Last Wednesday, I walked through the doors of the new Tiffany store at Canal Place, and was handed a fleur-de-lis shaped cookie iced in the famous jewelry store’s trademark hue.
It seems that one local color of Christmas this year will be … Tiffany Blue.
Here in New Orleans, where Bywater houses flaunt Caribbean colors and historic Painted Ladies can juggle half a dozen intensely saturated hues, the shades of things matter. I know of one Uptown house painted a flamboyant lavender that everyone of a certain age recognizes immediately as K&B purple.
So the Tiffany Blue of the city’s newest retail establishment resonates.
Like the city it has most recently adopted, Tiffany Blue has a storied history — one with an ironic parallel to local lore.
You see, the color now known as Tiffany Blue was chosen by company founder Charles Lewis Tiffany for the cover of Blue Book, Tiffany’s annual collection of exquisitely handcrafted jewels, first published in 1845. It was the first mail-order catalog distributed in the U.S.
New Orleans also had its Blue Books, although they didn’t appear on the horizon until 40 years later, and for far different kinds of jewels. The local versions were published directories of prostitutes and houses of prostitution in Storyville, the city’s legally designated red-light district.
Tiffany and Co. still publishes an annual Blue Book. The 2013 edition has more than 200 dazzling creations, including A Great Gatsby collection inspired by Baz Luhrman’s film and in collaboration with Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin.
Of course, the New Orleans Blue Book long ago disappeared; the last one was printed in 1917. And a good thing, too: The color has become so iconic to the Tiffany identity that it is protected by color trademark. Tiffany Blue is produced privately by Pantone. Custom Color No. 1837 (the year Tiffany was founded) is not publicly available and is not printed in Pantone swatch books. (Barbie Pink is another Pantone custom trademarked color.)
That didn’t stop one acquaintance I know from decorating her entire living room in Tiffany Blue. And when my daughter got married last year, she searched in vain for a pair of the near-mythical Christian Louboutin stilettos whose trademark red soles had been subbed (briefly, because of that trademark issue) with Tiffany Blue.
The fact is, the perfect robin’s egg blue that graces every Tiffany Blue Box denotes a kind of elegance and sophistication. People want it. Perhaps that’s why it has been borrowed for everything from running shoes to wedding flowers. A Tiffany Blue Ferrari 430 spotted in Newport Beach made headlines. And making the rounds most recently on Facebook and Instagram: a picture of a Tiffany blue Kahr PM9 pistol.
Tiffany Blue’s creator recognized the value of the hue, too. According to a story in the 1906 New York Sun, Charles Lewis Tiffany “has one thing in stock that you cannot buy of him for as much money as you may offer; he will only give it to you. And that is one of his boxes. The rule of the establishment is ironclad, never to allow a box bearing the name of the firm to be taken out of the building except with an article that has been sold by them.”
That’s probably why ersatz Tiffany Blue boxes are highly trafficked on eBay.
In New Orleans, you can now get the real thing. Even if that Tiffany Blue costs a bit of green.