7 Things We Learned from the New Documentary Crazy About Tiffany’s

Tiffany & Co. has been around for nearly 180 years, and as Matthew Miele—director of the new documentary Crazy About Tiffany's—points out to mental_floss, it continues to be one of America's most iconic brands. Much like in his 2013 documentary, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's, Miele sought to bring the history and cultural relevance of this quintessential luxury brand into focus. "Both Tiffany and Bergdorf's are so cultivated and finely honed with their images, colors, fonts, and ubiquity," Miele says. "Their relevance maintains because they refine their image every week. They are both so attuned to the changing times and shifting attitudes that they always stay 12 steps ahead."

Crazy About Tiffany's—named for Holly Golighty's famously fawning line in the movie that has become synonymous with the store—is out in select theaters and on VOD today.


In the 1850s, right around the time Tiffany’s opened its first Paris location, founder Charles Lewis Tiffany foresaw a huge trend and jumped on it early. France’s Empress Eugénie, who was the leading fashion icon of her day, had chosen a shade of light blue as her official color. Tiffany, realizing that hue would soon be an international sensation, immediately made robin’s egg blue its company-wide branding color. The bold, pretty tint became known as Tiffany Blue, and more than a century later, Pantone patented that specific shade for Tiffany’s. The exact formula is a closely guarded secret, but the name—Pantone No. 1837—is a nod to the company’s founding year. "It is a remarkable thing to have trademarked so long ago," Miele says, "and an even greater feat to keep its recipe a secret."


Think the first mail-order catalog was an old Sears, Roebuck & Co. one? Nope; Tiffany’s Blue Book predates Sears, Roebuck’s Big Book by nearly 50 years. Charles Tiffany started sending out his mailer in 1845, and the book has become a way to advertise the company’s rarest and most exclusive jewels, as well as to introduce new collections in their fashion jewelry and watch lines.


In 1878, Charles Tiffany bought an enormous, rough yellow diamond. Once cut into its classic cushion-shape brilliant, the stone weighed in at an impressive 128.54 carats, and his owning it solidified Tiffany’s reputation as the world’s premier jeweler.

The Tiffany Diamond has only been set in new pieces five times, and only worn twice. Once by lucky Newport socialite Mrs. Sheldon Whitehouse at a 1957 fundraising ball co-sponsored by Tiffany’s (Mrs. Whitehouse was chairwoman of the event), and the second time by Audrey Hepburn. While doing negotiations with Paramount to film 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s in its flagship store, Tiffany’s was granted a photo shoot with Hepburn modeling a number of jewels—including the Jean Schlumberger-designed Ribbon Rosette necklace. Since then, the stone has been reset in one of Schlumberger's classic Bird on a Rock settings [PDF], and in its current necklace mounting.


Before the diamond boom of the late 1800s, simple or engraved engagement rings were more common—if a ring was given at all (the Puritans had a practice of giving thimbles, which were considered more practical and didn't give into the vanity of jewelry). When diamonds were used, the bezel setting, which kept the stone low and flat in the hoop (think of a signet ring design) was most popular. Then Charles Tiffany decided to show off the brilliance of his diamonds. In 1886, he raised the diamond off of the ring's hoop, creating the six-prong mounting that is now ubiquitous with solitaire engagement settings.



Louis Comfort Tiffany (Charles's son) was trained in painting and glasswork, and expanded the family business with his much-sought-after lamps, chandeliers, and stained glass, first with his own glassmaking firm and then later as the first Design Director at Tiffany & Co. (The hard-to-please design genius Steve Jobs was such a fan of Louis Tiffany's work that he once took his entire Macintosh team to a Tiffany exhibition for inspiration on how to mass-produce great art.) But some pieces that Tiffany designed were one-of-a-kind, like the enormous clock he made for Grand Central Terminal in 1914. The clock—with its vibrant red and white Roman numerals and blue and yellow sunburst design—still has all of its original gears and parts, is still accurate, and is the largest example of Tiffany's glasswork in the world.


"One of the smallest but most profound details I enjoyed discovering was their design of the most famous insignia in sports," Miele says. He's talking about the interlocking NY that the Yankees have used for a century. Back in 1877, Louis Comfort Tiffany designed and created a silver-plated medal of valor to be given to New York's first police officer injured in the line of duty, and the 'NY' insignia connected the medallion to the pin. One of the Yankees' first team co-owners, William Devery, was also New York City's first Chief of Police, and thus would have been aware of the design. It first appeared on Yankees uniforms in 1909, and has been a staple of the pinstripe look ever since.


Songwriter Todd Pipes and his band Deep Blue Something were very calculated when it came to writing their one big hit. "I thought if I could get that phrase 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' into a song, that people might like it," Pipes says in the film. "It's a weird song. There's almost nothing poetic about it." It worked though. Between the song's catchy melody and its invoking of a beloved movie and brand, not only in the lyrics but in the video (the band all meets for a champagne breakfast in the middle of Fifth Avenue right outside Tiffany's, and near the end, an Audrey Hepburn lookalike gives the group a prolonged glance on her way down the street), this 1995 single was the band's only song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.

Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year

The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]


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