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SUNDAY BRUNCH

It's the Tiffany of Names

January 18, 1998|KATHY BRYANT

Say "Tiffany" and what do you think of? Is it Audrey Hepburn staring into the store's windows on Fifth Avenue? Louis Comfort Tiffany's art nouveau designs? The thousands of teenage girls named Tiffany?

Or is it the Tiffany corporate empire of more than 120 stores?

As related in the recently published "Tiffany's 20th Century, A Portrait of American Style" by John Loring (Harry N. Abrams), American style and Tiffany's are synonymous, especially when it comes to marketing genius. The book brims with pictures of the celebrity du jour using Tiffany merchandise, be it Olivia de Havilland, Hepburn or Princess Diana. Which is exactly what makes the book so much fun to look at and maybe even read.

And as the country has grown and changed, so has Tiffany's. Today Tiffany stores throughout the world average more than $3 million in sales every day, a long way from $4.98, the profit from the first day of business in September 1837.

In the interim, the word "Tiffany" has sneaked (or was it pushed?) into our vocabulary as meaning quality with a particularly American slant. Now when something is top of the line, it is often described as the "Tiffany" of chairs, cars, etc. That designation began as early as the 1900s, due to Louis Comfort Tiffany's art nouveau jewelry and stained-glass designs.

Today it's a household word, thanks not only to Hepburn's "Breakfast at Tiffany's," but also to the fictional Tiffany Welles on "Charlie's Angels," whose popularity rocketed the moniker into the Top 10 of girls' names in 1980. It remained on that list until '95, and Tiffany still is among the 10 most popular names for Asian Americans and blacks.

Entrepreneur Donald Trump named his daughter Tiffany, explaining that he owns the airspace over the Tiffany Building in New York City.

"I find myself having lunch with Tiffanys all the time," says Loring. "I think the name is equated with grace, charm, glamour, but, most of all, with the idea that it's fun to dream."

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