Bulgari eyes millennial crowd

Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin and brand ambassador Alicia Vikander at the opening of the SerpentiForm exhibition at the ArtScience Museum last week.
Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin and brand ambassador Alicia Vikander at the opening of the SerpentiForm exhibition at the ArtScience Museum last week.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The Italian luxury brand says more consumers aged 17 to 35 are keen to express themselves with edgy and daring items

Italian jewellery and luxury goods brand Bulgari has its sights set on the millennial market.

It was an interesting revelation by its affable chief executive JeanChristophe Babin, even as he acknowledged the brand's deep affinity with an older and well-heeled crowd - celebrity and royalty alike.

The Paris-born CEO was in town ahead of the opening of the Bulgari SerpentiForm exhibition at the ArtScience Museum last Saturday.

The exhibition, which runs till Oct 15, pays homage to the snake - Bulgari's most iconic motif - and how the seductive serpent has inspired the world of jewels, arts, design, fashion, decorative arts and photography.

"Undoubtedly, as an Italian brand with roots in luxury jewellery, our customer skews slightly older - someone who has more purchasing power," Mr Babin says.

"Still, we cannot ignore younger consumers, more of whom, these days, are keen to express their personality with items that are edgy and daring."

Edgy and daring are apt descriptions for the products made by the 133-year-old luxury brand, which French multinational luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton bought in 2011.

  • VIEW IT / SERPENTIFORM

    WHERE: ArtScience Museum, 6 Bayfront Avenue

    WHEN: Till Oct 15, 10am to 7pm

    ADMISSION: From $17 (adults) and $12 (students and senior citizens) from Marina Bay Sands box offices and www.marinabaysands.com/museum/ticketings

Founded by a Greek family who settled in Italy, Bulgari has produced designs that continue to have a bold and Roman influence, one completely distinct from the more understated and traditional pieces produced by its luxury counterparts.

For Bulgari, the stones - often multicoloured emeralds, rubies and sapphires - are the piece de resistance of the design.

One only has to look around the SerpentiForm exhibition to see the brand's design ethos at play.

The exhibition, which takes up 1,505 sq m, is making its first global stop in Singapore since its launch in Rome last year.

It features a wide selection of ancient jewels and antiquities, alongside modern and contemporary artworks, vintage evening dresses and costumes from theatre and cinema.

The stars of the show, however, are the Bulgari Serpenti creations from the Maison archives and private collections - ranging from the more stylised early models made with the coiled Tubogas technique to more realistic ones with gold scales or multicoloured enamel - aptly showcasing a brand that is continually casting a fresh eye on tradition and heritage.

When asked about the challenge that inevitably arises when balancing tradition with innovation, Mr Babin says: "It is important to frame our DNA in a dynamic way - for our heritage to be used as a platform to focus on the future.

"This is why, as a brand, we cannot ignore the power and demands of consumers between 17 and 35 years old, who are at a stage when they are just entering the luxury market."

It also helps that Bulgari has diversified well over the years - moving from its primary focus on jewellery into watches, fragrances, accessories and hotels.

A wider product selection has also meant lower and more democratised price points for items such as fragrances and small leather goods, giving younger consumers easier access to the brand.

"Millennials between the ages of 28 and 35 are hitting a lot of milestones in their lives," says Mr Babin. "They have more discretionary income and might be looking to spend on their first watch or an engagement ring."

It is no surprise, then, that the focus for the brand now is the move into e-commerce, as well as offering click-and-collect services at its boutiques.

It has already started with key markets such as Japan and the United States and will be rolling out the service globally to markets including Singapore over the next 18 months. Asian markets such as Japan, China and Hong Kong account for about half of Bulgari's global revenue.

And though the company has taken a cautious and gradual approach to omni-channel sales, Mr Babin acknowledges its importance in today's digital world.

"Buying jewellery is an emotional experience and, as a luxury brand, our consumer often wants to endorse the item before purchasing it," he says.

"Still, purchasing jewellery is undoubtedly also impulsive, so offering an option to act on that impulse is important. If not, by the next day, you could have reconsidered your purchase."

For now, though, the brand is keeping itself relevant with its slew of young models and acting talent as ambassadors, such as American It girl and model of the moment Bella Hadid, 20; Victoria's Secret angel Lily Aldridge, 31; Chinese-Canadian actor Kris Wu, 26; and Academy Award-winning Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, 28. They all fall within the age demographic Bulgari is going after.

Actresses Julianne Moore and Rachel Weisz as well as former French first lady Carla BruniSarkozy, who are much older, have been Bulgari ambassadors.

Vikanderwas also in Singapore to open the SerpentiForm exhibition.

"What I love about the brand is that it isn't afraid to be unconventional - whether that means using unique motifs like the snake in its designs, or mixing unexpected materials like wood with high-end stones," she says.

"Wearing its designs is an opportunity to express your personality in a way that is glamorous, but bold at the same time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'Bulgari eyes millennial crowd'. Print Edition | Subscribe