The sparkle! The majesty! The breathtaking allure! There’s something about walking into Tiffany & Co. and feeling your troubles instantly melt away. It’s almost as if you’ve been transported to a fantasy world filled with diamonds, semi-precious gems and sterling silver trinkets. The superior excellence and craftsmanship that drives the brand is spotlit in the dazzling documentary from director Matthew Miele, CRAZY ABOUT TIFFANY’S. And after watching it, you’d be hard-pressed not to be absolutely smitten.
I spoke to Miele over the phone about everything from how this film came to be, to what secrets had to be protected at all costs, to the human facet of the brand.
SassyMamaInLA: I would imagine having done SCATTER MY ASHES AT BERGDORFS help with getting the doors open. How did you go about getting such unprecedented access to Tiffany’s? Was it a struggle?
You’re right. I didn’t know SCATTER MY ASHES was going to have an impact like it did with the fashion crowd. But it certainly brought out the audiences. That film really paved the way for subsequent brands to trust me with their image and company legacy. As far as celebrating the brand and also being honest about how they got to where they are. My goal when I was filming at Bergdorfs, I saw catty corner to me, Tiffany & Co. I thought very highly of them and knew some of the stories, but didn’t know the huge impact they’ve had on pop culture. Over the course of time, it took about a year for me to convince Tiffany to have access and authorization. It was a good lot of emails back and forth. And then it was meeting, after meeting, after meeting. It was really concerned with how I was going to tell the story – what I was after. Over the course of a two year production, they let me in more and more. It was very tight at first, but then they trusted me – to show me jewelry and behind-the-scenes.
SassyMamaInLA: Was anything off limits?
Good questions. I got everything I wanted to show. The only thing where we hit a snag was when we show Francesca conceiving of the jewelry – with The Blue Book. The issue was it would be a lot to try to capture every piece being constructed for The Blue Book. We got a chance to film a couple of pieces being made, but unfortunately couldn’t do a bunch of them because they were being made at different times. Timing and logistics.
SassyMamaInLA: Like Mrs. Fields is protective over her cookie recipes, was Tiffany’s protective over giving away their magic formula?
Yeah, there was. We went to the Pantone factory where their color has since been trademarked. There’s a recipe for the color. We were allowed to show the making of it, but when we put our camera on the actual formula for Tiffany blue, that’s when we had to mask out some of the key ingredients and measurements. That was one of the big moments we knew we can’t let that get out there. A lot of people try to mimic it or copy it, but without the specific ingredient, you really can’t.
SassyMamaInLA: I had no idea Jennifer Tilly was a collector. How did you go about finding the celebrities and socialites who would be open to gushing on camera?
We did about 100 interviews. It just starts very organically. I don’t like to do a terrible amount of research because I don’t like to be a know-it-all. I like to learn as the audience might learn. As the interviews are conducted, people tell us, ‘Oh. You should talk to this person because I hear that they have a collection or love the jewelry.’ It’s one of those connect the dots type of thing.
SassyMamaInLA: Was there anyone you really wanted but couldn’t line up due to scheduling?
I would have loved to talk to Reese Witherspoon. I met her a couple times during the course of production. Logistics didn’t work out. She’s had a close relationship with the brand because of SWEET HOME ALABAMA and that FRIENDS episode we used. Her commentary would have been great, but ultimately we got Andy Tennant, the director of the film. He gave us that great story about the proposal scene was a true story. That’s the gem of what we were looking for.
SassyMamaInLA: I loved that accent wall in his office was painted ‘Tiffany blue.’
Yeah. He tried to mimic that blue color. I don’t think he got the exact recipe. He definitely tried [laughs].
SassyMamaInLA: One of the “characters” in your Bergdorfs documentary that I loved was personal shopper Betty Halbreich. Were there personalities you interviewed at Tiffany’s that you felt could be her match?
I was always looking for that because Betty really took over a real good portion with the people who were talking about her, but also how we constructed the edit on her. She’s very funny, very caustic, very honest. That was an authenticity I was looking for in Tiffany’s. The one that got closest to it was Dale Marcovitz, the lady who put the Tiffany diamond in her hair. That was kind of a moment where I thought, ‘I think I found my Betty.’ I would have loved to have included more of her but she retired while we were filming. I wanted to return to her but she had already signed off from Tiffany at that point.
SassyMamaInLA: How involved were Tiffany execs in your edits or creative choices like in post-production?
They just wanted to make sure the Tiffany blue color on screen matched what the Tiffany blue color is. That was the only real stringent edit they demanded. I totally understand that because it’s part of their image. They were great sports. They didn’t have any changes. They were a little uneasy about some of the candid nature of the interviews. They were skittish about some of the music choices. Ultimately, I said, ‘Look. This is an independent film and I’m trying to take a 21st Century approach to storytelling so I think this will hit the millennials. From my research, you guys certainly need to reach them in your marketing.’ They agreed it was something to be helpful.
SassyMamaInLA: What do you think it is about these iconic institutions like Bergdorfs, Tiffany’s and now The Carlyle – is that correct?
Yeah. The Carlyle Hotel.
SassyMamaInLA: My God. If those walls could talk!
SassyMamaInLA: What made you think you could be the one to tell their story cinematically?
Part of it is a challenge, to me, is to get behind-the-scenes to some of these places you’d never think they’d allow a camera. Those are the types of things where people get curious and people will come out and see a film. I try to look at iconic things where my interest is, but iconic things where it’s hard to get into. The Carlyle, to me, and Tiffany’s, and Bergdorfs, when you walk in there’s an intimidation factor where they might not be able to afford things there or intimidated to go up to the glass cases or to reserve a room. It’s great that a film can tear that down and make it more familiar and to give you that notion of feeling real. Like in the film, everyone mispronounces Schlumberger. Everyone does it – even the people in fashion do it. It’s not like you should feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. Everyone is the same walking through those doors.
SassyMamaInLA: I loved the story about the guy [David Jablonski] who wrote Walter Hoving as a kid. That brings such a humanity to the brand that I’ve never associated with it before. Were there anecdotes like that which really impacted you?
That one specifically. We made a lot of effort to get that one specifically. That story was written about when it happened in a book about Tiffany back in the 60’s or 70’s. It’s moments like that where you’re like, ‘We need to track this kid, who’s a man now, down and figure out if he’ll tell the story.’ When we contacted him, he was obviously surprised. He didn’t think he would make it in the film. The way we told the story made it very endearing.
The woman in San Diego we went to see who worked at Tiffany’s in the 40’s – that was a big deal too. She’s a relic of the past who can give insight as to what it was like. She talks about celebrities like “Judy Garland walks through the doors.” We haven’t heard that in years. Hearing that first hand was exciting.
SassyMamaInLA: What do you hope audiences walk away from this feeling?
What I try to convey is that Tiffany’s is more than a jewelry store. It’s something that has had an impact on pop culture, sports, and a lot of areas you might not have known. The marketing Charles Tiffany put in place almost 200 years ago – the Tiffany blue, the Blue Book, the engagement ring. These things have stayed for so long. I know Steve Jobs borrowed some of these principles. It’s interesting to note that some of these things you may take for granted are in your life more than you think.
CRAZY ABOUT TIFFANY’S opens in select theaters (in NY at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Bunin Film Center, and in LA at the Laemmle in Santa Monica) starting on February 19.