In Elizabeth Gilbert’s biographical tome “Eat Pray Love”, the author recalls a conversation with her friend Giulio about how every town has a single word that defines it; not exactly a description, but a single thought that sums up the spirit of its inhabitants. When it comes to Rome, says Giulio, the word is “sex”.
It’s no surprise that heritage fashion house Bulgari takes inspiration primarily from this capital – from the architectural B.Zero1 collection that recalls the carnality of the Colosseum, to the Serpenti jewelry that literally wraps around the neck and limbs. Even for its physical stores, all roads lead to Rome: in 2014, the brand commissioned architect Peter Marino to reinvent its commemorative flagship store along Via dei Condotti, which had been open since the early 1900s. Bulgari’s Roman sale is considered the model for all Bulgari stores in other cities. The eight-pointed star pattern acts as the brand’s emblem and is a beacon of sorts; it is seen embedded in its shops around the world, which now includes Greenbelt 3 in Makati City.
Instead of boutiques, Bulgari calls its retail spaces “temples,” perhaps because of its strong references to the architecture of Rome. Heavily veined marble adorns the walls, which recall the earthy character of ancient Roman structures. Adding a contrasting warmth to the marble, the multifaceted parquet floors evoke not only Bulgari jewelry, but also the mosaic floors of Roman baths. In 2015, the brand financed the restoration of the polychrome floor mosaics of the Baths of Caracalla, whose fan pattern inspired the brand’s Divas’ Dream collection.
At the back of the store is a cavernous private room for VIP guests, a golden oval-shaped room furnished with pieces from genuine Italian designers. Photo courtesy of BULGARI
The store is divided by collection, but also by category: jewelery flanks each side, the brand’s collection of men’s and women’s watches on podiums in the middle, with a corner dedicated to Bulgari accessories and perfumes. Minimal art in the store, a vibrant Riso print of flowers on a field, pays homage to brand ambassadors and admirers like artist Andy Warhol.
At the back of the store is a cavernous private room for VIP guests, a golden oval-shaped room furnished with pieces from genuine Italian designers. A crushed velvet sofa by Osualdo Borsani and a white marble Mangiarotti table greet you as you enter. Sitting on the walls are mannequin busts wearing Bulgari jewelry, arranged to look like classic Roman busts. The room itself was inspired by actress Elizabeth Taylor’s visits to the Bulgari store in Rome in the 1950s, when she often arrived by plane to film during the golden age of Italian cinema.
Bulgari calls its retail spaces “temples”, perhaps because of its strong references to the architecture of Rome. Photo courtesy of BULGARI
Yet with limited mobility in cities and neighborhoods across the country, Bulgari’s opening of retail space appears to run counter to the growth of e-commerce across all retail categories. What is the place of the physical store of a luxury brand if shoppers do not venture outside? According to Jeffrey Hang, Bulgari’s regional general manager for the South Asia region, the decision to pursue Bulgari’s first showroom in Makati (there is one at Solaire Resort) was in response to growing market demand. Hang admits the early months of the pandemic were “devastating” for the brand, like many other non-essential industries, and sought patronage from tourism-focused retail (mainly overseas buyers from China) to regain footing.
The Bulgari showroom is located at Greenbelt 3, Makati City. Photo courtesy of BULGARI
But the brand realized there was great potential among local shoppers who were, in fact, keen to spend on luxury. “In Southeast Asia, our business with local customers in their home markets has, in some cases, tripled from what it was before,” Hang said. “There is no doubt that we had a captive audience and many of these people shopped when they travelled. And now that they can’t travel, they shop at home.
Hang Go denies that this phenomenon is not necessarily exclusive to Bulgari customers, but is part of a larger movement within the luxury sector of shoppers buying luxury items from their homes. “By really listening to our customers and wanting to satisfy their brand-related desires, we’ve really seen that effort pay off,” Hang adds.
As Bulgari continues to be available for purchase across various channels, the construction of a physical store in Manila’s central business district is a sign that luxury really does matter. No wonder the word for Rome is sex, and Bulgari represents the city’s sensuality – touching and feeling the heavy coldness of jewellery, smelling exotic leather and enjoying Italian hospitality with a cup of espresso in a golden room in egg shape.
The Bulgari showroom is located at Greenbelt 3, Makati City.