Mary Katrantzou’s romance with Bulgari began with a bang. The Italian jewelry company loaned its high jewelry for the fashion show the Greek-born, London-based designer staged at Athens’s Temple of Poseidon in October of 2019. The ancient monument, the couture gowns, the Aegean Sea spread out below-it was a spectacular occasion purpose-built to give back. The ticketed event raised funds for the Elpida Association, a children’s cancer charity.
It was no one night stand, either. Together Bulgari and Katrantzou have created a new group of handbags inspired by the jeweler’s most famous icon: the Serpenti. “We felt there was a strong synergy and mutual appreciation, so when they invited me to collaborate on accessories it felt like a natural continuation,” Katrantzou says. What’s remarkable is just how tactile the pieces are considering that all the development took place under COVID lockdowns-i.e. entirely remotely between Bulgari’s Roman headquarters and Katrantzou’s temporary home base in Athens.
Katrantzou’s affection for bijoux has been obvious since her earliest days on the London runways. For her fall 2010 collection she collaged photographic images of all manner of gems. Her spring 2014 evening numbers were dripping in Maison Lesage embroidery, and her fall 2018 showstopper was a richly jeweled Renaissance portrait jacket. As she began work on this collaboration, “the first important thing was to understand what Serpenti meant to me,” Katrantzou says. “It’s a symbol that dates back to ancient Greek and Roman mythology, but its strongest symbolism to me is its power to transform-the way it sheds its skin to allow for growth. These ideas of evolution, rebirth, transformation-especially in the times we are in-felt very relevant. I wanted to look at Serpenti and see how we can amplify it as a symbol.”
Those investigations helped produce the new collection’s hero piece: a Serpenti head minaudière with crystals for eyes, a forked tongue clasp, and each individual scale hand-painted in enamel. It’s more jewel than handbag. Katrantzou fancies displaying hers on a side table or mantle, a treasured objet. The collection also includes nappa leather handbags with S-shaped Serpenti handles and another style featuring an embroidered mosaic that combines a coiling snake with a kaleidoscope of butterflies requiring 40 hours of hand work-metamorphosis in action.
Modeling it all is Natalia Vodianova wearing bespoke jeweled bodysuits Katrantzou made specially for the Hugo Comte-lensed photo shoot. Should Bulgari get into the clothing category those second-skin pieces would be a brilliant start. The model’s participation brings the charitable aspect of Katrantzou and jewelry house’s work full circle; Bulgari will be donating a portion of proceeds from sales of the bags to Vodianova’s Naked Heart Foundation.
It’s been nearly a year-and-a-half since Katrantzou’s monumental Temple of Poseidon show. She appreciated the slower pace and the care that went into developing this Bulgari project, and has been thinking about ways to incorporate some of that consideration into her own process. “To be able to see the prototyping, how many times it can be done, what attention to detail can be given, how it feels to work on a collaboration for a year instead of two months-it was very encouraging to think about as a creator. How you want to spend your time? And how you want to apply your own creativity? I felt like the right collaboration for the right moment in time.” Katrantzou has plans to present another couture collection in July. The details are still coming together, but she says it too is “inspired by the idea of metamorphosis.” Expect more butterflies and Serpenti.
The capsule collection will be available in selected Bvlgari boutiques worldwide and on Bulgari.com from April 15. Online pre-orders will start from March 21st.