Francesca is the founder of Thief and Heist, the recently launched jewelry brand that we love. She is also the Artistic Director of jewelry and watches at Louis Vuitton. I was very intrigued by her personal style, which is quite chic, but also very modern, dynamic and a bit rebellious. Unsurprisingly, these are qualities that Thief and Heist embodies too. I loved talking to her about her career, her personal style and her newest jewelry endeavor.
What is your first memory of fashion or style?
My mother worked for Valentino. I was probably around seven or nine years old. I used to go to the Valentino offices at the top of the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, and there was a level of glamor that I have never seen in my life again.
The fashion shows that he always did were in the square next to Piazza di Spagna. You have this beautiful obelisk in the middle, and he would build the catwalk there. There would be real mannequins who did only catwalks. They would come out guns-blazing–like the supermodels of the nineties, but times a thousand! They were really sexy and really knew how to own a catwalk.
I remember going to these shows all my life growing up. I remember seeing a level of beauty in fashion that was couture. You would look on the inside of the dresses…I would always hang out in the Atelier. I knew all of the ladies there and they would show me the clothes. It was just mesmerizing. So beautiful, like real beauty.
Did you know then that you wanted to be apart of this world?
Not really, no. It’s always been around me. I come from a family that is fairly creative, whether it’s literature, or music, or art. My father always said he wanted me to go to Harvard and he wanted me to be a lawyer. I grew up thinking that’s what I had to do. But, when I took my SATs, I knew I didn’t want to. I applied to art school and really chose my own path.
That sounds amazing. Can you tell me your trajectory? I know you’re at Louis Vuitton now, and you do Thief and Heist, and you were at Tiffany before. Were you always in jewelry?
Yes. I went to art school in England and I made my first piece of jewelry when I was sixteen. I did a foundation at Chelsea School of Art, a BA at Saint Martins, and an MA at the Royal College. Then, I did a year apprenticeship in Italy with a master jeweler. I did my first show a year after that in London, in a gallery. That’s when I was really picked up by the fashion world. I started working and I started doing shows–I did a lot of jewelry for shows, I did a lot of my own line, I sold to a lot of stores.
I spent seven years studying jewelry. At art school in England, I really studied creativity. They ask you questions like, what is your voice, what are you going to say that’s different and interesting, and they push you.
I remember being blindfolded and being told to run up to a wall and leave a mark, and that was the essence of who you were. You were so scared that you were going to crash into the wall or bonk your head, that you are just sort of out of your wits, and the true you comes out. So, there were all sorts of insane, crazy exercises, but you also worked really really hard.
It was about purely being creative. It wasn’t about business, it wasn’t about how to write a CV, or how to do marketing, not at all. It was purely about what you were going to say that was different and needed. I think that’s what’s always driven me.
Right. There is always so much already out there, you want it to be really unique…
Authentic, original, different, to have it say something. I did that for years.
And then I was hired by Asprey and Garrard, the crown jewelers of England. I left Asprey and I left Garrard, and I went to Marni. I worked at Marni for three years when the brand was really in it’s hot moment. I left Marni and became the Creative Director at Wedgwood.
When I left there, I started working a lot in the art world. I was always involved with the art world, I had a company that made projects with artists.
Then, I got a call from a headhunter to talk to Tiffany and move to New York. It was one of those ‘AAAHHH” moments, like what do you do? I was really happy living in London and I didn’t expect to move. But over a period of a year, the conversation became more real. They slowly seduce you and by the end you’re like, ‘I really hope they offer me the job.’ This idea of moving to New York, which was absolutely impossible, actually becomes acceptable and you’re like, ‘I really want to move to New York!’ The seduction is very clever. And then when you get there, it’s completely different from what they told you it was going to be.
After Tiffany, I had a year out. And then I started working at Vuitton.
What is it about jewelry in particular as opposed to ready-to-wear?
I love metal. I really love metal. I really like working with it. I am seduced by it. I am a designer that likes the material. I’m not a gemologist, I didn’t study gems, I studied metal. I know how to make alloys, I know how to mix metals, and I find gold the most interesting material because it’s the most malleable, it’s the metal that can do the most.
Do you think that your work influences your personal style or visa versa?
I think that it is definitely linked. Very much. I think that when you are in the visual arts or when you are in design or you’re in fashion, everything that you respond to has to come from you. It’s too personal. It’s your own point of view in everything really. It’s not like with poetry or literature where you imagine it, it’s visual. It affects you and it affects how you feel it, you touch it, you move in it, so yes, I am very affected by it.
What’s most important to you in your style and in your work: comfort, beauty, or innovation?
I am not big on complications. I get very frustrated if clothes are too complicated. How it feels on the skin is super important. There’s a lot of satisfaction you get from anything that touches you. So, quality is most important.
I don’t like it when you have fashion houses that are all smoke and mirrors, but then you see the quality and it’s really low. I think that value is quite important, not that it has to be of a certain budget, but I find it depressing when brands are just there to make money. I find it really sad. I think that at the end of the day, you can still dream through fashion, it’s a form of expression and I think that you shouldn’t cheat people.
What inspired you to create Thief and Heist?
I wanted to have my own brand. From working with big brands and sometimes not having the possibility to really see something through from beginning to end… I think that having your own brand just gives you a voice so you can talk to your customers directly.
I wanted to do something that didn’t exist before. We live in a moment that is revolutionizing retail–direct-to-consumer brands offer such a phenomenal freedom for designers.
It’s like welcoming someone into your own house. It doesn’t have to be at the mercy of how a department store positions you and whether they are looking after your product. You have such a chance, such a moment.
There are a lot of things I did in the past that were too early or maybe are just more relevant now. I thought it was great to be able to start a brand with these ideas. Or, they were just as relevant then and they haven’t become less relevant.
I really wanted to do something that didn’t feel heavy. I think that, traditionally, jewelry can be a little static and a little over important. Oh my god, when you get engaged, you have to get an engagement ring. Why? Because some guy told you, because it’s a whole marketing ploy. I wanted to do something where you re-decipher those traditions and you can redefine them.
I think that jewelry has a huge power. It’s something so small, so tiny, and so intimate–it means so much to the person wearing it. One of the first things man did was adorn the body.
I also wanted to do a brand that was a little bit… I see the word naughty… but not just so… there’s a certain vocabulary that everybody uses now that I find really annoying. “Oh, I’m so grateful, I’m so ernest…” It’s like maybe you’re not happy! Why can’t you be ecstatic and passionate! I want Thief and Heist to be strong! I think there is a possibility for women to be really strong today and to do it with their own language. That is my intent with Thief and Heist.
I love that. Can you in three words or phrases describe your style?
A little bit masculine. A little bit…I like mixing patterns. And tailored.