Bulgari’s Heritage Comes To Life In A New Exhibit


Photo: Grazia Neri

“The only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari.” Richard Burton once quipped about Elizabeth Taylor during their passionate love affair and jewelry rendezvous at the famous Bulgari store on Via Condotti in Rome. While I would bet that Taylor knew more Italian,  it’s a perfect line for a couple who were some of the many stars who helped the brand shine, carve out its rightful place in Italian history and also hints at what the globally renowned brand is about.

Bulgari

For me, the name Bulgari is as indigenous to Rome’s history as the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Tiber. Maybe not as steeped in the architecture or antiquity of the Eternal City but a part of Rome’s narrative and culture since the 19th century when Italian silversmith Sotirio Bulgari left his home in Greece in 1884.

Bulgari

The shop on Via Condotti 10 has been there since 1905 and has a long and chronicled tale. Steeped in creativity and craftsmanship and the spirit and tradition of generational jewelry, the legendary house stand out as one of Italy’s most iconic brands.

Books have been written about the renowned house, international museum exhibitions have been devoted to Bulgari, but none so in-depth as the exhibit launching on June 26, 2019, and running through November 3, 2019, in Rome,  Bvlgari: The Story and The Dream. If you are jewelry, art or cultural enthusiast or happen to be traveling to Italy, this is one exhibit not to be missed. It will be displayed in two of Rome’s palazzos and will cover the story of Bulgari with unique and visionary installations conceptualized by the curator of the exhibit Chiara Ottaviano and  Bulgar’s Heritage Curator Lucia Boscaini.

Bulgari

Lucia Boscaini took time out from her hectic schedule of preparing the final stages of the mounting the exhibit to discuss this extraordinary event.

“Over a year and a half ago while researching the direction and development to get this project off the ground, Boscaini says, “we sought to tell the Bulgari story from a variety of perspectives and from novel, distinctive and refreshingly unexpected angles.” There are different dialogues and narratives referring to the history and the jewelry featured in the two venues, Palazzo Venezia and Castel Sant’Angelo, run by Polo Museale del Lazio.

Listening to Boscaini explain the full scope of the exhibit is awe-inspiring in its historical insight into the brand and the reference points of Bulgari’s transformation from a small family run business to a global luxury brand and the evolution that occurred, echoing cultural worldwide changes, growth and progression.

The two venues house different aspects of the Bulgari legacy. “In Palazzo Venezia, every room relates to a decade in our history starting with the talented silversmith and original creator of the Bulgari legacy. Sotirio left his home in Greece for Rome in 1884 and began to build what would become one of the most globally recognized and successful jewelry houses. There are documents, images, and the background of jewels and fashion that range from the mid 19th century to the end of the 20th century.” Boscaini explains.

Bulgari

Sotirio’s Via Condotti shop was frequented by local clients, aristocrats and wealthy tourists. After WWII, Sotirio’s sons Costantino and Giorgio began to take Bulgari in a more glamorous and contemporary direction. The jewelry was inspired by Greco-Roman Classicism and the Italian Renaissance, and Bulgari acquired important gemstones and created exclusive luxury pieces.  Never before seen archival documents, historic photos and films which take visitors through one hundred years of the Maison’s history are interspersed with numerous stories relating to the economy, society and customs that reflected the time periods in which the jewelry designed and worn.

Bulgari

Visitors are then led to Castel Sant’Angelo and are given a glimpse into how Bulgari became one of the pioneers in Italian and then global jewelry making, the DNA of the brand’s artisans, creative direction, and generations that all play an important role in the influential brand and how it became what it is today. There is a room devoted completely to what the exhibit refers to “Hollywood and the Tiber.” When in Rome, American movies stars discovered Bulgari, along with their Italian counterparts due to the brand’s  long-standing reputation and groundbreaking designs,  This room displays the jewels that A-list actresses owned and wore in real life and in the movies, along with anecdotes and the back stories behind the pieces of icons, fans and clients of the house, including Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, Ingrid Bergman, Tyron Power and his first wife Linda Christiansen, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Audrey Hepburn.”


Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS and Courtesy of Bulgari

Image by © Studio Patellani/CORBIS and courtesy of Bulgari

It takes us through the Dolce Vita years and how these film stars and the city, where many movies were shot during the 50s and early 60s such as Roman Holiday, Cleopatra and Ben Hur influenced the return of fame to the brand after World War II, when Rome and Italy both needed to find a way to rebound and renew. During this time, stars on location who shopped at Bulgari, led to wider international recognition. Tyrone Power and Linda Christiansen, who married in Rome in 1949, purchased their wedding bands from Bulgari.

While on location in Italy in 1962 Elizabeth Taylor stated that ‘undeniably one of the biggest advantages to filming Cleopatra in Rome was Bulgari’s shop.’ It was at this time that Taylor and her then-married co-star, Richard Burton started their love affair. Burton went on to purchase Taylor pieces which she would wear for the rest of her life and particularly at some of the most important milestones. In the 2011 Christie’s auction ‘The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor’, Bulgari re-acquired eight pieces in total of Taylor’s collection.


Bulgari

Everett Collection and courtesy of Bulgari

Bulgari also bought back some of other leading actresses such as Gina Lollobrigida’s pieces at auction which also now are part of the Bulgari Heritage Collection and displayed in the exhibit. Hailed as the most beautiful woman in the world, ‘La Lollo’s’ smoldering glamour was matched by that of another Italian—the jewelry of Bulgari. One of her favorite pieces was a scroll- motif diamond and platinum necklace and bracelet combination created by the jeweler in 1954. It can also be worn as a tiara, as Lollobrigida did when she received her 1961 Golden Globe for World Film Favorite and in the movie Woman of Straw


Bulgari

Courtesy of Bulgari

Bulgari was also well represented on the silver screen. In addition to pieces owned by Elizabeth Taylor, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, and Anna Magnani appearing in films, some jewels were loaned just for a film itself, such as the many stunning Bulgari pieces Ingrid Bergman wore in The Visit (1964), and those worn by Sharon Stone in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino. Set in 1970s Las Vegas, there is a scene where her character receives a suitcase full of jewels, and she is draped in a chinchilla coat on a bed. She spreads out the pieces of gold and gemstone Bulgari jewelry, which sets the tone of the rest of the relationship between her and Ace, played by Robert De Niro.

Grazia Neri and courtesy of Bulgari

Getty

Bulgari also makes an appearance in Robert Altman’s 1994 satirical comedy Prêt-à-Porter—not just Bulgari jewels but Paolo Bulgari himself. The plot revolves around models, designers, and journalists descending on Paris for fashion week. There is a star-studded cast and a slew of cameo roles. Sophia Loren plays ‘Isabella de la Fontaine’, whose character wears a Bulgari suite of earrings and necklace. She is a customer of the renowned brand in real life. Art imitating reality or the other way around?

 Anna Magnani is another Italian actress who amassed a major collection of Bulgari jewels, which she purchased herself. From humble beginnings, Magnani worked her way through Rome’s Academy of Dramatic Art by singing at nightclubs and in music halls. By 1955 she was awarded the Best Actress Oscar for her fearless and unforgettable performance as the grieving Sicilian widow in The Rose Tattoo. A strong, independent woman, Magnani was intense—like the characters she played. She made personal style statements with her Bulgari Jewels.

Olycom. Courtesy of Bulgari

Getty Images courtesy of Bulgari


Bulgari

“The exhibit continues on to showcase how the company transformed with the changing times from the 50s onwards,” explains Boscaini.”


Bulgari

Bulgari

Some of the iconic pieces include gold jewels set with ancient coins and the Serpentini collections.  All of the creative decisions and progressive designs were sometimes bold moves, proving that Bulgari was a brand that could meet the creative and financial challenges of evolution to continue to be the artistic and lucrative powerhouse that it is today. When Giorgio Bulgari passed away in 1966, his son Gianni and cousin Marina took over the company. As chairman and CEO of Bulgari in the early 1970s, Gianni opened shops in New York, Geneva, Monte Carlo and Paris. “In the late ’70s, Gianni ensured the creation of jewelry that was current and reflected the changing times, revisiting old traditions in a highly contemporary manner,” says Boscaini.  There was a new, more a more minimalistic approach to jewelry and fashion that would prove to be challenging for many of the well-known jewelry houses. Bulgari had reworked its image when its first New York branch opened at the Pierre Hotel; as Gianni Bulgari explained to Women’s Wear Daily in November 1970: “We want to do important things, but so they are not just worn for special occasions.” The creations from the late 1980s and 90s were spearheaded by Gianni’s brothers Nicola and Paolo after Gianni left the company is 1987 and were designed to respond to the lifestyle of the working woman with modular pieces that were wearable at any time of the day.

Bulgari


Bulgari

Bulgari

Bulgari

When asked what some of her favorite parts of the exhibit she worked on, Boscaini says, “ I had an amazing time working with

Cecilia Matteucci Lavarini, a passionate collector of Haute Couture. She has assembled a vast collection of everything from gowns to all accessories. We went through the pieces together. We selected the fashion and accessories to create a dialogue with the jewels that would lend a more textured and vivid feeling to the times periods and trends in which the Bulgari story unfolds and would enrich the jewelry with a more dimensional point of view,” Boscaini  continues, “entering Cecilia’s Bologna apartment was like entering a fairytale world of hats, gloves, shoes and  gowns upon gowns by the top couturiers”.

The widow of a local steel baron (and the heir to the fortune of her family’s now-defunct department store, Fratelli Lavarini),  Fratelli Lavarini’s couture featured in the exhibition includes but isn’t limited to Jean Patou, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Paco Rabanne, Schiaparelli, Balmain, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Gianni Versace, Valentino and more.

Bulgari

Bulgari

Bulgari

Bulgari

Other highlights that  Boscaini mentions include some of the never seen before items that she purchased back from collectors and auctions. Boscaini is particularly proud of an emerald sautoir she purchased in September of 2018 “which truly reflects the brands DNA,” she explains. There is also a pair of Audrey Hepburn’s earrings that have never been on display or seen before in an exhibit.


Bulgari

Conde Nast courtesy of Bulgari


Bulgari

One of Boscaini’s favorite rooms, she says, “is the room when you enter Castel Sant’Angelo, “You walk in and it’s a range of Bulgari flowers that have been designed throughout the years.  Each time period of floral designs represent a different sensibility of the brand’s evolution, yet they all have a feeling of movement in common that brings them to life.” She adds,” it is colorful and full of character.  We also have the flowers projected as a film which lends a visual and emotional experience.”


Bulgari

Bulgari

Bulgari

Bulgari

Boscaini credits curator Chiara Ottaviano’s passion for the project and her ability to frame history in an imaginative and original way that allow visitors to become part of what the team is referring to as a “corridor of time.”  interweaving it with topics and anecdotes that start in Rome to extend to the whole world from the past to the present” concludes Boscaini.

Note: The exhibition project is the work of Polo Museale del Lazio, directed by Edith Gabrielli, in collaboration with Bulgari, with contents selected by a scientific advisory board of distinguished academics such as Francesco Benigno (Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa), Chiara Ottaviano (sociologist and historian of mass communication), Daniela Luigia Caglioti (Federico II University in Naples), Emanuela Scarpellini (Milan University).

 

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