Kaarin Vembar is obsessed with the luxury and apparel markets. She also has a sassy mouth so her managing editor decided to give her a column in an attempt to harness insight for readers. Kaarin can be reached at [email protected].
Andy Warhol loved the holidays.
Before he exploded into the public consciousness with soup cans, the artist worked as a successful commercial illustrator. One of his most important clients was Tiffany & Co. The luxury jeweler commissioned Warhol to create holiday cards from 1957 until 1962.
Those cheerful, iconic images have endured and Tiffany is trotting them out once again. The jewelry company dipped into its archives this year to create a limited-edition home and accessories line, featuring hand-painted glass ornaments, bone china dessert plates, greeting cards, playing cards and an Advent calendar. All of these products are, of course, ridiculously expensive. But, the result is a joyous expression of Warhol’s whimsy and a reminder that luxury can be fun. (The company is even currently referring to it as its “Warholiday” season, and is punctuating it with in-store installations and immersive experiences.)
As part of a larger campaign, Tiffany also released a film starring Hailey Bieber in a nod to Warhol’s Factory, the place where Warhol both worked and threw parties.
“This holiday season, we wanted to celebrate Andy Warhol and uplift his connection to Tiffany & Co. by taking inspiration from the iconic greeting cards that he created for our clients in the ’50s and ‘60s,” Alexandre Arnault, executive vice president of product and communication, said in a statement. “The campaign video brings these elements together by paying homage to our longstanding relationship with one of the world’s most celebrated artists.”
This isn’t the only time the retailer has displayed a lighter touch. A colleague recently reminded me that Tiffany once before exhibited a sense of whimsy famously in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
“Don’t you just love it?” Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly coos as she walks in the store in the film. She and that lump of potato George Peppard playing Paul Varjak see what they can purchase for $10. The sales associate humors them and points them to a sterling silver telephone dialer, but then ultimately helps them engrave a ring that came in a box of Cracker Jack. And there are a lot of words in that last sentence that a youthful segment of the audience will not understand. But the ultimate point is the essence of Tiffany was one of elegance but that could also be a catalyst to playful exuberance.
A return to joy while not undermining refinement is a welcome breath of fresh air as Tiffany & Co. has worked to find a new stride following its acquisition by LVMH in 2020.
It was a bumpy start. In the summer of 2021, the company rolled out its “Not your mother’s Tiffany” campaign, meant to court Gen Z. The reception was mixed, with some praising its approach, while longtime customers clutched their literal and figurative pearls.
A number of weeks later, the company tapped into the power of two of the coolest people on the planet. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were cast as the faces of Tiffany’s “About Love” campaign. It was the first time the couple appeared in a campaign together. It also was the first time the public was able to see the 1982 work of Jean-Michel Basquiat “Equals Pi” which served as the advertisement’s backdrop. The work coincidentally uses a color extremely close to Tiffany’s trademark shade of blue.
And now that I think of it, Warhol and Basquiat were good friends. Is Tiffany’s entire marketing approach “let's use New York City art scene geniuses from the ‘80s”? If so, it’s not a bad play. Because the energy and exuberance of those artists continues to endure and inspire. Which makes them perfect muses for a brand who is finding — at least in part — a path to excitement and relevance.
Something must be working. For its third quarter, LVMH reported revenue was up 28% in the first nine months year over year. In the watches and jewelry business group revenue was up 23% and Tiffany & Co. was “driven by strong momentum in the United States,” according to the conglomerate.
Bringing back Warhol at least in spirit is a fascinating and welcome idea as Tiffany finds its next chapter. Warhol played with the concept of consumerism and loved parties, both of which are ingredients that play a part to explain his devotion to Christmas.
Warhol also famously said, “An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have.” Which honestly also falls in line with Tiffany’s holiday collection. Do we need to spend $400 on a set of three glass ornaments? Do we need a set of playing cards for $200? Of course not. But it sure is fun. And it’s a reminder of Tiffany’s past allure and what it could possibly leverage in the future.