Diamond trailblazer

Matthew Miele on Crazy About Tiffany's and the secrets behind the red carpet sparkle.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Director Matthew Miele: "And they said, 'Oh, Jessica Biel is going to be here.'"
Director Matthew Miele: "And they said, 'Oh, Jessica Biel is going to be here.'" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Matthew Miele's lively Crazy About Tiffany's highlights Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard in Blake Edwards' Breakfast At Tiffany's, Fran Lebowitz commenting on Mickey Rooney, Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin on Carey Mulligan's look in The Great Gatsby, Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Julia Roberts and George Clooney in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven, Rooney Mara and Kate Mara's father, Fifty Shades Of Grey's Sam Taylor-Johnson, Rob Marshall and Jerry Weintraub. Andy Tennant's Reese Witherspoon and Patrick Dempsey moment in Sweet Home Alabama, Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson in Gary Winnick's Bride Wars, Katie Couric, Jennifer Tilly on Elsa Peretti and Jean Schlumberger, Jessica Biel and stylists Estee Stanley, Kate Young, Jill Swid, Rachel Zoe, Elizabeth Saltzman shine, and some even dish Oscar red carpet dirt.

Cat and Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn)
Cat and Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn)

Tiffany & Co. Design Director Francesca Amfitheatrof, Tatler Magazine Editor Kate Reardon, New York Football Giants co-owner John Mara, Glenda Bailey, Harper's Bazaar's Editor-in-Chief, CFDA President Stephen Kolb, jewelry designers Monique Paen, Jennifer Meyer and Eddie Borgo and many more share their thoughts on what Charles Lewis Tiffany created out of a "stationery and fancy goods emporium" in 1837 to become Tiffany & Company in 1853.

Giving us fascinating tidbits about the legendary jewelry house's history, Crazy About Tiffany's exposes some of the power dynamics going on today, intricately linked to the robin's egg blue boxes and their content. What do we see when a stylist finishes her movie star client's sentences? How do people cover up surprise when they find out that they were not the only ones to have had a party thrown in the famous halls of luxury? Sigmund Freud explained over a century ago how it is in the slip of the tongue and the parapraxes that we shed light into darkness. The director clearly adores precisely those moments when insecurities of the rich and powerful come to the surface and break through the cultivated veneer, bringing life to his subjects.

I jumped over midtown puddles after coming out of Grand Central Terminal to meet up with Matthew Miele to talk Tiffany.

Tiffany's founder Charles Lewis Tiffany
Tiffany's founder Charles Lewis Tiffany

Matthew Miele: How are you?

Anne-Katrin Titze: Fine and very wet from the torrential downpour. I feel like the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

MM: Thanks for coming out in this weather.

AKT: Did Gene Moore's window design [for Tiffany's] influence the way you were approaching the making of the film?

MM: In what way?

AKT: He has imperfection as the core of what he was doing. An undone string of pearls, a broken glass.

MM: Right. Right. That's interesting.

AKT: I thought you were also going for what seems an imperfection, but isn't because it is so very telling?

MM: The approach with the film was that I wanted to make sure that the Tiffany cultivated image over all those years - they are very careful and guarded about how they put their image out there … Every commercial you've seen or every ad for their love to me is unrealistic sometimes. But also it's artificial, it feels very guarded and a little whitewashed and manufactured.

AKT: You are all with the millennial in the film saying "this is not for our generation?"

MM: Yeah, I don't think they would buy into it. If it was a perfect film and I made every attempt to snip out anything that felt candid, I think that I would be remiss with getting the behind-the-scenes take. I'm not out to make a film for Tiffany. It was more, you know, let me in, let me look behind the scenes and we'll see what I find. Ultimately that imperfection was kind of what I was after and I hope it read that way. There was a lot of intent, it wasn't that we left that on the screen.

Katie Couric had her 50th birthday party at Tiffany's
Katie Couric had her 50th birthday party at Tiffany's Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: No, no, not at all. It seemed very beautifully placed. That we hear your voice asking questions, for example.

MM: I mean also, I don't want to be on camera. I'm making a point that it's not about me and my journey of learning about Tiffany's. I'm trying to be a voice for the audience.

AKT: Did they mind?

MM: No, I showed them the film. Well, did they mind? They were skittish about a few things but ultimately they understood that I was representing a generation that was trying to find familiarity and relatability with the brand. And the music choices and the candid nature of the interviews, I thought they understood that this is what speaks to the culture now. We can't be so antiquated with putting out a 1950s image. This is what's happening. This is more real. So they went with it.

AKT: Were you working in clusters? I loved how you segue. With dogs, for example. [A dog interrupts one interview and the next one shows Sam Taylor-Johnson cradling her big dog on her lap] You go from the interrupting dog...

MM [laughs]: To another dog!

AKT: And then she really introduces Francesca Amfitheatrof.

Tiffany Super Bowl trophy - NY Giants John Mara (Kate and Rooney's dad)
Tiffany Super Bowl trophy - NY Giants John Mara (Kate and Rooney's dad)

MM: Everything was intended. We studied it a long time, the actual puzzle of making the film.

AKT: It is a puzzle. You had [Tiffany's trademark robin's egg blue] color as one.

MM: Engagement ring, Tiffany diamond, Breakfast At Tiffany's, the movie - all these things. Yeah, everything had its own place and we were very aware when to bring those things in. We started in the beginning with an idea board of which subjects you want to hit.

AKT: The Oscars was one of them. Jessica Biel is at the center of that. How did her participation come about?

MM: When I walked into the Tiffany offices one day, you are allowed to go to this one floor where they show all the people who had been adorned with jewelry on the red carpet. And it's a who's who of Hollywood. So I said to them very simply, "Who are you dressing this year?" And they said, "Oh, Jessica Biel is going to be here." She is going to look at some jewelry. I was like "Well, can we see it?" So they asked her and she was game to do it and it's really, I think, the first time you see a celebrity sitting and actually choosing. I think that was a revelatory thing because you see that it's really their choice. It's extravagant because there's millions of dollars worth of diamonds in front of you.

Tiffany moment with Joanna Hogg's Exhibition star Liam Gillick
Tiffany moment with Joanna Hogg's Exhibition star Liam Gillick Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

And you get excited because as trite as it might seem to some people - it's just diamonds and who cares - but there's a major business thing happening there where she's the celebrity, she's wearing it on the carpet. There's a ripple effect immediately when you see it on her and maybe that translates to purchases that Tiffany is going to have or just people being inspired by what they're looking at. How they want to look in their lives and then how Tiffany is in that equation.

AKT: You also show the interactions, the stylist [Estee Stanley] finishing her sentences.

MM: Yeah. You picked up on that. Yeah.

AKT: There is a lot to see about the different professions. I thought a bit about August Sander, the photographer who did portraits of the different professions in the 20s in Germany. Your film shows how these professions around one brand interact in 2015.

MM: That's true. The behind the scenes of who is part of all of this making up of the brand. I'm glad you caught on to that because that was a moment that was unintended, again. We had the wide shot, we weren't just on Jessica. And she fed her that. I don't think Jessica was at a loss on what to say. It's just a moment that happened because they are best friends, I think, or very close outside of work.

"I noticed that when you came in." Elsa Peretti bird's head ring design for Tiffany
"I noticed that when you came in." Elsa Peretti bird's head ring design for Tiffany Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Kate Young is a very good interview.

MM: She's very good. I saw her last night. Unfortunately she is not going to make it to the premiere but she is very good.

AKT: The premiere is at The Museum of Natural History?

MM: Right. She was very good because once again she was that candid approach. We have the polite story of how Elsa [Peretti] created the bottle necklace. And she [Young] tells you, she also was a student of the Seventies, so I'm sure it can be somewhat used for drugs at some point. You know, you get that remark and I was like, should we use it or not? Will Tiffany not like that? Again, we weren't doing it for Tiffany - it was for the fans of the brand. So why not keep it?

AKT: Speaking of Elsa Peretti, I had to wear today my bird's head ring she did for Tiffany, of course.

MM: I noticed that when you came in. It's very nice. So you are a fan?

AKT: Yes. I love her pieces.

MM: No Bone Cuff?

AKT: No, I don't have that. Do people when they come for interviews wear their Tiffany stuff?

Crazy About Tiffany's US poster - The premiere is at The Museum of Natural History
Crazy About Tiffany's US poster - The premiere is at The Museum of Natural History Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

MM: No. I have a Tiffany watch my wife gave me after I did this.

AKT: The Tiffany family graves, are they at Greenwood Cemetery?

MM: Yes, they are here. We actually intended to shoot them during a snowstorm. For some reason, snow and cemetery feels very dramatic to me. We were waiting for the right snow and then we went out and got that shot.

AKT: The T-shirt Francesca Amfitheatrof is wearing at one point, is that one of the Tiffanys? Charles or Louis?

MM: No, I don't know what that is. I should have blocked that out.

AKT: It looked like Charles. These are just some little things.

MM: No. Those are the little things that I didn't think people would respond to. It's interesting that you say that.

Coming up - Rob Marshall, Baz Luhrmann's Gatsby pearls, DJs Andrew & Andrew, Fran Lebowitz on Mickey Rooney and coming out of the Tiffany Grand Central Terminal clock in Martin Scorsese's Public Speaking, a connection to Marcel Broodthaers, the Carlyle with Gay Talese not after Anna Wintour's Costume Institute Met Gala, and what's next for Matthew Miele.

Crazy About Tiffany's opens at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on February 19.

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