Meet Louis Vuitton’s high jewellery designer who’s making priceless pieces that are ‘actually fun to wear’
- For Francesca Amfitheatrof, it’s ‘super important’ to make high jewellery that’s relevant and doesn’t look vintage
- We catch up with her in Morocco as she debuts Louis Vuitton’s new Spirit high jewellery collection, showcased by Australian actress Cate Blanchett
Francesca Amfitheatrof is the most fabulous fashion insider you’ve never heard of. Chic, charismatic and – most importantly – far from overexposed, she is the artistic director for jewellery and watches at Louis Vuitton, the leather-goods house known for its monogrammed trunks.
Born in Japan to a Russian-American father and an Italian mother who used to work for designer Valentino, Amfitheatrof had a very international upbringing. This sits very well with the DNA and ethos of Louis Vuitton, she explains in an interview in Marrakech, Morocco, where she unveiled the brand’s latest high jewellery collection in late June.
“First I’m a traveller – I’m a born traveller. It sits within me and is true to who I am,” she says. “Vuitton is an accessory and fashion brand but it focuses on beautiful objects and the idea of travel, which is about exploration, adventure and expansion, being able to go anywhere. There’s a casualness but a chicness in that. That’s how we live.”
Casualness and chicness may be key elements of Louis Vuitton but the pieces that Amfitheatrof debuted in Marrakech are one-of-a-kind collectibles that represent the most rarefied segment of the luxury world: high jewellery. We’re talking about unique creations made with the most precious stones in the world.
Some perceive the world of high jewellery, which is centred on Place Vendôme in Paris, as a bit staid and only catering to women of a certain age and status. Amfitheatrof’s work is far from that. Her pieces are not meant to be hidden inside jewellery boxes and come alive when worn.
“For me it’s super important to make high jewellery relevant and fun. That’s my biggest aim, because Louis Vuitton is about the future and adventure and has a young feeling,” she says.
“It’s very important that it doesn’t look like something that’s a reproduction piece or something that ages. There’s so much amazing vintage out there. Why not buy the real thing? I want to make high jewellery that’s actually fun to wear and not look vintage.”
Amfitheatrof says that especially since Covid-19, clients have become more discerning in their purchases and are looking for even more special items.
“There is a need and a thirst for things that last and matter so you’d rather spend more but buy less and buy something of quality,” she says.
“People are becoming more knowledgeable and mix high and low, and when they buy high they go very high, and there are men buying into high jewellery for themselves, especially in Asia, where everyone is so forward-thinking and well informed and they research and understand the material and craftsmanship.
“There are also so many businesswomen who achieve greatness in life and want to celebrate themselves and have things that they love, and the incredible thing is that they want to wear them.”
While Amfitheatrof’s high-jewellery pieces are meant to be worn, they’re out of reach for most. The designer, however, has built a series of more accessible signature pieces that riff on Louis Vuitton’s iconic logo and incorporate the label’s trademarks in a modern way, like the graphic Volt range, in which the brand’s iconic initials become an abstract pattern.
“All this is quite new at Vuitton so it was really important to put forward something that’s very recognisable as being Vuitton and playing with the logo, but turning it into a design like I did at Tiffany’s,” she says.
“You see the V but it looks like a pattern. It embodies the idea of protection and what Vuitton stands for, and this idea of armour and having something that stands out and is not everywhere.
“I don’t like when jewellery becomes a uniform and you see it on everyone. Once it becomes a uniform it stops being desirable. Our jewellery is not everywhere. It’s a new category for Vuitton and small, but it’s so exciting.”
Louis Vuitton is indeed first and foremost a fashion and accessory label, with a relatively small jewellery department, which means that Amfitheatrof, who splits her time between the US and Paris, is afforded a great deal of freedom in her work, something she clearly treasures.
The day of the unveiling of the high-jewellery collection, named Spirit, Amfitheatrof announced that Australian actress Cate Blanchett had been chosen to star in a campaign to showcase the range – a fitting choice, if there ever was one.
When you meet Amfitheatrof, she does remind you of Blanchett in a way – from her deep voice and striking appearance to her elegant posture and charming personality.
“She has such a regal quality in the way she carries herself and is super modern at the same time,” Amfitheatrof says of Blanchett.
“She has this goddess quality and has such staying power because she is a unique person and is so talented and kind and a mother and international and very interested in everything she commits to. She doesn’t just appear as the face but wants to know about the pieces, how they’re made, where the materials are sourced from.
“She’s really involved. She’s the best I could ever wish for.”
As someone who is on the pulse and forward-looking, Amfitheatrof has also done some digging into the hot topic of the moment: lab-grown diamonds.
She says that she’s been approached by a few companies and has considered working with them but still has some misgivings about this new development in the industry.
“I struggle with the fact that diamonds are the closest thing we have to the beginning of the universe. There’s something magical about them and that’s why they’re so phenomenal,” she says.
“I’ve visited labs where they grow diamonds and it’s like going to a refrigerator factory with these machines and if they’re using combustion power, the amount of energy they use is not always sustainable.
“It’s good that these other opportunities are coming and if you could do different things with them, like different cuts, you could potentially do something that looks different and special, but nobody has really done that yet.”
If there’s anyone who can achieve that, it’s certainly Amfitheatrof, a maverick and jewellery maven who is bringing innovation and excitement to one of the most traditional segments of the luxury industry.