What can be more universally recognizable than the name Tiffany? … And for those who are savvy enough, there are few people who are more connected or synonymous with that name than John Loring. For 30 years, Mr. Loring was the creative director/brains at Tiffany & Co. and for 30 years this man raised the bar higher and higher, charted this brand’s course and by doing so he enhanced its image, notoriety and its contents beyond one’s wildest imagination. Tiffany went from staid and reliable to hip, happening and a lifestyle that was not solely based on jewelry.
Few will know that Mr. Loring has a long history in design whether it is at Architectural Digest or his affiliation with Rive Gauche. He continues his creative endeavors via the Museum of Modern Art where he serves on one of its committees and he is a prolific and astute writer who has authored many books concerning style, Tiffany and all things exquisite and refined. You will also learn about his relationship with the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.
Today, we are afforded a rare opportunity to learn more of the man who is a living legend for those of us who grew up admiring his creative output and regarded him as a pinnacle and purveyor of good taste. If you were not lucky enough to see the progression of Tiffany during his tenure then you surely missed many enduring moments and visuals that remain with us to this day. He was and is a force majeur!
It is humbling for me as well as an honor to be able to introduce you to John Loring ….. And while Tiffany & Co. may be what he is remembered for in the minds of many; this is a man who is much more than just that one part of his life.
1-During the Tiffany years, can you tell us what you consider to be your greatest pleasure and crowning achievement and why?
My greatest pleasure at Tiffany & Co. was to work alongside the dazzling cast of characters: Walter Hoving; Van Day Truex; Elsa Peretti; Paloma Picasso; Jacqueline Kennedy; Eleanor Lambert; Gene Moore; Sybil Connolly; Archimede Seguso; Camille Le Tallec; and hundreds more. — WOW! WOW! WOW!”
“Crowning” is something bestowed by public recognition so that points straight at my “Atlas” watch (introduced 1983) and the “Atlas” designs which follow – “Modern icons” they’re called in Tiffany’s ads. It’s great to think of them out there all over the world having so many different adventures.
2-Being a New Yorker I grew up on Tiffany windows and the in-store table displays when Tiffany was the epitome of riche, luxe, good taste and success. How do you think that has changed from the time you took the creative reins until now?
When I began as design director at Tiffany’s in 1979, there were only seven Tiffany stores in the US; there are now three-hundred worldwide. That transition has not led to any lessening in quality as quantity has spiraled upward. The fact that there is more of something has no effect on its quality. The world is, of course, a vastly different place today than it was thirty-five years ago. There is more mobility, less formality; there are many emerging markets for luxury durables as well as a new and younger and more informed audience. And, of course, there is that great game-changer the internet that was not even a dream thirty-five years ago. There is new technology bringing with it improved manufacturing techniques. There is a smaller skilled artisan population with fewer young people learning high level craftsmanship. (Fortunately this is not the case in the arts of the gold smith or gem cutter or watch maker.) Oh yes! We live in a different world than the one where I debuted at Tiffany’s in 1979.
I may feel nostalgia for the vanished porcelain painters in Paris, silver smiths in London and glass blowers on Murano, but it’s easily offset by the advances in the production of fine jewelry and watches that has allowed us to offer Tiffany’s wonderful jewels and watches to such a broad and diverse audience worldwide.
3-Having authored many books about Tiffany and related subjects can you tell us what other heritage or new brands you admire and why?
Outside of Tiffany & Co., I admire the quantum leap in the availability of fine ready-to-wear fashion over the forty-seven -years since I opened the Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique in Venice, Italy in 1967. There were five Rive Gauche boutiques then (Paris, Brussels, Rome, Milan and Venice); there are hundreds now. So many fashion houses have prospered in ready-to-wear, making great design in fashion available almost everywhere. Look at Prada, Ralph Lauren, Bottega Veneta, Hugo Boss, Dolce and Gabbana – and on a lower level H&M. None of that was there when I was young – alas!
4-While on the subject of your writing, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about your relationship with Mrs. Onassis. What is your fondest memory of her and how do you think she influenced your work if at all?
My fourteen-year/six book adventure with “Jackie O” as my editor stands out in high profile. Nothing can match that. She set the bar high (where it should always be set) in everything and made you feel bigger than life, like there was nothing you couldn’t do if you put your best efforts to it. Knowing she was there gave you tremendous confidence, and then you certainly didn’t want to disappoint her. I loved her way of calling things back to order that was both strict and graceful, and was done with her ever-present wit with phrases like “Now, you can’t possibly believe I want Caroline to think I approve of ………………..” or “In this situation, Jack (or Ari) would have handled it this way,…………….., and I think Jack (or Ari) was right, and I suggest you might want to consider doing the same.” There were her insights and cautions: “Now let’s psych them out, but steady – just look at them, look at them; they’re so vile they think of things every second that you and I couldn’t imagine in a lifetime.” And then there were her little notes on her pale blue stationary cheering you on. Or a phone call at two in the morning, “I want to check you haven’t snuck off to bed. There’s a deadline on Monday.” Then her comment as we ate a less than satisfactory lunch out of Styrofoam containers sitting on my photo-strewn office floor: “Oh! I wish Robin Leach could film this for ‘The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’.” All my memories of Jackie are fond, and I miss her still after twenty years without her, and I miss all the “sprees of joy” as she called them.
5-You have lived through and witnessed 3 different regimes and a few different owners at Tiffany, do you miss the Harry Platt days or wish that things had taken a different turn?
There were several changes of ownership while I was at Tiffany’s – all of them for the better even if the few short years with Avon were somewhat challenging. All’s well that ends well; and the company is better and stronger and more successful than ever.
Do I miss times with Louis Comfort Tiffany’s old school great-grandson Harry Platt? Yes, he could be charming and make you laugh to tears. That was fine; it’s always good to laugh and be charmed. Maybe we don’t laugh quite enough these days, or perhaps the times have less to laugh about than in the 70s and 80s – and less charm. But laughs and charm are both alive and well.
6-Let’s digress and get a bit more personal here. If you were not as involved and so defined by your tenure at Tiffany what would you have done or been doing at this time?
If, if, if……. If I’d done something completely different with my life what would it be? I once wanted to be a concert pianist but had no talent for that. I liked being an artist and did get to Pace, but the art world in the 70’s and my role in it wasn’t satisfying to me. What “if?ing” has no bearing on life as it’s lived, so how can I guess at a different outcome?! Museum curator, chef, photographer, art professor, architect………….???? I told a Paris reporter that I’d probably be covered with tattoos and in prison in Clermont-Ferrand.
7-Do you miss not being in NYC or all the traveling you did on behalf of Tiffany? Your greatest experience while on the road?
Travel? I’m in New York about a third of the year so I don’t miss the city. I travel a lot, and travel is not all that comfortable today – so I’m ok on travel. Remember that I still design for the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen after seventeen years at that – so I’m there three or four times a year. I love that. And, I love going home to Paris where I had apartments for thirty-three years. I do miss the trips with Elsa Peretti and Paloma Picasso.
What was my greatest travel experience? I might suggest riding on elephants through the Nepalese jungle in 1985 while photographing “Tiffany Taste” with the inimitably stylish, quick-witted Nancy Holmes. But, the last memorable experience is always freshest in memory; and, less than three weeks ago while working at Tivoli I had dinner seated between the Queen of Denmark (She does great sets and costumes for the Tivoli theatres.) and her younger sister the Queen of Greece. For a boy who in 1945 carried his lunch pail a mile through the desert every morning to the one-room school house in Cave Creek, Arizona, that was amazing – like something in a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Oh! How charming they are! Only in Denmark! (It looks like my career on the social stage will be straight down from there!)
8- Van Day Truex? Can you tell us a bit about him as he is not exactly a household name?
Van Day Truex was design director of Tiffany’s for twenty-three years – just before me (1956-1979). He had been president of the Parsons School of Design in New York and before that the director of the Parsons School in Paris. He designed the Parsons table with Jean-Michel Frank, was in the Best Dressed List Hall of Fame and has been called “the man who invented American style”. I am forever in his debt for bringing me to Tiffany & Co. as his successor and teaching me all he could about style and design. There was no better teacher and no finer gentleman or better pal.
9-Let’s speak of Elsa Peretti… did you ever think that her little bean would explode into the mega business that it has become? Again can you tell us a bit about your relationship with her?
Elsa Peretti is one of the few people I’ve met with true genius. Her every design is perfection – simple, organic, sensual, powerful, beautiful (let’s not forget beauty). She is also tempestuous, hell-raising, charming beyond belief, witty, fearless, demanding, loving, witty, beautiful, exasperating, worth it. Travels with Elsa? Hang on to your hat! – and on to everything else! You’re in for a wild and wonderful ride. She once arrived four days late in Venice to work on glass designs – her excuse – “If I arrive three days late you kill me; if I arrive four days late you are so happy to see me you forgive me everything.”
10-Can you tell us something about John Loring that perhaps you have never revealed?
Do I have unrevealed secrets? Maybe like everyone I keep a few things to myself, but I try to be as open as possible. Like everyone, I’ve had some seriously bad times, but those I chose to forget as much as possible. I follow my great, late friend Eleanor Lambert’s advice, “Don’t look back.” I never joined my fan club; I never watch TV shows I’m on (even Martha’s) – actually I never watch TV; I don’t believe in any personal myths (I’m no better than the next guy whoever he may be.); I believe we’re put here to use out talents – great or small – to help others as much as possible (But I’m no saint either.) Oh! I’m pathologically shy. That’s something I try to keep hidden.