In a world where brick and mortar stores are becoming less and less relevant, Italian luxury jewelry house, Bulgari, has doubled down on their retail presence with the re-opening of their US flagship. Occupying the most well-heeled and well-known corner in New York City, and subsequently, one of the most famous corners in the world, the updated Bulgari flagship reopens today at 57th street and 5th Avenue.
A massive investment in retail in an age where e-commerce reigns supreme, Bulgari CEO, Jean-Christophe Babin, believes that as a luxury house, retail is integral to the consumer experience, and specifically, to his consumer’s experience.
“When we talk about luxury we talk very much about emotions, no matter how good you are in consumer engagement digitally, eventually the spirit and lifestyle of the brand together with a live boutique is pivotal,” he says during the preview of the store yesterday.
Inspired by Bulgari’s global flagship on via Condotti in Rome, architect Peter Marino integrated the original details of that store into the New York design, including the walnut, brass and marble details and an exact recreation of the door at the Condotti store made in 1930. The entire façade is wrapped in an intricate mesh inspired by the design of a clasp from a bracelet made in the 30s, also a theme seen throughout the store. He even went down to the detail of creating a replica of the handcrafted lantern that resides over the entrance. The goal of this lavish architecture is to transport the consumer—through this door, through this facade—into the world of Bulgari.
“The store creates the main emotion and the main desire,” says Babin. “There is nothing to replace the emotional and physical experience of being in the store, not just because of the staff, but also because it will provide you with cues regarding the style and the craftsmanship—all the elements that convey the emotion of the brand. It’s a place where not only your brain interprets everything, but also your heart captures your taste your style.”
For his business, the digital experience serves a particular purpose—as an entry point for the brand and for discovery and research which works in tandem with the retail experience. “The digital is more for information service upstream and for logistical service downstream,” Babin says. “And the flagship sits at the center of this experience.”
Beyond emotion, a jewelry purchase requires consideration. Unlike, say, consumer package goods (about which Babin is also an expert as a former executive at the German CPG corporation, Henkel) which require little or no consumer interaction with the product to make a purchase decision, luxury involves interaction. “You can try a soft drink anywhere, in restaurants or at a friend’s house,” he says. “You don’t need an experience to buy soft drinks.” Luxury brands, however—particularly jewelry— require an environment to make a considered decision.
“When it comes to something more personal, more emotional, also somethings occasional like jewelry or watches, you are talking about specific celebrations, turning points in life,” he says. “It’s something that you have to feel inside, but also consider.”
Along with the new store, Bulgari has created a 33-piece collection inspired by pop art and New York of the 70’s when one of the family founders, Nicola Bulgari, came to live in the city and set up the US flagship.
The New York collection taps into the company’s history with iconic figures like singer Liza Minelli and artist Andy Warhol, the latter who apparently offered Nicola Bulgari paintings in exchange for jewels, which the jeweler refused. “In those says were both very young and I did not like his style and had no idea that one day his paintings would be worth so much money, so I simply refused,” Bulgari said. “It was the worst deal of my life.”
Warhol’s and Bulgari’s aesthetics were much more close in design than the jeweler realized at the time; both were obsessed with color, shape, and texture. Now, the late artist’s work plays a significant role in the inspiration of the collection.
The pieces are bright and bold, inspired by stars and stripes and set in red, white and blue. There is an unexpected combination of stones and shapes—something for which Bulgari is known. They even tapped into graffiti to re-envision the company logo which was then applied to bejeweled pendants, belt clasps and cuffs. “It’s the volumes and color of Roma and the pop art of New York of the 70’s,” says Babin.
For the CEO, the collection and the New York flagship are a result of his strategy to drive the brand forward, which for a 133-year-old company like Bulgari, sits solely in its history.
“Every strategy comes from the company origins, to be clear on what that origin means, and then to very consistently evolve some of the codes of the brand, but always with the expectation of eternity,” he says. “Not always so easy to do.”