Bulgari’s Eccentric Charisma: Like a Painting

I always feel a little outraged when people say fashion is only about business, clothing, models and partying. I am sure most of the bloggers feel the same – fashion blogging has been turned into a sort of job for some of them – but I don’t. On the contrary, I hate when such a complex subject is reduced to such a petty level. Business, clothing, models and partying are the most apparent parts of the game, but there is much more: I may sound pretentious, but one of the reasons behind this blog is trying to offer you readers a different vision of fashion, where culture – in all its aspects – and the past are never forgotten. I may also sound a naive day-dreamer, but I’m still convinced beauty and culture – not money, not business, not self-interest – will save the world [1].

All these thoughts have recently come to my mind when I saw the Spring/Summer 2010 Bulgari campaign, featuring Julianne Moore. I guess it’s quite clear the complex nature of the pictures, shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, and their painting-like quality.

All the media went into a frenzy when they saw the actress posing naked, but really, why should I care for a woman’s body when the setting around her is so interesting and luxurious? Why can’t people go beyond the focus of the picture – which is clearly the actress – and try to know more of the complex staging? A rich decadent atmosphere emerges from the campaign, and each picture contains references to art. The period used as source of inspiration is the 19th century, when exoticism and orientalism brought fantasies of extravagant opulence to Europe. The symbols of this are the animals posing with Julianne (lion cubs and cacatua parrots), the white feathers in the 3rd and 4th pictures and the white orchids in the 2nd picture.

At the same time, it is impossible not to find connections to the Aesthetic movement, that emphasized the value of aesthetics over moral or social themes. If you compare these pictures by Mert and Marcus to the infamous portrait of Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony, you will find they share the same decadent and rich atmosphere – the Irish writer and poet sitting on a couch covered in furs, exotic carpets and rich velvet fabrics. Moreover, the picture above introduces the theme of the mirror, because the actress’s reflexed image can be seen in the background.

Fans of white peacock feathers decorate the background of these two pictures, where Julianne is sitting on a couch, surrounded by velvet and embroidered satin cushions. The choice of using this particular colour range – dark yellows, greens, blues and purples – is amazing, because these are the colours which make the snow white skin and dark red hair of the actress pop.

The photographers didn’t shoot the campaign in a studio, but used one of the most amazing private mansions in Hollywood, the incredible Dawnridge, built by the costume jewellery designer Tony Duquette and his wife Elizabeth in 1949. The house is surrounded by a tropical garden, with terraces, pagodas, pavillions and sculptures, from which the passion of the original owners for all things exotic emerge. Entering Dawnridge is like stepping into a parallel dimension: furniture and art pieces from different countries and ages live one next to the other, fused into a unique mix.

In spite of the complexity and beauty of the advertising campaign, its primary purpose must not be forgotten: the pictures serve to advertise the new accessory collection of the Italian jewellery brand. The four pictures above present four bag styles – two from the Leoni collection, two from the Chandra [2] collection.

This is not the first time Julianne Moore is portrayed in a picture with painting-like qualities: in 2000, Michael Thompson turned her into a contemporary version of La Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres. Even if the picture above was heavily photoshopped, I actually like the way in which the photographer gave his personal rendition of a masterpiece of modern art.

It is not a case that this painting – dated 1814 – was the first attempt of the French painter to introduce exotic themes into European art. His idea of Orientalism wasn’t connected to the desire to know a different culture in depth, but was just an escape from reality, a reflection on serene beauty and on aesthetics.

Here Julianne is posing with a cacatua parrot: this is the image I prefer because her profile, far from being perfect, is intense and extremely beautiful. Her white jewellery is amplified by the snowy plumage of the bird, and finds its contrast in astounding emerald drop earrings. If you have a good visual memory, you may remember she wore the same earrings at the 67 Golden Globe Awards, last January. She has always looked drop-dead gorgeous in green, and these jewels prove it once again.

The white pieces she is wearing are a snake-shaped Serpenti bracelet, made of gold, diamonds and mother-of-pearl, and a B.Zero1 ring in gold and white ceramics.

This picture features Julianne and the parrot again. In this case, she is wearing a collar necklace, made of gold and cabochon-cut stones, one of the most iconic pieces in Bulgari’s history, and sunglasses with diamante decorations on the temples.

The sunglasses are part of the Serpenti collection, while the Tubogas snake watch in rose gold is part of the collection of watches produced in 2009 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the brand.

In the last picture of the campaign, Julianne wears the Tubogas snake watch again and a B.Zero1 ring in gold and black ceramics.

I’ve never been a fan of jewellery (I prefer costume jewellery), but the pieces I’d like to own are Cartier Love bracelet and Bulgari Tubogas snake watch: they are iconic and timeless pieces, and they encircle or wrap around the wrist, which is really sexy, in my opinion.

Snakes have always been recurring in Bulgari jewellery. Here I don’t want to write an essay about the symbolism related to reptiles since the ancient times (the snake is the primal symbol of evil, but it also considered a talisman or a sign of constant renewal and resurrection), but to show how the shape of the snake, mixed to the goldsmith technique of Tubogas, led to the flexible snake watch.

The original snake design was first made in 1949: the coils of the serpent were made in gold with the Tubogas technique or in gold mesh, decorated by polychrome enamels and diamonds. In 1962, while Elizabeth Taylor was in Rome to shoot Cleopatra by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, she turned a Bulgari snake watch into an object of desire. Of course, her watch was far from ordinary: the bracelet was made of yellow gold, while the head of the serpent – concealing the dial – was made of white gold with marquis-cut diamonds and emeralds. In the 1970s, this idea of the snake-shaped watch was stylized in the Tubogas snake watch as we know it, where the dial was not concealed, but fully displayed.

Anna Dello Russo, editor at large at Vogue Nippon, often wears a Bulgari Tubogas snake watch – hers is an original piece from the 1970s – which perfectly matches any outfit. In it, the dial is round and not rectangular, as in recent collections. As for the Tubogas technique, it took its name from metal hoses: it features flexible bands with rounded contours, produced from metal ribbons without soldering. Bulgari has often used this technique in jewellery decorated with ancient coins.

What are your opinions of the campaign? And what do you think of Tubogas snake watches? Would you like to own one?

[1] Since I am still a fixed-term contract teacher, after seven years of teaching, and since I live in Italy, I should have learnt my lesson well – you can hardly earn a living with culture. Most of the media, politicians and tv personalities demonstrate you don’t need culture to be successful, but still I don’t agree: without the hope in a better future given by culture, without the freedom and free-thinking only culture can give, we are nothing, and I am sure facts will soon prove it.

[2] Chandra is a Sanskrit word meaning “moon”: it has been used by Bulgari for jewellery made of white ceramics, too.

Source, source and source.

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9 comments

  1. Ciao Terry,
    you know, while the jewellery images are really striking (the concept of beauty and craftmanship so inherent to the chosen context), I feel the bag pictures somehow go against their purpose: in the painting-like scenery, those bags look so cheap and useless to me… even ugly, I would say!
    Anyhow, a touch of kitsch seems deliberate in this campaign (see the clash between the femme fatale and the cuteness of the cubs).
    Any news about your teaching assignements for this year? Good luck!

    1. I feel the same when it comes to the pictures where Julianne is posing with the Chandra bags, because they’re quite cheap-looking. As you noted, this contrasting touch isn’t annoying, probably because it’s deliberate.

      As for the school, I still haven’t news for the upcoming school year. Yesterday I got some teaching hours in a liceo until June 2011, but today I came to know that yesterday’s designations have been cancelled because of bureaucratic mistakes. I am so disappointed and frustrated.

    1. Yes, I’ve read it. I’m so disgusted. It’s one of the thousand Italian nonsense situations: on tv you see nothing but feminine bodies in full display (butts and tits in prime time), and no one seems to complain or tries to change things (guess why?). On the other hand, images like these – classy and refined – are considered racy. This is such a hypocritical attitude, I’m nauseated by my own country.

  2. Personally, I find the photographs a bit too “crowded”- but then again, being slightly over the top is a trait often found in works based on exotic/orientalist motives…
    as for the scandal, i feel similarly to you, and I think it reveals a lot about Italy and this stupid “facade” morals- an ad with a naked woman is considered outrageous, instead a prime minister whoring around (pardon my French) is acceptable- in fact, he’s still in office.
    Sorry to mention politics but truly the state of the country, and the way that any form of art and source of culture is neglected and attacked truly sickens me. :(

    1. You know I totally agree with what you wrote. I think any form of art and source of culture is neglected and attacked because culture (I mean, true culture, not the crap on tv) cannot be controlled: culture means free thinking and this is the worst nightmare of our Prime Minister.

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