From Blue-collar to Blue Box
I never understood the obsession women have with Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. While arguably one of Hepburn’s most memorable roles, the character Holly is a runaway Texan child bride turned Manhattan gold-digger. The epitomal portrayal of a façade of sophistication. So, while passing by Tiffany & Co. on 5th Avenue the other day, I couldn’t help but think of the way the company itself glosses over its blue-collar manufacturing with a face of heritage and class.
While on a visit to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, I toured one’s of the complex’s tenants, a jewelry manufacturer. After being buzzed into the space through a series of multiple doors and bypassing a metal detector, my group was led into the main area. The space was the anthesis of the plush robin’s egg blue interior of Tiffany; gray, industrial and noisy, with a smell of chemicals and metal in the air. Photography of the jewelry was not allowed because this manufacturer made pieces for high-end companies including Tiffany. These companies, the owner told us, wouldn’t want people to know that their pieces were made in this facility. Unfortunately, I too was surprised that Tiffany jewelry wasn’t manufactured in a private, pristine facility, but rather in this coarse setting plastered with religious and patriotic propaganda and multiple security cameras surveilling every sightline.
While Tiffany promotes their efforts in sustainability and conservation, little is revealed about the actual worker molding and assembling the componentry. The Tiffany story abstracts the human labor and goes straight to the narrative of the creative director, a stylish and worldly individual who comes off as a design curator scouring the world in search of fine metals and precious jewels.
As I watched a man affix a piece of metal between two dies creating a heart-shaped pendant, I couldn’t help but think of how many Tiffany customers would be dismayed to see their $140 sterling silver charm pressed like a panini from a chunk of metal. Would the item still hold the same exchange-value to them or would it be cheapened by seeing beyond what was presented to them within a glass case? These objects of desire omit the labor, rendering it a secret and abstract part of the process, as if a complete ring or pennant was pulled from the earth and placed in the store. As the commodity fetishism surrounding the jewelry industry depends upon this omission, seeing this factory would certainly destroy the screen of commodity prestige so carefully packaged in a blue box with a white bow.