Luxury jeweller Bvlgari and fashion designer Mary Katrantzou have a lot in common. For one, they share Greek heritage – the former was founded in 1884 by Greek silversmith Sotirios Voulgaris, who had moved to Rome to pursue a brighter future; while Katrantzou was born in Athens and relocated to London to study fashion and set up her eponymous brand. Both are masters of a spectacular sartorial statement, always awash with bold colour and decadent details. And while Katrantzou has been dubbed the “Queen of Prints” for her striking patterned garments, Bvlgari’s dazzling jewels are favoured by royalty.
As such, there was a strong synergy when the two brands came together to collaborate on a line of handbags, available for pre-order from today. “The first time we worked together was for my couture show at the Temple of Poisedon in Greece [in late 2019],” Katrantzou tells marie claire, recalling the opulent jewellery Bvlgari lent her to accessorise the collection. “It felt very natural to continue with this handbag collaboration.”
As part of Bvlgari’s “Through the Eyes of…” series – which sees acclaimed designers re-imagine the house’s famed Serpenti – Katrantzou was invited to put her own stamp on the slithering house icon, which dates back to the 1940s.
“The Serpenti holds such important symbolism and it was a great creative challenge to think about what it means to me,” she says. “That’s how we came up with the idea of metamorphosis and the symbolism behind the Serpenti to transform itself and be a symbol of rebirth.”
The capsule collection comprises three pieces, which each walk the line between a bag, a piece of jewellery and a work of art. There’s the Serpenti Metamorphosis, a rectangular leather handbag adorned with an explosion of exquisite embroidered butterflies. “Each piece takes 40 hours to make, using some of the couture techniques we use in our Mary Katrantzou collections,” the designer explains.
Then there’s the Serpenti Metamorphosis Handle, adorned with – you guessed it – a striking snake-like handle. “For me it was important to take this idea of transformation and make it a part of the design,” says Katrantzou. “So the bag itself transforms by removing the handle and becoming a crossbody. As a woman, designing something that gives us the freedom to wear it as either an evening piece or an all-day crossbody felt like a huge liberation.”
Finally, the Serpenti Metamorphosis minaudiere is a chic little evening bag that plays on the hypnotic beauty of the snakehead, inspired by the Bvlgari Serpenti watch.
The campaign stars supermodel Natalia Vodianova wearing bespoke bejewelled bodysuits, also designed by Katrantzou. “I was inspired to create these pieces as a second-skin for Natalia, almost like a snake suit,” she explains. “We chose her for the campaign because she’s the epitome of a woman who’s had many moments of transformation in her own life. She inspires me with everything she does as an entrepreneur, a mother, a wife, a philanthropist.” (Bvlgari and Katrantzou also partnered with Vodianova’s charity, Naked Heart Foundation, which supports disadvantaged children in Russia).
Notably, while the collaboration was conceived in a world pre-COVID (and then designed and produced in lockdown), the themes of transformation and rebirth seem more relevant than ever right now. “It does feel very in sync with the times,” comments Katrantzou. “And as the project was evolving it became more and more relevant. All of us are changing, and the world is changing. I hope that the next chapter feels like a rebirth.”
And hopefully for Katrantzou, who is currently locked down in Greece, that rebirth will involve stepping out with one of these sumptuously spell-binding bags slung over her shoulder. “At the moment I feel people are drawn to pieces that have beautiful craftsmanship and strong storytelling,” she says. “That’s why I’m personally drawn to the Serpenti. Holding it feels like more than just a design. You feel its symbolism and power.”
The capsule collection is available for pre-order in Australia from March 22, and will be available in selected Bvlgari boutiques worldwide and online here from April 15.