Bulgari Brings La Dolce Vita to New York
The Italian brand’s 5th Avenue flagship offers a refined vision of the luxury retail experience.
by Logan R. Baker
October 20, 2017
In 1884, Sotirios Boulgaris opened up his first store in Rome on Via Sistina and for close to 80 years he remained a hidden treasure among those throughout the region. It wasn’t until 1966, when his grandson Gianni began to push the store toward a more global audience that the brand finally achieved the international recognition it deserved.
But through all the decades of change—including being purchased by LVMH in 2011 and a constant stream of stores popping up in increasingly exotic locales—the heart of Bulgari has remained in Rome. And today, with the unveiling of its New York flagship’s renovation, Bulgari will once again flex its muscles and showcase why it’s a marque that should be valued not only for its expressive jewelry lines and ever-expanding timepiece collections, but also for its commitment to the luxury retail experience.
Bulgari returns with a fresh Roman-inspired interior designed by Peter Marino. Strongly influenced by the original Bulgari flagship on Via Condotti in Rome, the new structure brings a slice of the Eternal City to the Big Apple.
The ground floor. (Photo: Courtesy Massimo Listri)
Located on the same corner as the original 1972 New York expansion at 5th Avenue and 57th Street—an enviable perch at the bottom of the Crown building—the redesign brings out the heart of the brand’s Roman identity. Something easier said than done.
To tackle the project of bringing Roma to life in bustling Midtown Manhattan, Marino created an exact replica of the 1930 entrance at the front of the Via Condotti flagship, complete with the same lantern that invites people inside the Rome location. The walnut flooring that spreads across the store has been dried with sunlight in varying lengths and then arranged on site to produce a dégradé effect. The marble surfaces are book-matched to perfection and the veins seem to wrap around the store several times over.
Marino selected décor and furniture produced by modern Italian designers but heavily influenced by Italian artisans of the 1930s, ’50s, and ’60s. The counters evoke Carlos Scarpa, while the sofas conjure images of the technology-influenced furniture produced by Osvaldo Borsani at Tecno during the sixties.
A marble staircase surrounded by a geometric mesh barrier leading up to the store's second level. (Photo: Courtesy Massimo Listri)
Along with the old comes the new. To commemorate the launch of the redesigned space, Bulgari has released a collection of jewelry and watches inspired by American culture. Highlights of the new pieces include a take on the iconic Serpenti ring in red, white, and blue with rows of gemstones; a collection inspired by New York graffiti culture featuring maxi-style; and a new 5th Avenue–branded Octo Finissimo Automatic with blue indices, lettering, and hands.
Ever since the U.S. Ambassador to Italy in the 1950s—Clare Boothe Luce—moved to Rome and began spreading the word among her elite circle of friends, Bulgari has been associated with New York more than any other North American city. Soon after, Rome became the backdrop for countless Hollywood films and was subsequently eternalized as a place of luxury and grandeur in the minds of many Americans.
Only after these deep material connections were solidified between the American jet set and the Italian luxury maison could Bulgari make its jump onto 5th Avenue and fulfill Gianni Bulgari’s dreams of international renown.
Forty-five years later, it’s evident that Bulgari has made its mark not just among the Hollywood elite that wooed it here in the first place but among the aspirational clientele that will now have a new flagship store in the beating heart of Manhattan to make pilgrimage to.
This story also appears in the October/November issue of Watch Journal.
An intimate seating area on the store's second level. (Photo: Courtesy Massimo Listri)