Trust Bulgari, with their illustrious heritage of opulent luxury, to make the opening of a new store something truly special; something steeped in the rich narratives of their past: something that, above all, tells a story. Their uniquely thoughtful approach meant that when the Italian label went about designing their latest boutique on London’s Bond Street, they drafted in Peter Marino – the leather-clad architecture maestro whose retail work for giants like Dior and Louis Vuitton is world renowned. He hand-selected each material, approved every drawing, and most of all ensured that the spirit of Bulgari vibrated through every inch of the vast new space.
With the challenge of bringing Italian modernity and tradition into a listed, quintessentially British space – where, as Virigina Woolf reminds us in Mrs Dalloway, do those various strands of old-world Englishness come together more vividly than on Bond Street? – Marino has mixed the Neo-Classical vaults of Sir John Soane, the Corinthian columns of the Ancient World, and the Stilton-veined marble of Roman classicism to create a building truly emblematic of Bulgari’s international outlook and evolution: it’s past, present and future.
Well, in case you didn’t know, that past is peopled by some of history’s greatest starlets, glam-queens and divas, including Anita Ekberg (immortalised on celluloid by Fellini), Monica Vitti (immortalised on celluloid by Antonioni), and of course, Elizabeth Taylor (immortalised on celluloid by just about anyone who was anyone). Taylor was such a fan of Bulgari, in fact, that the brand have honoured the infamously demanding actor by naming their in-store VIP room Il Sallotino Taylor; an homage to the no doubt languorously indulgent hours spent by Taylor escaping the glare of Rome’s paparazzo among the altogether more enchanting flashes of Bulgari’s resplendent jewels. That 1960 glitterati atmosphere is invoked by softly spoken interior accents like vintage armchairs inspired by Osvaldo Borsani (the mid-century Italian avant gardé furniture designer), as well as onyx coffee tables and plush carpeting soft enough for even the most expensively pedicured foot.
Then there’s the Male Area: fettered by a binary understanding of gender it might be, but when retail looks this good, identity politics and the intellectual fancies of high theory dissolve away in a cloud of diaphanous elegance, revealing a Members Club vibe that’s only one swill of brandy away from pure intoxication. Feel like La Dolce Vita-era Marcello Mastroianni as you swan through the airy space, white shirt gleaming, hair soigné, admiring the polished wares with eyes wellhidden behind vast (Bulgari) shades. No, cigarettes must remain firmly in bespoke pocket: smokers, no matter how chic, will be ejected – it’s the law.
All of which would be moot were the store filled with gaudy tat and plastic cracker-fodder. This being Bulgari however, that was never going to be an option. Instead you’ll find in this hallowed vault of decadence all manner of conceivable luxury: vividly shaded jewels of forest emerald enveloped in precious metals, and gold watch cases concealing the most intricately wrought workings imaginable: delicate mechanics requiring an eyeglass to admire and a lifetime of training to construct: true labours of love and devotion – something rarely seen, and rarer still held, in our age of industrial manufacturing and instant gratification.
Along with all those Bulgari classics, a rather more modern piece was created of at the turn of the millennium. The B.zero 1 was a ring designed to commemorate Bulgari’s passage into the 00s, and, as such, it’s pretty spectacular: an iconic spiral enriched with pink, white and yellow gold, the columnar shapes recall Rome’s greatest landmark just as the modern, architectural volume speaks of an audacious hunger for modernity. It’s another echo of Bulgari’s Janus faced perspective and their astounding marriage of heritage and future.
Fresher still are two new pieces from Bulgari’s SerpentiForm art exhibition that are bound to catch your eye with their hypnotic lustre: both necklaces, they’re beauty is of biblically seductive proportions. One alternates scales of snakewood (a reddish material more often found on haute violins than jewellery) with priceless Pavé diamonds, whilst the other boasts a snake-head pendant augmented with a fiery emerald stare that’s enough to tempt even the most virtuous and spend-thrifty of window shoppers to plunder their life savings. They’re two fittingly decadent odes to Bulgari’s slithering spirit animal. After all, there’s nothing sexier than a walk on the wild side, right?