It’s not a selling room, per se,” says Tiffany & Co.’s Michael Kowalski of the new by-appointment-only Salon on the mezzanine of the Fifth Avenue flagship. “We like to think of it more as a discreet space where the discerning collector can view the best we have to offer and can work with our artisans and archives on custom design.” To realize the “residential/work space” aesthetic it was after, the company turned to noted firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects, which imagined the central salon as “a living room where people bring you diamonds instead of martinis.” Stern and his team worked in a palette of silver and pale grays punctuated with mirrored cast glass. Those colors and materials were chosen because, Stern says, “diamonds look better against neutrals, and if a woman comes in to make a ruby necklace to go with her red ball gown, it can’t clash with the wall.”
Which is not to say the architect has created a great, beige retail box. The Salon, just off Tiffany’s Patek Philippe watch suite, consists of a series of rooms reached by a private elevator. Clients enter through two looming brass doors patterned after a 1956 Tiffany window display by Gene Moore. The waiting room is done in a pale robin’s-egg blue—one of the few times that Tiffany’s signature hue is referenced. “It’s our own version of the color,” Stern says. “There’s just enough to make sure clients know they’re not at Saks.”
From that first moment, Stern’s mission is to “cocoon clients in quiet splendor” as they wander through the suite into the main salon area, toward the phone room with its fully stocked wet bar, into the private dressing room, which is right off the atelier, where they can review sketches and mark the progress of their custom commissions on a bleached wood table. (“Jewelry,” Stern notes, “looks best against rough surfaces.”) Throughout, bronze vitrines inspired by 17th-century French decorative stands hold jewelry lit by specially commissioned LED lights that show the stones to maximum advantage while keeping them cool enough for clients to try on immediately. After all, as Stern points out, “no one should sweat at Tiffany’s.” —Stellene Volandes
The Salon is by appointment only. At 727 Fifth Ave.; 212-605-4200; tiffany.com.
Special-Order Birkins: Undercover at Hermès
Given the, shall we say, nature of what’s being sold there, Hermès’s Madison Avenue boutique is always more crowded than you expect. Many of those present are clearly serious shoppers (the French firm had another banner year, with sales up 26 percent), but for those interested in a $15,000 Birkin, it can be a bit off-putting to wrestle for space with a girl trying on enamel bracelets. That struggle for supremacy has been settled with the unveiling of the Leather Floor, a newly designed area reached via curved staircase one flight below the main entrance. “When we opened the men’s store across the street,” says Hermès U.S.A. president and CEO Robert Chavez, “we finally had the space and opportunity to really showcase one of our strongest categories.” Full luggage sets are now presented as well as a complete selection of handbags. There are Birkins and Kellys, of course, including one in red crocodile with a diamond clasp, but now clients can also see an entire wall of Constance bags in various shades of satin. And shoppers can view the So-Blacks: limited-edition pieces in black leather and hardware in all-black packaging. (Amid all this, two Paris-trained craftsmen carefully work away at refurbishing leather goods.)
The project also offered the company a chance to create a space for those interested in custom pieces. Behind two mirrored doors lies its first VIP Room. It’s done in the signature stealth style, the only note of Hermès being the leather that drapes the walls. Swatch books and binders of exotic skins are nowhere in sight but can be quickly produced for clients who wish to place a special order, a privilege afforded to loyal patrons and one that yields personalized treasures, like the Birkin customized not only in color and lining but also with two pockets: one done to the exact specifications of the client’s baby’s bottle and the other of her BlackBerry. —Stellene Volandes
The VIP Room is by appointment only. At 691 Madison Ave.; 212-751-3181; hermes.com.
Custom Luggage, Etc.: At Home with Louis Vuitton
Considering Louis Vuitton’s almost futuristic neon-pop monograms from Takashi Murakami and its spray-painted satchels by Richard Prince, it can be difficult to imagine the company as it once was: a family business specializing in handcrafted leather trunks. But it’s exactly this tradition that’s celebrated through its special-orders department, based in Louis Vuitton’s original workshop, in the Paris suburb of Asnières. “My grandmother, Madame Louis-Gaston, sent me to the workshop in the early seventies to work as a carpenter’s assistant,” says Patrick-Louis Vuitton, a fifth-generation descendant of the founder and director of special orders. “I wanted to become a veterinarian—working as a craftsman was not my original passion.”
Despite his reluctance, Patrick-Louis worked his way through each of the multiple posts at the workshop, learning how to fasten studs, cut leather and form wooden bases for the company’s signature trunks before finally creating his first special order: a trunk fitted with an audio player for a Japanese orchestra conductor. He spent ten years after that as the director of all workshops at the factory. Today Patrick-Louis runs the public relations team, but he still oversees all special orders. Appointments are taken regularly at the Champs-Elysées flagship, but when he travels he still manages to see clients to discuss their ideas and sketch out designs. Once they have decided on a design and materials, Patrick-Louis makes a trip to the workshop to outline every step of the production process and ensure that each department executes its task to the customer’s precise specifications.
There are now 200 craftsmen and artisans from around the world working at Asnières—substantially more than the 20 employees Louis Vuitton brought to the rural town in 1859, when he decided to move his operations from Paris. The founder also set up a pied-à-terre for himself above the workshop, though the estate quickly expanded to include two villas, which his family occupied for several generations. They have since moved out, but the estate remains as a museum, its Art Nouveau interiors preserved meticulously along with 20 trunks and other special orders that are on display for visitors. Many of the Asnières pieces will also be featured in Louis Vuitton: 100 Legendary Trunks (Abrams), out in December. For the book Patrick-Louis took on the task of combing through the company’s archives and customer records to select 100 one-of-a-kind trunks—any one of which he will happily re-create.
Picnic Set: The trunk holds Limoges porcelain plates, silver-plated cutlery and metal goblets.
iPod Case: Karl Lagerfeld ordered a custom iPod and speaker case like this one.
Office: This multimedia secretary in Damier Canvas is powered by a solar panel. —Shannon Adducci
To schedule an appointment or discuss making a special order, call 866-884-8866 or go to louisvuitton.com.
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