Bulgari’s snake emblem, a symbol of eternity, is the perfect match for a heritage brand that has long proven its incomparable style and undisputed elegance and is now blazing a trail into the 21st century. Many have succumbed to the serpent’s charms, in the form of rings, earrings or bracelets, with some pieces featuring a tiny, precious clock revered by many as the epitome of timeless luxury hidden in the reptile’s head. Vogue’s legendary editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, style personified, was so under the snake’s spell, she did her best to convert others. ‘It ought to be on every finger and every wrist, everywhere,’ she said, after setting an enviable precedent – she ingeniously moved the custom-made snake belt Bulgari designed for her up to her neck, producing what was arguably the world’s most avant-garde accessory at the time.
Bulgari has always set out to break the mould. Since the brand was founded in Rome in 1884 by the Greek gemstone enthusiast and jewellery designer Sotirio Voulgaris (who later changed his name to Bulgari), its aesthetic has been based on sleek, striking design and vivid colour combinations that reference the past while achieving a modern edge. The v that is used in the ‘Bvlgari’ logo is taken from the Latin script that the house adopted as its signature font.
‘Bulgari is not about itsy-bitsy jewellery,’ explains Amanda Triossi, a distinguished art historian and, since 1994, consultant to the Roman jeweller with Greek origins. ‘It attracts women with strong personality.’ These include Elizabeth Taylor and Chloë Sevigny – two actresses who could hardly diverge more in looks and style. The former is arguably the most capricious film diva of the 20th century, with a well-documented weakness for the Italian brand, the latter an avant-garde mould-breaker named ‘the coolest girl in the world’ by the New Yorker magazine. ‘They might not have much in common,’ acknowledges Triossi, ‘but they know what they want and they are not shy about it. Boldness is probably Bulgari’s most outstanding characteristic.’
Part of the house’s appeal stems from the fact that its design remains timeless and classic as well as eye-catching and fearless. The shapes are never hard or angular, but soft, rounded and organic, which provides an element of volume. ‘That is indicative of very fine and clever design,’ says Triossi. ‘Every piece is a statement.’
This was that sort of language that Elizabeth Taylor understood with effortless ease. Richard Burton joked that the only Italian word she knew was Bulgari. The couple became lovers in Rome, just a stone’s throw from Via Condotti’s famous Bulgari boutique, while filming the blockbuster movie Cleopatra. This relationship between Hollywood and Bulgari propelled the brand onto the red carpets of the world. ‘I would get so excited,’ Taylor once said, ‘that I would jump on top of him and practically make love to him in Bulgari.’
Today, younger collectors snatch up the Bulgari’s more contemporary items. Those from the edgy B.zero1 series are particularly in demand, rings especially; world-famous sculptor Anish Kapoor designed one for 2010 and this year, a blue and green marble version is making a splash. Amanda Triossi says that part of the attraction is the way that some of the jewels can be played up or played down. ‘A Tubogas necklace with an ancient coin in it, which is one of my favourites, you can wear with a beautiful long dress or a pair of jeans.’ Whatever the occasion, she adds, ‘the idea of relegating a jewel to a safe and only showing it once in a blue moon is going against Bulgari philosophy.’
Asked how the house has managed to combine the freshness of the new and the authority of the classic since 1884, the art historian says: ‘The best recipe for any good designer is to strive for an element of innovation, while making sure not to lose track of his origins. If you buy a Valentino dress from the new collection, it still has to have a Valentino feel, otherwise there is no point in buying it, because what you want is that particular look, only more contemporary.’
French art historian Eveline Schlumberger aptly remarked in an article she wrote in the 1960s, when the house commenced forging its unique identity, that a Bulgari piece is as recognisable as a Chanel coat and skirt. As the house launches a new range for 2012 and continues to expand across Asia, its timeless pieces are being discovered by contemporary women everywhere.