Things to do in Shanghai: A jewellery exhibition every design student should see
Vision & Virtuosity
Driving along the Bund in Shanghai, you're usually thinking "come on, traffic, ease up." But for once I wasn't because our car had stopped opportunely astride the Bund Finance Center, where on our left stood the magnificent Fosun Foundation. A stunning example of modern architecture and a perfect metaphor for the city's innovative and insightful spirit.
Dreamily, the building's kinetic façade moves as if with the wind, like curtains unravelling. I was dismayed when we moved on.
It's such a fitting site, I thought, for what's contained within: The Tiffany & Co. Vision & Virtuosity exhibition.
The vision continued later in the day when we pulled up along that same road. Up close, you can see there are hundreds of bronze bamboo tubes enveloping the building.
Very Zen, and monochromatic. The whole exterior is swathed in bronze. But for now there's an extra pop of colour. The building's entryway is kitted out in the Tiffany & Co. trademarked robin-egg blue, signalling something fun and delightful within. And that's just by day.
By night, a clever light display casts the same blue hue all over the entire building, so there's absolutely no question as to by whom the Fosun Foundation was taken over. If the official invitation card and welcome pack serves us right, life does look prettier through blue-tinted glasses.
Now why is everybody so fixated upon this whole 'Tiffany Blue' thing? That was the first order of business for us. So I stepped into the blue (as it were), meandered my way past the labyrinth of Tiffany & Co. panels, tipped a metaphorical hat at the portrait of company founder Charles Lewis Tiffany, and entered what was very aptly called the Blue Room.
The Blue Room
Blue is the colour of Tiffany. From the magnificent Blue Book, and the little blue box, to its passion for blue stones such as Montana sapphires and tanzanites, this cool cerulean hue never veers far from the designs, image and creative messages of Tiffany & Co. Most fabled among which include the window displays of legendary designer and artistic director, Gene Moore.
"This idea that we could take some of our most incredible windows and artistry from across the generations, put them in a crate and send them to Shanghai to be displayed is a great first introduction of the world of Tiffany," says Tiffany & Co.'s divisional vice president of global store design and creative visual merchandising, Richard Moore (not related to Gene Moore).
He continues, "Tiffany has an incredible legacy of craftsmanship, and I think you can see it here in all of the windows, not only in the jewellery pieces, which are of course astounding, but also the attention to detail that the team have put in to creating the little scenes the jewellery sits in. That's something very unique to Tiffany."
Since the beginning, Tiffany & Co. is recognised for its uncanny ability to think outside of the box. Innovative ideas permeate the company in all areas. Dog tags as a luxury item? Only at Tiffany's. Wrecking balls around the neck? Yes please. Breakfast at Tiffany's? Say no more.
The World of Tiffany
In a room entitled The World of Tiffany, the brand's journey over more than 180 years has been distilled into a sprawling showcase of archives covering Tiffany & Co.'s influence in film, television, music and literature. It's like we've fast-forwarded back in time to when the iconic blue box was first made, to the construction of its Fifth Avenue store, to the definitive moments when the most influential women in history stepped out in Tiffany & Co. jewels.
And most memorably, print advertisements across the various decades show that no matter past or present – or indeed future – Tiffany & Co. never forgets to ply on the charm with a little wit and whimsy.
In 2001, the American jeweller worked with Pantone to officialise its own shade of blue called 1837 Blue marking the foundation of the brand.
The Tiffany Blue Book
We then venture deeper into the most exalted realm of Tiffany & Co. universe – a room dedicated to the venerated Tiffany Blue Book. A temple, if you will, of the innovation and artistry of Tiffany & Co. The vision and the virtuosity as promised by this exhibition.
Says Moore, "When designing the exhibition, we thought to have cadence and flow from one experience coming off the streets of Shanghai, going through that sort of immersion in Tiffany Blue, with our founder portrait coming into the space, then going upstairs... Each of the different environments helped tell the different facets of the brand."
He continues, "The very first Blue Book of 1845 is amazing. That was the very first mail order catalogue invented, the first Blue Book, and it is the same colour as our packaging today. It's kind of amazing that something has lasted that long."
Starting with the original 1845 Blue Book, which is surprisingly no bigger than a little notebook, we saw how the veritable tome evolved with the times, getting noticeably thicker as we moved into the 20th century, and adopting various hues of blue along the way.
They were accompanied by priceless high jewellery pieces from the Tiffany & Co. archives, as well as the transcendent works of Jean Schlumberger and Elsa Peretti, culminating in the latest Blue Book designs courtesy of Tiffany & Co.'s present chief artistic officer, Reed Krakoff.
"To take our archive collection and edit it down to a 300-piece exhibition which is just about 10 per cent of our total archives is a huge feat in itself," says Moore. "That, and being able to narrow that story down so we can tell our 182-year history and do it with a clear narrative was one of the challenges of Vision & Virtuosity."
Krakoff's collection was resolutely modern. With strong lines and an unwavering focus on gemstones, it's clearly designed for the contemporary woman who adeptly balances power with femininity on her own terms.
This brings us to the breath-taking Love Room where thousands of paper vines with heart-shaped leaves dangle from the ceiling in a magnificent spectacle of Tiffany Blue. Circular glass displays spotlighting Tiffany & Co.'s contributions to the world's greatest love stories complete this romatic scenography.
It was at Tiffany's that the idea of an engagement ring began (sorry guys) as well as the notion of the perfect setting (the classic Tiffany Setting) and not forgetting the newly unveiled Tiffany True ring which is unique in its own special way.
Feeling the love? Capture your emotions in a personalised message on one of the four interactive walls and see it drift into the distance.
Breakfast At Tiffany's
Moving on, we exit the Love Room via the elevator which took us straight into... Fifth Avenue! Called the Breakfast At Tiffany's Room, this is New York Fifth Avenue at its finest. Here's where you can (probably) nibble on a Danish and stare longingly at the showcases, then indulge in loads of selfies against the iconic store façade.
You've probably watched the movie already but we bet you've never gone behind the scenes. Through a specially produced presentation, here you'll not only go behind the scenes but also see exclusive objects such as the original script with Audrey Hepburn's personal annotations and set photos at the Fifth Avenue store.
Whatever you do, please do not leave this room without having seen the artwork by Chinese sculptor Li Xiaofeng. Working with shards of black Jingdezhen porcelain, Li created his version of the iconic black Givenchy dress that Hepburn had worn in the film's opening scene.
We just love how Vision & Virtuosity so deftly marries one of the most cherished emblems of Tiffany & Co. with Chinese artistic ingenuity – a fitting nod to the rich cultural heritage of Shanghai and its growing international influence. Indeed, in the 20 years since Tiffany & Co. set up its first store in China, this brand has grown by leaps and bounds.
Says Moore, "It's an amazing amalgamation of the story of Breakfast At Tiffany's using someone that could create something specific for this exhibition that resonates to our audience here in China."
There are now over 30 points of sale throughout China. The brand had also opened new Blue Box Cafes in Shanghai and Hong Kong this year.
Diamonds: Miracles of Nature
The final room is devoted to Tiffany & Co.'s profound love for diamonds, or as the jeweller terms them, Miracles of Nature, for they are born of the earth and refined by man. Instead of the usual boxed vitrines, the pieces are presented in an undulating and continuous flow that accentuates the fluidity of their design, culminating in the crowning jewel of Tiffany & Co., the Tiffany Diamond.
This 128.54-carat fancy yellow diamond was only ever worn by three women: First a Mrs E Sheldon Whitehouse at the 1957 Tiffany Ball in Newport Rhode Island, then Audrey Hepburn at the Breakfast At Tiffany's publicity tour in 1961, and finally Lady Gaga at this year's Academy Awards. Now it's your turn to see this massive 141-year-old sparkler in the flesh.
Vision & Virtuosity runs from 23rd September to 10th November at the Fosun Foundation
600 Zhongshan East 2nd Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai 200010
10am to 6pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays (last entry 5pm)
By invitation only on Wednesdays
10am to 8pm on Thursdays and Saturdays (last entry 7pm)
Tickets are priced at RMB20 (proceeds benefit the Fosun Foundation Shanghai and its charitable programs)