by laurie brookins | August 20, 2012 | Style & Beauty
Hermès’s Madison Avenue flagship, which opened in 2000
A colorist works on variations of tones in Hermès silk scarves
Hermes’s headquarters on the Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré
A display showcases the steps in silk screening
Thierry Hermès, founder of the luxury label
The New York flagship store of Tiffany & Co. on 57th Street and Fifth Avenue
Charles Lewis Tiffany, circa 1841
Tiffany’s engraved invitation for the 1886 Statue of Liberty dedication
Inside Tiffany & Co. at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street in 1904
A sketch of the Tiffany Yellow Diamond set in a necklace of yellow diamonds
The necklace designed for the 175th anniversary using the same stone
Schlumberger’s Bird on a Rock features the Tiffany & Co. Yellow Diamond
The one and only Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue
Inside Bergdorf’s shoe department
A Bergdorf’s window display in 2006
An exterior view of the Cornelius Vanderbilt Mansion, located on Fifth Avenue and 58th Street in Manhattan, circa 1920
Nena and Andrew Goodman in 1939
The Birthday Bunch
Fashion is nothing if not a precarious business, sometimes all too dependent upon the success of one collection or the whims and rapidly changing tastes of the consumer. Which only makes the considerable milestones achieved by Tiffany & Co., Hermès, and Bergdorf Goodman all the more impressive and undeniably worthy of celebration. Here, three top executives from the brands discuss their companies’ illustrious pasts, as well as their respective anniversary plans in New York this month, which are sure to redefine our notions of a stylish present.
Atop Hermès’s Paris headquarters on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, you’ll find a series of rooms that have been converted into a de facto museum, although not one that’s open to the public. It is here among the copious saddles and spurs, books and engravings, uniforms, ancient leather cases, and other assorted bric-a-brac that you’ll survey not only a wonderful visual record of the storied French house, but also a comprehensive history of equestrian and travel gear. Emile-Maurice Hermès, grandson of Thierry and the man who led the company from the 1920s until his death in 1951, was a devout collector, traveling the world to gather artifacts he saw as related (however tangentially) to his business, much to the delight of all who worked for him and followed him. His considerable collection, displayed throughout this labyrinth of climate-controlled rooms, continues to inspire Hermès designers and artisans, who might take the smallest detail from an 18th-century engraving, for example, and turn it into the primary element of a 21st-century silk scarf (that category, coincidentally, celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, having been introduced by Emile-Maurice in 1937). Indeed, if you name an iconic Hermès design—the Brides de Gala scarf, the Chaine d’Ancre bracelet— chances are you’ll find its origins in these rooms.
Festival des Hermés
The answer: Festival des Metiers, an exhibition intended to be equal parts education and celebration of Hermès artisans. Following the Leather Forever anniversary exposition that took place in London in May, Festival des Metiers travels to New York this month with a five-day event set for September 5–9 at 583 Park Avenue (located around the corner from Hermès’s Madison Avenue flagship, which has been open since 2000; the label’s first stand-alone New York boutique debuted on 57th Street in 1983). From 11 am to 5:30 pm each day, Festival des Metiers attendees can get a first-hand look as artisans handcraft Kelly bags exactly as they would in the Hermès leather workshops, while printers demonstrate the silk screen process, adding individual layers of color to the coveted square silk scarves known as carrés. Saddlemakers, silk engravers, crystal and porcelain painters, jewelry craftsmen, watchmakers, and other artisans round out the exhibit.
“We definitely knew we were going to bring this to the US, it was just a matter of timing,” Chavez notes. “By making it a true festival, we saw it as an opportunity to bring together a variety of craftspeople and allow you to observe and learn about what we do and our processes, many of which have changed little since some of these products were first introduced.”
Chavez points to the saddles as one example, noting that the stitching process has changed not at all since Thierry Hermès opened his harness workshop with the goal of cultivating a clientele of French noblemen. “Pieces such as these give you such an appreciation for what handcrafted really means,” Chavez says. “You know, you walk through one of our ateliers, and the only things you hear are the slightly muffled sounds of hammering as the craftsmen work the leather, a little tap, tap, tap noise that has a bit of a musical rhythm to it. It’s a fascinating thing to watch both the talent and dedication that goes into something like that.”
For festival attendees who might be seeking anniversary-driven product—those coveted limited editions that are not uncommon in such instances—Chavez says he doesn’t mean to disappoint, but this moment is not about any one or two Hermès items. “This is a celebration of our history, but more importantly a celebration of craft and our craftspeople,” he says. “We’re focusing on the idea that in today’s fast-moving world, some things are still done very slowly, with great attention and great care for detail. And to us, that’s quite magical.”
Tiffany & Co. Celebrates 175 Years with 175 Carats
That idea is highlighted in Tiffany’s focus, both past and present, on colored gemstones, which prior to the jeweler’s use were rarely seen in American design. But that all changed in 1876, when a young gemologist named Dr. George Frederick Kunz sold a sizeable tourmaline to Charles Lewis Tiffany, and a bond was formed. Kunz went on to serve as Tiffany & Co.’s vice president of gemology from 1879 until his death in 1932, and during that period embarked on many a quest in search of unique gemstones; the lilac-pink kunzite, first unearthed in California, is named for him. Other gemstones introduced by Tiffany include morganite, named for collector (and valued client) John Pierpont Morgan, which made its debut in 1910; tanzanite, a blue stone with hints of purple, discovered at the foothills of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro and introduced by Tiffany in 1969; and the deep green tsavorite, discovered in 1967 at Tsavo National Park near the border of Kenya and Tanzania, and so named by Henry Platt, then president of Tiffany & Co.
Each stone remains key to Tiffany’s legacy; indeed, the quartet plays a central role in the collection of Legacy Gemstones that debuted to the press in mid-July. Chief among the Legacy highlights: three statement necklaces, one featuring a kunzite and two with morganite, all weighing in at 175 carats. While at press time Bennett couldn’t confirm details of plans to display the Legacy pieces, he acknowledged that the Fifth Avenue flagship would play a central role in the celebration, with the gemstones positioned alongside what undoubtedly is considered the pinnacle of all Tiffany stones: a 128.54 carat yellow diamond discovered in South Africa’s Kimberley mine in 1877 and purchased by Charles Lewis Tiffany for $18,000. “I’m sure that was a lot back then, but I think the stone has appreciated faster than our currency,” Bennett says. “It also solidified Charles Lewis Tiffany’s reputation as the king of diamonds.” It was Kunz who cut the stone into a cushion shape featuring 82 facets to maximize its brilliance; over the years it’s been used in a variety of settings, most notably as the centerpiece of renowned designer Jean Schlumberger’s Bird on a Rock. For the 175th anniversary, the jeweler has once again found a new home for the Tiffany Yellow Diamond, a diamond and platinum necklace that debuted in April and was more than a year in the making; the white diamonds on the necklace total more than 120 carats. Is this the last stop for the Tiffany Yellow Diamond? That’s an idea not, as they say, set in stone, Bennett says. “We’re celebrating this anniversary through some beautiful, oneof- a-kind stones, but also through our commitment to design innovation,” he explains. “Charles Lewis Tiffany introduced the English standard of sterling silver in 1851. I think he’d be proud of how we’ve kept his traditions alive, but also how we’ve kept his desire for innovation alive.”
Ultimately what will never change, Bennett says, is the sense that, while Tiffany & Co. has grown into a global brand with 250 stores worldwide, it has held fast to its position as a New York–based company. “We’re very proud of our history in New York, and let’s face it, 175 years for any American company is a rarity,” he says. “And we share a history with the city; as it grew, we grew. The fact that we designed the Great Seal of the United States in the 1880s speaks to our legacy as an American company, but we also engraved the invitations for the Statue of Liberty dedication [in 1886], and you don’t get more New York than that.”
The Singular Success of Bergdorf Goodman
Bergdorf Goodman marked its 100th anniversary in 2001, and considering that milestone occurred the same year as the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Brobston says those events played into the decision not to host a splashy celebration. “Instead, for the past two years we’ve been brainstorming, focusing on those elements that have defined our success over a major portion of those 111 years,” he says. Indeed, key to the celebration is the release of a book and documentary film: Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf Goodman, published by Harper Design, which arrived in stores August 28 and explores the history of the retailer largely since it took up residence in 1928 at Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets on the former site of the Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion in 1928. Anecdotes include memories of the Goodman family maintaining for 65 years what Brobston calls “a huge apartment” on the top floor of the building, while one chapter outlines some of the retailer’s most high-profile clients, with stories ranging from Grace Kelly walking into the stationery department just off the 58th Street entrance to order her wedding invitations to a Christmas Eve call in the 1970s that led a fur department buyer to the apartment of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, where, after bottles of wine were consumed, the sale of dozens of fur coats took place.
The film is set for release this month at—where else?—the Paris Theater, adjacent to the retailer on 58th Street. Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf Goodman’s features interviews with Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Louboutin, Diane von Furstenberg, and a roster of other A-list designers, all of whom were influenced by the store in some way. “Many of the designers we represent shopped with their parents at Bergdorf Goodman,” says Brobston, who has been in his position since 1999 (he previously worked for the store’s parent company, the Neiman Marcus Group). “Vera Wang shopped with her mother here on Saturdays; Halston was a milliner who sold his hats at Bergdorf’s before he launched his collection. And, of course, every designer remembers his or her first window at Bergdorf Goodman. It’s a very personal relationship.”
More than 100 designers feel enough of a kinship to take part in the celebration, creating exclusive merchandise that will be in the store right after Labor Day and will be officially launched on Fashion’s Night Out on September 6, which will be themed as a public birthday party for the store. Offerings include a velvet ruched dress by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen and Armani’s reinterpretation of his American Gigolo suit. Other designers, meanwhile, chose to incorporate the store itself into their efforts, such as a Ferragamo tie that features an illustration combining the store’s façade with other iconic New York scenes, and a white oxford shirt screen printed with a photo of the Sherman Monument in Grand Army Plaza from designer (and former Bergdorf’s employee) Michael Bastian. “We’re still hot and heavy in our planning meetings [for Fashion’s Night Out] right now,” Brobston said in early July. “But from everything I’ve seen, I think people will find it very compelling.” The same can be said for a major remodel likewise planned for debut on Fashion’s Night Out, featuring projects that Brobston calls “our most active year of renovation since pre-2008,” including expansions of both the third-floor designer collection spaces and fifth-floor contemporary ready-to-wear and shoe spaces, as well as an almost complete revamp of its men’s store, an effort that will carry into mid-2013.
And what about one of the most famed Bergdorf Goodman elements of all: those highly stylized, always inventive, often gravity-defying window displays? Brobston laughs. “You don’t really think I’m going to reveal anything about those, do you?” he says. One could hope, but his response is not unexpected. The secrecy surrounding the reveal of the Bergdorf Goodman vitrines—a collaboration between David Hoey, the retailer’s senior director of visual presentation, and Linda Fargo, Bergdorf’s senior vice president of the women’s fashion office and store design and presentation—has become almost as legendary as the store itself, and for this event that’s an idea on steroids. “Linda and David are working on some pretty incredible things,” Brobston says. “David of course is a genius with what he does with those windows; he’s an amazing example of the talent and passion you encounter when you walk through the doors of Bergdorf’s. We’re very lucky.”
photography by jeff Schear (silk screens, woman making scarves); Johansen Krause (bird on a rock); andrew bordwin (tiffany exterior); courtesy of Tiffany & co. (charles Lewis Tiffany); Courtesy of Tiffany & Co. Archive (Interior); krarse Johansen (jewelry); Eric Laignel (shoe salon); Ricky Zehavi and John Cordes © 2012. “Gothic Sple ndor,” 2006, in collaboration with Douglas Little and House and Garden. From Scatter My As hes at Bergdorf Goodman, © 2012 Harper De sign, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers (window displaY); Edwin Levick/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) (vanderbilt mansion); associated press (bergdorf goodman)