PARTY WITH BULGARI
BULGARI IS SYNONYMOUS WITH ROME, BUT FOR THE LAUNCH OF ITS CELEBRATORY NEW HIGH JEWELLERY COLLECTION IT TOOK THE SHOW TO THE FESTIVE HEART OF ITALY: VENICE.
Balloons, presents, sweets: the Roman brand’s new line is about recapturing the simple festive pleasures of childhood.
The Italians know how to celebrate life. It starts with their language, the fabulous expressions like arte di vivere (the art of living), la dolce vita (the sweet life) and festa (party). It is in their history. It is in the Carnevale in Venice, beginning in 1162, in which Venetians were allowed to wear masks to avoid any next-day regrets. It is in the lavish balls thrown by Italian royalty in Rome or in Puglia where locals danced the tarantella – thought to heal spider bites – until dawn.
It is the joy of these celebrations that luxury Italian house Bulgari has captured in its latest high jewellery collection, called Festa. More than 100 one-off pieces were unveiled in what Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin describes as the perfect location: Venice. “Just look where we are,” he tells WISH, laughing, as we sit in the wisteria-clad courtyard of the Aman hotel overlooking the Grand Canal. It is the middle of summer and private boats cruise up between waterside palaces to the hotel containing beautiful, happy, glamorous people. It would not have been too much of a shock to see Sophia Loren or Elizabeth Taylor step out of one of the boats.
“Being in Venezia, you can experience a joy like no other,” he says. “It is known for the Carnevale and the Regatta Storica [a boat race and festival]. It is a city that has thrown the best parties for centuries. In all the palaces along the Grand Canal, which today you see as living museums, don’t forget that two centuries ago, it was one of the craziest extravagant places. So I think throwing a party which defines a new style of Bulgari – Festa – in a city of festa is very appropriate.”
And a party did they throw. Bulgari flew in its top clients from around the world, along with select media, to see the collection for the first time. It kicked off proceedings with a viewing of the pieces – worth in the tens of millions – at the Aman. Guests arrived by private boat and were taken inside to see the incredible jewellery and watches, which were divided into themes. Called Infanzia (childhood), the first theme celebrates the very first festas you experience. There are rings like cakes (in chocolate, raspberry, vanilla and lemon varieties) and necklaces of tiny balloons made out of aquamarines, emeralds and amethysts. There are diamond-clad ice-cream and lollipop brooches. There are even birthday presents in this collection, a stunning gift box necklace and a pink gold, diamond, pink tourmaline and emerald toy train choker and bracelet called Trenino Choo Choo, or little choo-choo train.
“I thought these things are not often seen in jewellery but we made them real pieces of art,” Bulgari creative director of jewellery, Lucia Silvestri, tells WISH of the Infanzia pieces. “They are from my memories when I was a child and I was going with my parents to the festas, the parties, with the lollipops, the balloons, the paper flags. With the balloons, we created a necklace that is very fun but it is also made of jewels and so a wearable work of art. We just sold it.”
Silvestri started at Bulgari while at university under the guidance of chairman Paolo Bulgari, and became a formidable gem hunter for the Rome-based jewellery house. Founded by Paolo’s Greek-born grandfather Sotiris Boulgaris (Italianised to Sotirio Bulgari) in 1884, Bulgari is famous for experimenting with colours and mixes of stones. This style is resonating with customers more than ever: Bulgari was cited as key to the 14 per cent growth in the watches and jewellery division
of parent company LVMH in the first half of 2017.
For the Festa collection, Silvestri used stones she had been collecting since 2014, including a 180-carat sapphire from an antique necklace. “One year ago in June we started thinking about themes and the theme that was close to Bulgari, is the festa because Bulgari is a festa of colours, of joy, of traditions,” Silvestri says. “So we started with the joy of the festa and we finish with that too. I hope you can feel that behind this jewellery, there is a lot of joy and playfulness and lots and lots of laughter.”
The aforementioned sapphire ended up in a diamond necklace called simply – again demonstrating Italians’ wonderful way with words – Il Magnifico. “It is so alive, so full of life inside it, the stone has great personality,” Silvestri says of the gem. “It is a very special one; it is one of the best cabochon-cut sapphires in the world.” The piece is part of the second theme of the collection, known as Principesse (Princesses), inspired by the lavish balls thrown by Italy’s royal and noble families throughout history. There are also pieces named after the famous princesses who organised the parties in their palaces, from Maria Mancini, Princess Colonna, who lived in the 1600s and had a penchant for pearls, to Paulina Bonaparte, Princess Borghese, who was famous not only for being Napoleon’s sister but for her numerous love affairs.
The third theme of the collection is Tradizione, which takes its cue from the many foods in Italian life that are celebrated, including the olive harvest and chillies (historically, and somewhat paradoxically, considered both an aphrodisiac and a protection against infidelity). The pepperoncino necklaces have dozens of green tourmalines, rubellites and amethysts to represent the fiery pods. There is also a spider weblike diamond necklace – complete with tiny spiders – that pays homage to the month-long Tarantella Dance Festival in Puglia.
“I am really proud. I take this moment to really enjoy the collection. And I am really happy to meet the clients and share their joy,” says Silvestri of the unveiling of the Festa collection in Venice. “It is important that our clients experience what is around us when we are creating,” adds Babin of why Bulgari goes to such locations to showcase its high jewellery. “This is really an environment to provide you with clues which will have you looking at the jewellery in a different and deeper way.”
And then it is time for the festa to celebrate Bulgari’s Festa. The setting is the Scuola Grande Della Misericordia, a 13th-century building just off the Grand Canal. Guests arrive by private boats and are greeted by suited gentlemen who proffer one hand to help them gracefully off the boat and on to the pier (not as easy as it looks) and the other to give them a glass of champagne. Tourists gather to get a glimpse of the brand’s ambassadors – models Lily Aldridge and Bella Hadid and Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander among others – who walk the pink carpet adorned in spectacular jewels.
The ground floor of the venue has been transformed into a catwalk where the fashion show kicks off with a Venetian mask-clad jazz band playing in front of a giant Festa sign. Models, dressed in 50s-style corsets, emerge from a dressing room and dance joyfully along the catwalk decked out in Silvestri’s creations. The party then moves upstairs to a formal dinner created by Michelin-starred chef Luca Fantin (who was named the best Italian chef in the world in 2014 by prestigious Italian culinary journal Identità Golose) where the champagne continues to flow freely.
At midnight, guests are showered with silver confetti and silver curtains are pulled back to reveal the spectacular after-party: a hidden dance floor with a fairground carousel. There is more champagne, a dessert bar and even a gelato cart manned by none other than Fantin himself. Revellers tear up the dance floor to tunes by Italian DJ Graziano della Nebbia under a giant Venice sign.
A few hours later, partygoers, including WISH, emerge from Bulgari’s Festa into the cool Venice night to waiting private boats, all no doubt thinking the same thing: the Italians really know how to throw a good party. La dolce vita indeed.
Lucia Silvestri, above; Bella Hadid on the dancefloor carousel; a model wearing Il Magnifico with its 180-carat sapphire; a balloon necklace and iced lolly brooch from the Festa collection
Bulgari models and the jazz band at the Venice festa, a cupcake ring and chilli necklace