Since coming on board to helm Louis Vuitton’s watches and jewellery division three years ago, Francesca Amfitheatrof has been on a mission to offer designs that truly reflect the Louis Vuitton woman. The Maison’s emblematic B Blossom collection has been emboldened with generous proportions and alluring volume (the LV woman is anything but apologetic). The statement-making unisex LV Volt collection is rich with ultra-graphic lines and liquid fluidity (she is modern and metropolitan). And the 2019 Riders of the Knights high jewellery collection of bejewelled chain mail and armour-inspired designs lets women celebrate feminine strength and bravery on their own terms, as historical women such as Joan of Arc did in ages past (she is empowered, strong and we dare you to say otherwise).
Fast forward to 2020 and Amfitheatrof did it once again, inviting women on an ambitious journey through space and time with the Stellar Times collection, which looks not only beyond our earthly borders, but reaches back to the Big Bang. It’s a collection that Amfitheatrof admits started in a “very weird way”, if only because it saw her embark on a mental trip that began with a question about colours in dreams, continued with her traversing the universe, before coming back down to earth with a fascination with technological space advancements.
It’s clear that the jewellery designer, much like the women she designs for, is very much a citizen of the world who is informed of its happenings and has opinions on them. In this respect, there is arguably no one more suited for the job than she is. Amfitheatrof undeniably designs for the modern woman. And as the saying goes: It takes one to know one.
How has the journey with Louis Vuitton been so far?
It’s been amazing. Vuitton is a company that has so much energy; it’s a very fast-moving, energetic house with incredible leadership and incredible people. We’ve been able to do a lot very quickly and I’m now creating my fourth jewellery collection. We’ve made some enormous headway in the design language for high and fine jewellery, and we’ve managed to create a style in high jewellery that is recognisable. I was very lucky to come into Vuitton, where there was already a phenomenal team that buys precious stones. And then, with fine jewellery, we’ve already launched two major collections, and I’ve already kind of reworked some of the existing ones.
Upon taking up the LV jewellery mantle, was there anything that you felt you needed to do with the House’s jewellery collections?
I thought that it was really important that the Vuitton woman was the same woman that you see in ready-to-wear and accessories. In that spirit, that woman had to have a very close association with jewellery, which she didn’t.
The jewellery needed to became more modern and to have that power that the Vuitton woman has. She is a strong woman, she’s adventurous, curious, an explorer. And it felt like the jewellery didn’t really reflect that woman. I really wanted to bring it together and I feel now we have much more of a youthful, independent, strong vision that has kind of married really well.
You once said that you wanted “one little piece” to “hold a lot of attitude”. How have you translated this into your designs for LV?
B Blossom was an immediate proposal for an existing collection. And then, I wanted to do a collection that didn’t exist, that was of my vision but that brought that Vuitton feeling that comes from its trunks, its bags— something for both men and women; a very modern, simple design. I mean, if you think of everything that Louis Vuitton created in his lifestyle, it’s so modern. He created lasting pieces that have incredible strength; they’re a little bit electrifying; they’ve got attitude; and at the same time, they’re very beautiful in their simplicity. That’s really the essence of Vuitton. And if you think of a trunk as something that lasts lifetimes, jewellery’s the closest thing we have to that timelessness, and so I wanted to have a cohesive kind of design effort throughout all the universes.
A lot of high fashion brands have joined the foray into high jewellery recently. What do you think sets LV’s jewellery apart from the rest?
I think we’re the number one brand for coloured stones and what we’ve done with our cut in diamonds is incredibly ambitious. We have the best ateliers and then, of course, I have a strong engineering interest as a jewellery designer, because I’m a silversmith. So I go in wanting jewellery to be as light as possible, to have as much movement as possible. As a woman, I’m conscious that even if you’re wearing something important, it needs to feel as if you’re not. You don’t want to walk around with something that’s rigid; that changes the way you move. You need to feel free and casual even if you’re wearing a $5 million necklace. I think very quickly, we’ve established that in high jewellery, and I think that there are so many women who desire that today.
Tell us more about Stellar Times.
So it came in a very strange way. I wanted to do a collection that had a lot of colour in it and I started to wonder whether we dream in colour. And then it went to the notion that precious stones are billions of years old and if they’re the closest things we have to the Big Bang. Are we holding a little bit of space when we wear a diamond on our finger? From that, I came to the realisation that we’re living in such extraordinary times. There’s a possibility that we’re going to colonise the moon; we’re going to go to Mars; we’ve got Hubble scopes that are photographing the surface of the sun for the first time. So many advancements, and it interested me how we had really stopped 50 years ago—there was no space race, there was no money being spent. With the SpaceX exploration, it became a war of telecommunication and we were just sending satellites into the sky; it became sort of a political thing. And now through SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, there is suddenly this huge interest in space again. And obviously, we are outgrowing our planet, so we’re looking elsewhere in our solar system. And that kind of just totally took over my interest. That’s what’s so fascinating about storytelling, and having concepts within collections.
What was the most challenging piece to produce in the collection?
Definitely the Astre Rouge necklace. It has an extraordinary ruby: It’s 8.06 carats; it’s an incredible colour; it doesn’t have any colour changes throughout the stone, which makes it very rare for a stone that size. But what was very challenging was the construction of the setting of the necklace because there are so many diamonds. Another interesting piece I love is Céleste, which presents the silhouette of the top of a cloud. So there were different challenges with each piece, really— whether it’s the setting of the stones, the layout of the stones, or the sourcing of the stones, such as the Vietnamese spinels that we will never find again. I think some of the greatest things we’ve achieved are that we’re making jewellery at lightning speed and creating pieces of a quality befitting Vuitton that are complicated in very tough times.
Are there any philosophies you subscribe to when designing jewellery?
I think that wearability and movement are super important; a piece should be as supple as possible and as “liquid” as we can possibly make it. So I’m always striving to ensure that there’s no rigidity to it. And then it has to be graphic and modern. I think that when you have jewellery that is very decorative, you can hide a million sins behind it. But when something is simple, it needs to be perfect. I love simplicity and am always influenced by Asia; I think it’s because I was born in Japan and my mother lives in a house that’s completely Japanese. I’ve always had this love for pared-down simplicity and I think that it’s all about proportions. I’m a stickler for proportions—even when we’re working remotely and on Zoom, I get sent designs and I’m like, “Hold on a second, this is 0.1 decimal of a millimetre out.” And my team will be like, “Aargh, even on Zoom?!” Proportions are very important to me.
As 2021 kicks off, what is your one wish for the year ahead?
I’d really love for people to invest a lot, a lot of money towards eradicating things such as single-use plastic and hazardous materials. For me, climate is a top priority, and I think we now have to seriously put money towards using technology and innovation to rid the planet of single-use materials.
This article was originally published in Harpers Bazaar.
(Related: Digitising a jewellery business)