Layers, Geometries, Graphic lines – a game of marble goes bigger than ever, the aesthetic of Peter Marino and the architects at Bvlgari
My arrival in Via Monte Napoleone is greeted by grey sky and relentless drizzle. Our arrival, to be precise. I have two daughters: the elder, Laura, spends all her time singing songs from old musicals, watching movies huddled under a flannel blanket and reading books. A nerd, in other words. Her sister, Sara, studies Chinese, trains in a boxing gym and steals all the copies of the fashion magazines I happen to write in. In a nutshell, as different as chalk and cheese. As soon as Sara found out that I was to go and see the new recently refurbished Bvlgari boutique in Milan, her eyes lit up. «Can I come with you?», How could I say no?
So here we are, absorbed by Milan’s damp mists. We have hardly closed our umbrella and someone opens the door for us, an instant welcome, bathed in the light of Rome. A small miracle, the result of the work of Silvia Schwarzer, the Senior Director of Architecture and Visual at Bvlgari. In other words, the person who designed the brand’s flagship stores in the Ginza Tower in Tokyo and the Fifth Avenue store in New York. She spends most of our visit chatting with my daughter, showing her jewels, watches and parures as if they were old friends. Despite being in the heart of one of the world’s most luxurious locations, there is such a feeling of familiarity and comfort that it is impossible to experience discomfort. I am amazed by the spontaneity of my daughter as she walks around the Mangiarotti marble tables with the displayed jewellery. The colour palette throughout the store is a profusion of ochre, orange, purple and white. The floor is laid with white mosaics framed by strips of porphyry, slabs of travertine, and walnut wood dried for months before installation and the walls are finished with encaustic paint and gold leaf.
Designing luxury is not a simple matter. We know that what we, for convenience’s sake, call ‘beauty’, comes at no small cost, due to its attention to materials and detail. We also know that a hefty price tag does not necessarily mean beautiful. The capability of a designer lies in balancing luxurious elements without falling onto excess and redundancy. Silvia succeeded. «I have tried to copy the light of Rome, the city that symbolises Bvlgari,» she tells me. There is also a lot of Milan in it, I reply. The furnishings are unique examples of the best of Milanese design: Borsani or Parisi armchairs, Buffa tables, Castiglioni lamps. It is a kind of homage paid to the taste of this city. And to Silvia’s university studies, who, like me, went to Milan Polytechnic.
She shows me a lamp. «It’s a unique piece,» she explains. «It comes from a villa in Teheran designed by Gio Ponti.» My daughter is listening and taking photos the whole time. Like in a museum, you could say, but here there is a different feeling. Displaying fashion design pieces means lasting within the immediate, following the seasonal flow, quite the opposite of the intention of the museum that aims to eternity. In between these two temporal realities lies the handcrafted product, jewels in this case, which have a rather longer permanency in the space. It is neither a dress nor a sculpture. How do you conceive a showroom for a timespan that is neither transitory nor institutional?
Bvlgari stores around the world have been designed by Silvia’s team following the aesthetic guidelines of New York architect Peter Marino. Silvia explains to me that «Peter’s strength lies in his ability to work right across the board: art, fashion, architecture – as far as he is concerned, they all belong to a single creative language.» This explains Warhol’s works on the walls, one of the Big Apple’s iconic artists, but also the sculpture by Liberatore, in homage to twentieth-century Roman art, through to the floral wall by the Japanese artist Azuma Makoto, in what was the atrium of the original palazzo and is now an inviting winter garden. A fusion of art and nature. Experimentation, creativity, but – above all – taste. This is the word that runs through our chat together. «We have tried to translate the geometrics of Bvlgari jewels into space,» Silvia tells me. And she confesses her love for the most refined twentieth-century bourgeois architecture here in Milan, that by Portaluppi. I finally understand why I feel so at ease, as I look at the cabinets inside which breathtaking jewels sparkle. While Silvia explains to me how each of these display units is a unique piece, its lighting system adjustable to suit the jewel it exhibits, I have my epiphany. I am in a home, not a museum, not a store. 280 square meters. A refined home, frequented by people who recognise taste when they see it, who make it their own – just like the houses designed by Portaluppi, like the Boschi di Stefano museum-home or Villa Necchi Campiglio. Examples of a kind of beauty that have today outgrown the era of their creation to become a model of Italian taste, modern yet timeless. Classic.
I have lost sight of my daughter. Then I spot her, standing before a display cabinet, enthralled as she attempts to translate the ideograms engraved on a plaque that describe the jewels it contains. And I find it infinitely poetic that a Chinese client should come into this Milanese home and take away with him a little of Rome’s light captured in a jewel, wanting somehow to preserve his experience of Italian beauty on his return home.