Tiffany Tries to Up Its Cool Factor

Tiffany & Co.’s new ad featuring a same-sex couple probably shouldn’t have been news. Many retailers have already featured gay couples in their advertising, including J.Crew, the Gap, and Banana Republic.

What may have won all the headlines was that the ad came from Tiffany—a 177-year-old name not exactly known as a trendsetter. It also touted engagement rings—indicating the retailer might target the same-sex marriage market. (Its spokesperson declined comment.) The ad received so much attention that even Miley Cyrus voiced her approval on Instagram.

We are seeing a new Tiffany & Co. Miley Cyrus is no Audrey Hepburn, and her off-color endorsement might make some Tiffany vets blush robin’s-egg blue. But she is young, and she is rich. She just may be the Tiffany customer of tomorrow.

The same-sex ad is just one in a series of moves meant to reposition the company. The two male grooms are not the campaign’s only nontraditional photo subjects. Another iteration shows a couple getting wed while their child watches, “a nod to increasing rates of mothers giving birth outside of marriage,” CNN says.

The company has also appointed its first female design director, Francesca Amfitheatrof. The British-born designer’s appointment “instantly upped [Tiffany’s] cool factor,” raved The Telegraph.

“Things within Tiffany are really changing,” Amfitheatrof told The Australian. “It is kind of a breath of fresh air that is like a renaissance within Tiffany.” (Among her heresies: A hint that she might tinker with the retailer’s famed blue box.)

Changes are brewing behind the scenes as well. In its quiet way, Tiffany has replaced many of its top executives over the last year or so. Its longtime chairman and CEO Michael Kowalski is retiring in March; his spot will be taken by current president Frederic Cumenal, a luxury veteran. But that’s just the headline news. Tiffany has also appointed a new head of global retail operations, a new general counsel, a new chief financial officer, a new head of North America, and a new ad agency

This renaissance presents opportunities as well as perils. As when J.C. Penney tried (and failed) to modernize, the trick is attracting new customers while retaining the old. The first line created by the new design team was the Tiffany T collection, fashion gold pieces aimed at female self-purchasers. It was promoted heavily, and did well at holiday, but not enough to spark demand for other Tiffany products. Quite possibly the customer for that item was not enticed by the rest of the store’s inventory.

It might prove a continuing challenge, as this venerable name tries to balance its sometimes-stodgy history with the dictates of the modern age. Assessing the company’s aesthetic, Amfitheatrof told Departures, “It’s all so iconic.” But then she adds: “If I can bring something new to that heritage, I’ll be happy.”

JCK News Director