Tiffany & Co.'s Reed Krakoff on Lady Gaga's Oscar Diamond and Revitalizing a 182-Year-Old Brand

Tawni Bannister
“Luxury has become much more casual in the last decade, much more unpredictable," says Krakoff, photographed March  6 at Tiffany & Co. in New York City.

The luxury brand's chief artistic officer rebounds from the shuttering of his namesake label to revitalize the jeweler, placing a 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' diamond on an Oscar winner: "Lady Gaga embodies the creative, modern archetype."

Think of Reed Krakoff as America's luxury brand turnaround artist. In the late '90s, after reinvigorating Tommy Hilfiger as its creative director, Krakoff moved on to Coach New York and transformed the family-owned leather goods company into a behemoth driving nearly $5 billion in annual sales. Krakoff's ambition to build his own name brand (before it shuttered after five years in 2015) earned him awards as well as the honor of dressing first lady Michelle Obama in a custom ultramarine dress and cardigan for her husband's 2013 swearing in at the White House.

Instead of disappearing from view following the closing of his namesake line, by January 2017, the Weston, Connecticut-born Parsons School of Design graduate (who has an economics degree from Tufts University) was helming Tiffany & Co.'s artistic direction. Krakoff — who, with his wife, interior designer Delphine, and their four children, resides in an upper Manhattan townhouse as well as a New Canaan, Connecticut, mansion named "Le Beau Château" — was brought on to give the 182-year-old brand a face-lift along with CEO Alessandro Bogliolo. Since Krakoff, 55, came aboard, 2018 worldwide net sales have increased 10 percent to $3.1 billion, with growth in all regions and product categories, according to Tiffany's November earnings report. The jewelry house, which operates more than 300 stores around the world and ranks No. 2 behind Cartier in brand recognition, continues to win design awards and stop traffic with its window displays at the iconic Fifth Avenue flagship. In mid-2018, Nick Jonas shut down Tiffany's London flagship to buy the $200,000 4-carat cushion-cut diamond engagement ring with which he proposed to Priyanka Chopra. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga set alight the red carpet during awards season by appearing exclusively in Tiffany & Co. jewels, including wearing to the Oscars the iconic Tiffany Diamond, one of the largest yellow diamonds ever found that by one estimate is worth $30 million.

THR sat down with Krakoff at global headquarters in New York's Flatiron district, where he oversees — with a team of 125 — accessories, advertising, e-commerce, jewelry and stores, including a retail space in the new $25 billion Hudson Yards complex, opening March 15.

Was there trepidation in taking from the vault the Tiffany Diamond, worn by Audrey Hepburn to promote 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's?

Well, yes! We always try to challenge ourselves to do something that's going to surprise, create excitement and, above all, be something that could be done only by Tiffany. Prompted by the fact that we have one of the most famous pieces of jewelry in history, we thought: "Wouldn't it be interesting to combine it with the right person, at the right time?" Lady Gaga is someone who embodies the creative, modern archetype that we see as ideal. But we also wanted to make sure that the necklace was flattering and worked with her clothing. Lady Gaga is incredibly precise about how she puts herself together.

How important is the red carpet to the brand? Zoe Kravitz wore Elsa Peretti's 18-carat gold mesh halter during the Oscar afterparties, and Chadwick Boseman sported Tiffany jewels at the Golden Globes.

While the [effect of placements] is not so quantifiable, it's a piece of the puzzle. We don't start by thinking: "We want to be represented by three people." We start with: "Who do we think embodies the spirit of Tiffany today?" And: "Who have we worked with that we felt a real affinity for?" Like Zoe, who was the star of our holiday film. She is someone who has that sophistication, realness, intelligence and accomplishment. She is relatable in a way that you don't often see. So it's important to be more genuine. People react much more positively to organic and genuine connections.

What about Chadwick Boseman?

We are embarking on the launch of a men's collection in the fall. When I started at Tiffany, we began putting jewelry on men in different ways, some in more formal environments, some in casual situations.

Describe what is involved in modernizing a legacy brand such as Tiffany & Co.

There are a lot of different phases. The initial part involves a lot of digging and trying to put together a narrative to say: "This is what happened, this is what was successful, this is what really makes this brand unique." Then it's being very specific about what that means with the product assortment, the retail environment and e-commerce. So it's a lot of discovery, a lot of trial and error. Mainly, it's to tease out what has made Tiffany the amazing brand that it has been for 182 years and to amplify that — but at the same time, not to be too tethered to the past.

Tiffany craftsmanship seems to be a huge part of what's promoted about the brand. Why is that so?

What's really interesting is that how we make the things we sell and how we source and manufacture is so elevated, whether it's a $200 sterling silver key chain or a $10 million pear-shaped diamond. There are other brands that do very expensive, quality things. And there are brands that do great things that are more affordable. A very broad group of people shop at Tiffany. That democratic nature is what makes the brand uniquely American and unique in the luxury space.

What is Tiffany's strategy for connecting with millennials who purportedly aren't as interested in luxury brands?

Generally, I don't look at segments by age, I look at them by attitude. Millennials represent a youthfulness and more adventurous spirit that is part of Tiffany's brand DNA. Luxury has become more casual in the last decade, more unpredictable. Many of the things we've done like the Paper Flowers launch [an everyday line of delicate pieces] has appealed to this profile consumer.

With younger customers reportedly preferring to engage with experiences over product, are there strategies in place for retail?

We've already begun the process of introducing experiential content within Tiffany stores: The Blue Box Cafe at the Fifth Avenue flagship was one of the first and has been extremely successful for us. The Blue Box Cafe is actually one of the most requested reservations through the reservation app Resy. In addition, we're working on areas of the store where customers can touch and try on the jewelry as opposed to everything being under glass. We're also exploring the idea of introducing augmented reality content over the next few years.

Is the one-of-a-kind Blue Book Collection launching in October akin to your haute couture?

The real purpose is to showcase the virtuosity of Tiffany's gemologists and technicians. The Blue Book is also now a laboratory for future collections.

What are your future plans?

So it takes about 18 months to build a collection. I have been at Tiffany for two years and we are just starting to launch my first. We are creating bigger but fewer collections coming out in the next couple of years incorporating different looks, attitudes and price points. Because I think that's how people shop. The idea is for the consumer to walk into the store and experience that excitement that there is something new — new collections and new attitudes — at Tiffany.

This story first appeared in the March 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.