning their nearly two decades together, their sometimes public “ups and downs” — and their prolific, unprecedented careers, ranging from Beyoncé’s Ivy Park activewear line with Adidas to Jay-Z’s recent partnership with LVMH to market Ace of Spades Champagne. “If you think about iconic power couples in the world, they are number one, at least in my mind. It’s a really proud moment for everyone at Tiffany.

“We wanted them to be seen as no one has ever seen them before. We wanted to go behind the scenes and try to capture those intimate moments that are so difficult to see and find,” he continued. “You’ll see the magic of them loving each other. It’s quite incredible. Also, their daughter was on set and she appears in one of the videos. You see the special bond that they all have together, which is amazing.”

The couple certainly sprung into action for the creative project, which explores themes of connection and vulnerability. “They believe in the brand, and together, we thought had an amazing story to tell. We’re really honored to have them as part of the family for sure,” Arnault said.

Called “About Love,” the print campaign, photographed by Mason Poole, is to break on Sept. 2 in Harper’s Bazaar U.K. before appearing in other global publications. The accompanying video is to debut on Sept. 15 on tiffany.com as well as key outdoor locations, digital platforms and broadcast outlets. Major takeovers including Times Square and Grand Central in New York City, plus iconic locations in Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai and London, are to unfurl through the fourth quarter.

Arnault declined to say how much Tiffany is investing in the campaign around the Carters.

“The investment will be pretty impressive,” he demurred. “It’s our biggest campaign for the year. It’s the most enduring campaign. Also, it’s the only year-long campaign that we have. It marks a clear evolution of what we’ve been doing from a creative standpoint.”

As part of the partnership with the couple, Tiffany is committing $2 million for scholarship and internship programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. “This commitment reflects Tiffany’s continued support toward the advancement of underrepresented communities,” Arnault said. “The Carters have already done incredible work in this space. Together, we are excited to embark upon this journey.”

The video and print campaign were realized at the Orum House — an ultramodern, glass-clad home in Los Angeles — with dreamlike, nostalgic flashbacks interwoven.

Arnault said the shoot went off without a hitch, lauding the professionalism and endurance of the couple, who showed up before call time, stayed after hours, and “gave 150 percent.” He marveled that Beyoncé remained at the piano for four hours, without breaks or refreshments.

The executive also discovered just how knowledgeable both are about jewelry, far beyond what one might glean from Jay-Z’s past penchant for gold chains.

“They both have a real understanding of jewelry. They were asking so many questions that you could see they knew exactly what they were talking about, what they had in their hands,” he said. “They were very, very interested in it.”

Besides the Tiffany Diamond, which cemented the brand’s reputation as a diamond authority, the campaign also features midcentury designs by Jean Schlumberger, including his iconic Bird on a Rock brooch from 1956, reconfigured for the shoot as a pair of one-of-a-kind cuff links for Jay-Z, who also wears a Tiffany engagement ring on his pinkie finger. Some items from the Tiffany T collection are featured, though the eye goes to all the big rocks.

“We wanted this campaign to showcase the highest jewelry that we have, in order to set in people’s minds that this is who we are at our heart,” Arnault said. “We are a high jewelry company. We have extraordinary pieces that are handcrafted by artisans around the world, using the most incredible stones. And putting those products in this campaign is a way for us to remind the public that this is who we are. Putting those products on the Carters is also a way for us to say that we partner with the best, by giving them the best that we have.”

June Ambrose and Marni Senofonte were the wardrobe stylists, dressing Beyoncé and Jay-Z in Givenchy in the images released for this WWD exclusive.

Since taking on the role at Tiffany after four years as chief executive officer of elite luggage firm Rimowa, Arnault has certainly demonstrated that he believes in the power of celebrity, first tapping Blackpink member Rosé and Chinese singer Jackson Yee as new global ambassadors, and then adding Tracee Ellis Ross, Eileen Gu and Anya Taylor-Joy. The latter three women first appeared in ads for the T1 jewelry collection, called “Give Me the T.”

Alexandre Arnault - Credit: Karl Lagerfeld
Alexandre Arnault - Credit: Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld

According to him, some campaigns have been “more niche,” others “much more edgy” and some more “baroque and opulent.” But overall, the response to Tiffany’s new and varied messaging has been “massively positive.”

Its Pride Month campaign boosted traffic to tiffany.com by 150 percent, according to Adobe Analytics. Meanwhile, its Mother’s Day campaign garnered 75 percent positive sentiment on social platforms, with “Give Me the T” scoring north of 90 percent, according to data from ListenFirst.

“‘Not Your Mother’s Tiffany’ has been met with quite a bit of adversity, which we anticipated, but we’ve seen great growth from the product categories in it,” Arnault said, acknowledging the blowback the ads received on social media. “And we obviously welcome the dialogue, whether it’s positive or negative. We were spoken about by people who had never spoken about Tiffany before, which was great.”

Its current “Knot Your Typical City” campaign, mostly in black in white, is also somewhat unconventional, featuring model Alton Mason in a tuxedo and Taylor-Joy in a bustier jumpsuit cavorting around a bustling Manhattan in daylight.

“You see $50,000 golden and diamond necklaces in the middle of the streets of New York, or on a basketball court with skaters and bikers — which is today’s reality of New York City, and that’s what we try to express.

“We tried to be as inclusive as we could in everything we did. And our intention was meant to speak to the broadest audience possible, which I believe we’ve reached,” he continued. “We want to speak to multiple generations, men and women, a broader audience than we have in the past. We want our brand to be as relevant as it can be.”

In reporting second-quarter results, LVMH cited strong momentum in the first-half of the year and noted that Tiffany “has performed extremely well since its acquisition” and “benefited from the new team’s focus on its iconic products.”

The group’s watches and jewelry division, which includes Bulgari, Chaumet, Fred, Tag Heuer, Zenith and Hublot, reported revenues combed 5 percent in the first half versus 2019.

Arnault declined to talk numbers, but noted the Tiffany brand is already attracting younger clients — and ones with a bigger propensity to spend. Some 62 percent of new clients in the U.S. are younger than 40 years old, and spend around $2,000, which is “massive growth versus 2019.” During Mother’s Day, new U.S. clients under 40 years old grew to represent almost 50 percent of total new clients in 2021, a 25 percent increase versus 2019.

He demurred when asked about the next strategic moves for the brand, while giving a few hints.

“We’ll continue elevating the brand as much as we can from both product and marketing standpoints, without forgetting the entry-price categories at Tiffany, which are very important and core to who we are,” he said. “We’re going to try to connect with the new audience as much as we can and appeal to them, and make ensure that every brand experience meets our potential.”

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