Reed Krakoff Begins Reinvention of John Hardy
*This blog post comes from WWD and was written by Misty White Sidell*
Reed Krakoff couldn’t sit still for very long. On Wednesday, the designer will unveil his first nine collections for John Hardy, which are being launched only six months after he joined the jewelry brand.
They are his first jewelry designs since Krakoff left Tiffany & Co. in 2021 after serving four years there as chief artistic officer. When Tiffany was acquired by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, some designers may have taken Krakoff’s payout from the luxury firm — estimated by sources at around $40 million — as a ticket to a permanent vacation lifestyle. But instead, Krakoff has channeled that energy into a beachy, tropical brand that has been in need of reinvention.
It fits a pattern with Krakoff, who joined Tiffany four years after exiting Coach, where he spent 17 years as its president and executive creative director.
Speaking to WWD, the designer acknowledged his restlessness: “My whole life is based around design and being creative and collaborating with people. That is something that for the last 30 years has been really fundamental to what brings me happiness. It’s rewarding for me to do design-related things in both the fashion world and my private life.”
Krakoff’s eagerness for image-making is palpable; at a photo shoot, he weighs in on everything from the placement of prop feathers to the drape of a silver chain — tasks that some designers of his stature might pass off to those further down the pecking order.
His position at John Hardy is part of a broader arrangement with the jeweler’s owner, the giant private equity fund L Catterton. He serves as Hardy’s creative chairman and also made a personal investment in the brand, while also working as a strategic adviser to L Catterton across its brand portfolio and future acquisitions.
The irony is that L Catterton is partially back by LVMH — the very company that orchestrated Krakoff’s departure from Tiffany.
“When I first started talking to J. Michael Chu, who cofounded L Catterton, it was about working on different brands and getting to the essence of what makes them exciting and distinctive. One of the thoughts was for me to work on John Hardy — it’s a brand L Catterton has owned for a little less than a decade and needed someone to reimagine it while keeping all of its amazing qualities,” Krakoff said.
In September, Chu told WWD of Krakoff’s hiring: “Reed has shown an unmatched understanding of the luxury market and a remarkable ability to take iconic global brands to new levels of success.
“L Catterton has been a strong believer in the growth opportunities ahead for John Hardy, and we are confident that, with Reed’s artistic eye, the brand’s distinctive heritage will continue to be set apart.”
John Hardy was founded by its namesake designer in 1975 and was purchased by L Catterton in 2014. Hardy was inspired by Indonesia and traditional Balinese crafts and founded a jewelry brand that aimed to preserve the island’s history of artisanal metalworking. But since its founding designer’s departure in 2007, the brand — which is stocked in more than 500 stores — has not maintained its original pulse.
Bringing Krakoff on board is a bit of a “back to square one” move for L Catterton, which has repeatedly tried to jumpstart John Hardy over the last decade — which at one point included hiring former Levi’s global brand president and American Eagle Outfitters chief executive officer Robert Hanson. He aimed to reinvigorate the brand with new collections and celebrity ambassadors like Julianne Moore, but these efforts failed to resonate with shoppers.
As previously reported by WWD, L Catterton also tried to sell John Hardy last year for around $200 million but those efforts faltered in line with the global M&A economy. So instead, they brought on Krakoff to revive a brand that has been relatively dormant.
“It’s a really beloved brand that’s been a bit quiet over a bunch of years — the product of too much sameness maybe. It’s ripe for evolution, particularly in sterling [silver],” Krakoff said of John Hardy jewelry.
Krakoff’s objective is to reinvent John Hardy through today’s cultural lens — which means a broader, pulled-back view on Balinese culture as it relates to leisure time and surf, while protecting the brand’s workshops and its team of 450 artisans there. All of John Hardy’s silver designs are manufactured in Bali, while its gold pieces are produced by an additional 400 artisans based in Bangkok, Thailand.
“I think the next chapter of the brand is more of an abstraction of its past, not a literal interpretation,” Krakoff said, treading lightly. “We can talk about Montauk, Malibu, St. Barth’s as variations on a theme of laid-back, cool and confident style. There isn’t really a space like that anywhere for jewelry on this scale, but it’s a way people live their life and wear fashion.”
Krakoff joins Hardy from the universe of mega brands. He transformed Coach into a $5 billion fashion label; helmed Tiffany — then a $4 billion brand — and created jewelry franchises that continue to drive sales today. From 2009 to 2015, he had an eponymous luxury fashion and accessories line that was a favorite of celebrities and Upper East Side ladies with a taste for minimalist architecture.
What these have in common is Krakoff’s ability to address the needs and aspirations of everyday luxury consumers, rather than designing for high-fashion addicts. To Krakoff, good design is relatable and easy to identify.
“I’ve been a pragmatist my whole career,” he said. “The goal is to create a brand that is exciting and relevant — that strikes people as a destination for jewelry, but also something that becomes part of a dialog. It’s about great product, provocative marketing, amazing retail spaces and how those things all come together.”
In John Hardy, Krakoff sees a large opportunity. “There are very few jewelers on the scale between $100 million and below a billion [in annual sales]. John Hardy can be an important jeweler of that scale with true heritage, true craftsmanship, credibility and a strong aesthetic,” he said.
As many jewelers like Tiffany and David Yurman deviate from a business based on sterling silver in favor of more precious materials (and higher average price points), Krakoff sees sterling as an important target. There’s one big reason in particular.
“Men’s is a big opening — there are not a lot of men’s resources in fine jewelry, and in sterling in particular. There’s not a lot of resources with an established heritage and credibility,” he said.
Krakoff started his “abstract” version of John Hardy with some strong visual references from the brand’s history.
The company’s “Icon” chain, a hand-woven, lanyard-like configuration of gold and silver wire, has been reinterpreted across collections into earrings and rings, as well as the typical bracelet and necklaces. The brand’s dual use of gold and silver in a single design has also been referenced in Krakoff’s designs.
New collections like Surf and Twist use undulating shapes to evoke Indonesia’s waterfront. Others like Bold and Spear revisit the Icon chain in oversize or hammered proportions. And the capsules including Pebble and Color Block use fluorescent enamel, freshwater pearls and silver beads to provide shoppers with a wardrobe of elevated beach jewelry.
Playing on a skill Krakoff honed at Tiffany, most items come with a distinctively engineered clasp or closure that heightens its wearer’s experience. All of the collections use recycled or reclaimed gold and silver as well as bridle leather and diamond pavé.
They will be offered at John Hardy’s store in SoHo, New York, retail partners like Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, as well as a roster of more than 450 independent stockists.
These initial collections will roll out between April and October, priced from about $200 to over $100,000, with the average products hovering between $700 and $2,000.
And if that’s not enough, Krakoff already has story boards that lay out John Hardy collections for the next two years — spanning everything from higher-end jewelry to woven sterling rings for men. Unlike in his previous jobs, Krakoff is managing a single design team to create collections at every price point and category.
For Krakoff, it’s been a relatively seamless experience. “I think one of the nice things about a company smaller than four or five billion dollars [in annual sales] is that you can move more quickly. That said, you need to do the work — moving quickly means executing the work, but creating new collections and a new brand image is really no different for a small brand or big brand. It’s just how fast you can roll it out,” he said.
Krakoff is not doing this alone. In fact, he has brought on some heavy-hitters from the indie jewelry design world to help. Both Phillip Crangi, of the popular namesake jewelry line from the early 2000s, and Eva Zuckerman, founder of the popular Eva Fehren fine jewelry brand, are working with Krakoff as consultants on John Hardy’s design. Jean Kee, who has been with John Hardy for more than a decade, works as its creative director.
While Krakoff’s platform for design has changed, many things remain the same.
He talks about his work in a way that is even-keeled and elevated — much like the manner in which he designs. In describing one collection, he notes its “spray of diamonds.” In referencing the brand’s new house color, a bright orange-red, he heralds John Hardy’s “enthusiastic new packaging.”
This poignancy has helped Krakoff in what is perhaps one of his greatest talents — managing a boardroom of executives.
In recent months designers’ artistic whims have been clashing with executives in very public ways — à la Alessandro Michele and Marco Bizzarri’s fallout in November that ultimately led to Michele’s departure from Gucci.
Krakoff, on the other hand, has a track record for managing executives’ expectations while talking up his designs in a way that makes the businessmen behind billion-dollar brands feel included.
“CFDA Awards are wonderful, but success to me means people get paid, they get bonuses, and shareholders get money. That’s how I approach it, but first I dream and create product that people fall in love with,” said Krakoff, who added that he maintains a friendship with past collaborators, like former Tiffany chief executive officer Alessandro Bogliolo.
Krakoff preferred to call it a “skill,” rather than a talent, but “that doesn’t mean I don’t get dug in and firm about something. But I have to stand behind it to the extent that I’m successful. Everything is fair game — money, budgets, expansions. I need to be able to talk about everything. To have a real conversation about stock price and profitability and not have the CEO think things are off limits and, ‘Oh I cannot talk to a creative person about that.’”
But don’t call Krakoff a commercial designer.
“The objective is to create exciting, believable products,” he stressed.