A Toast to B'way: Place Settings at Tiffany's

HOW does a retailer promote a cause and at the same time help itself by creating more traffic in its showrooms? Tiffany & Co.'s answer is a real show stopper.

Last week, the jewelry company hosted a tribute to ``100 Years of Broadway.'' The tribute was in the form of a party to launch a new nonprofit called the Celebrate Broadway Preservation Fund, intended to help preserve Broadway's heritage.

The party also gave Tiffany a chance to use the Great White Way to show off its table settings - knives, forks, and Carol Channing. And not just Miss Channing - or Dolly Levy as many people remember her - but also Gwen Verdon, star of ``Damn Yankees,'' Chita Rivera of ``West Side Story,'' and Celeste Holm of ``Oklahoma!'' fame.

The jeweler asked the stars to help design table settings that would evoke the musicals. The store brought in a ``surrey with a fringe on top,'' complete with porcelain chicks ($45 each) and ducks ($185), for a picnic that Miss Holm envisioned. The china sits on a milk can. The corn stalks poke up toward the security cameras. And a color chromolithograph of the big sky dwarfing a homestead completes an illusion that would make an Okie feel right at home.

All of the stars pitched in. Miss Verdon, for example, supplied her own baseballs autographed by Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.

Coming up with a place setting for West Side Story was an act of imagination since in the play there are no meals eaten.

``It's a fantasy meal so everything is transparent,'' explains John Loring, Tiffany's director of design. That means, for example, that there are two glass shark fins ($375-$770) to remind patrons about the ... snap, snap ... Jets and the Sharks.

Tiffany regularly piggybacks charities with its table-setting shows, which change every six weeks (this show runs through April 16). The company had recent shows with the New York Philharmonic and the Boy's Club organization, for example.

``Frequently, they are cultural institutions. Tiffany is a cultural institution - it is a temple of the decorative arts,'' explains Mr. Loring, who says coming up with fresh ideas is ``appallingly hard.''

Loring usually asks a celebrity associated with the institution to suggest a table setting. Sometimes this produces some unusual results. The late Andy Warhol once did a table setting of a jail cell because so many of his friends were incarcerated.

The creativity does help boost sales. Tiffany estimates sales of table settings last year came to $56 million to $85 million, or 10 to 15 percent of its total revenues.

While that may seem like a lot of money for fancy knives and forks, ``Money is like manure, it is not worth anything unless it is spread around,'' Channing said. And, watching the caviar get passed, she noted, ``It looks like Tiffany knows how to spread it around.''

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