23-Sep, 11:10

05:28, January 18 201 0

2017-01-18 05:28:10
On the Runway: Can Reed Krakoff Rescue Tiffany?

Reed Krakoff, former Coach mastermind and recent cautionary tale after his much-hyped, self-titled women’s wear brand closed in 2015, is back — and having breakfast at Tiffany’s.

On Tuesday, Tiffany & Company announced that it was naming Mr. Krakoff to the new post of chief artistic officer, making him the first designer in the heritage jeweler’s 180-year history to become part of the company’s executive suite. His responsibilities will include jewelry, luxury accessories and all imagery, including that used in stores, e-commerce and advertising.

When you think about it, that’s a pretty big deal.

Not just because there is a tradition in fine jewelry to keep the designer in the background and to make the gem the star. (Can you name the head of design for Cartier? Van Cleef & Arpels? Bulgari? Thought not.)

Not just because the news — which was foreshadowed last year when Mr. Krakoff became a creative consultant for the company, focusing on a line of holiday gifts, homeware and accessories — marks a gilded return to luxury for Mr. Krakoff, who has no formal training in jewelry.

But because the position includes more power than any creative figure has had at Tiffany, including its recent design director, Francesca Amfitheatrof, whose remit was limited to Tiffany-branded jewelry, and who will be leaving the company. Even John Loring, Tiffany’s longtime former design director, played less of a strategic role. Famous collaborators such as Paloma Picasso and Frank Gehry made only special collections for the brand.

And thus it underscores a recent trend in high-end fashion toward empowering the design side of the business. Since 2004, when Tom Ford left Gucci to much industry hand-wringing, conventional wisdom has held that brands should be more important than the people behind them. But the pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction.

In August, Calvin Klein named Raf Simons its chief creative officer, the first time that all of its lines were united under a single design authority since Mr. Klein sold the business in 2002. Last summer, Maria Grazia Chiuri was named artistic director of Dior women’s wear and given an expanded portfolio that included not just runway shows but also image, ads and stores. Both appointments echoed the iron-fisted control over all things consumer-facing that was given to Hedi Slimane during his tenure at Yves Saint Laurent, during which he famously transformed that brand into one of the fastest-growing names in the parent company Kering’s portfolio.

Presumably, Tiffany is hoping that Mr. Krakoff will do the same. It could use some help, after all.

The Fifth Avenue jeweler has not been exempt from the general slowdown in the luxury market that has been in effect for the last few years. In 2015, worldwide net sales declined 3 percent, to $4.1 billion. Though there were some improvements in 2016, Frederic Cumenal, the Tiffany chief executive, said on Tuesday thatperformance during the holiday period was “somewhat lower than we had anticipated.” To a certain extent, the company has become stuck in a blue box of its own making.

Efforts have been made to add some contemporary pizazz via Ms. Amfitheatrof’s designs, which were worn on the red carpet by celebrities such as Cate Blanchett. The house also brought in the punky new-gen jeweler Eddie Borgo for a special line, embarked on a collaboration with the hip emporium Dover Street Market, and enlisted Grace Coddington, the former Vogue creative director, to style an ad campaign. But the initiatives often seemed disjointed and inconsistent. Mr. Krakoff will, at the very least, provide a single, overarching point of view.

It is this clarity of vision and direction that increasingly seems to draw consumers to a brand, and it was part of what Mr. Krakoff brought both to Coach and to his own line (though in an interview this year, he acknowledged that the latter perhaps took itself a bit too seriously for its own good).

Less clear, however, is how Mr. Krakoff, who is known for his way with leather and cashmere and who has a penchant for architecture and high-minded modernism, will handle diamonds and pearls. According to Luca Solca, an analyst for Exane BNP Paribas, “designing handbags and designing jewelry are two different things” and, certainly, Mr. Krakoff is relatively unproven when it comes to the latter.

Nathan Strauss, director of corporate communications for Tiffany, said the company was not concerned about Mr. Krakoff’s lack of experience with jewelry.

“Reed understands luxury, and the impeccable purity of design required for jewelry,” Mr. Strauss said. “He is famous for his decades of experience designing accessories for the body, as well as objects for the home. Reed has dedicated his life to fashion and design, and looks forward to applying his passion for jewelry and gemstones in this new role.”

Besides, the biggest risk in luxury these days is often considered to be taking no risks at all.

Mr. Krakoff starts Feb. 1.