It was a moment of Francesca Amfitheatrof unfiltered. Louis Vuitton’s artistic director for watches and jewelry made an appearance at the maison’s immersive exhibit, “200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries,” in New York on Thursday afternoon to discuss her life’s work and her reinvigoration of Vuitton’s high jewelry collections.
Held in what was formerly Barneys New York’s beauty department — where aesthetic plywood and graphic posters cleverly covered up what were perfume display shelves — Amfitheatrof said that her work centers on freedom and storytelling.
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“[High jewelry] is a very unusual world. It is a world where money and time don’t really matter. It’s an extraordinary world because it’s totally unrealistic. It’s separated from everything else,” she told an audience of friends, fans and what seemed like the entirety of FIT’s jewelry design department.
Above all, Amfitheatrof stressed the importance of space; Space from the pressures of commercial success, space from too much derivative influence and space from executive micromanagement.
“How I approach production is — I basically have an idea or a concept and I get obsessed with it. I divide it into chapters like a book, and I literally have a theme for every single chapter and go wild on that theme,” the designer said.
“I always just give [the brand executives] a sentence [relating to that theme] and then I literally don’t see, speak or show anyone in the executive teams anything until the collection is finished. So it’s total freedom and no pressure. It’s no one saying, ‘Oh you should design to this price point, or you should make this type of necklace to be worn by this person.’”
Amfitheatrof also cautioned against looking too much into the past. “We’re living in an era of the archive. And what I mean by that is, especially in jewelry and fashion today, we’re looking into the past way too much. Everyone is obsessed with the archive because it’s so driven by marketing. And actually, I think it’s killing creativity,” she said.
This is less of an issue at Vuitton, where leather goods and luxury travel accessories comprise most of the company’s archive.
“Of course we have an archive, but it’s very much luggage and transport,” she said. “It’s so great because you can take the spirit of the house and you don’t have to be derivative — that is freedom.”
Amfitheatrof said a healthy distance from the archives is one of her defining legacies from Tiffany & Co., where she spent four years as the jeweler’s design director.
Amfitheatrof’s most successful designs for Tiffany include the “T” collection, which she said grossed more than $1 billion in seven years, and Hardware, which she described as “one of the reasons LVMH bought Tiffany, because it keeps the brand going.”
Amfitheatrof said she was courted to become Tiffany’s lead designer for more than a year and that then-chief executive officer Michael Kowalski rushed her “T” collection into production, so it could hit stores a rapid-fire nine months later.
In 2017, Amfitheatrof departed Tiffany in a creative management shake-up that led to the ascent of Reed Krakoff, who had until then been focused on home product and leather goods designs for the jeweler. “I left Tiffany in a really horrible way to be honest and it’s very unpleasant. It’s very hurtful,” she said of the experience.
Shortly thereafter, Amfitheatrof said she received a call from Vuitton CEO Michael Burke and her work with Louis Vuitton took off within weeks. She has been tasked with elevating the maison’s high jewelry collections and has directed the engineering of a diamond cut to replicate shapes from LV’s famous monogram, like a star or clover.
But Amfitheatrof hopes to keep it there, aiming to keep away from more literal interpretations of the house’s famous trademarks. “I try to keep away from the ‘LV,’” she said.
Now, Amfitheatrof is looking forward and is beginning to take charge of the photography, model casting and visual representation of her designs. “I have to distill the essence and spirit of the house without making it feel like it is just repeating something because it sells,” she said.