Before the cocktail clutch bags and eau de parfum sprays, Bulgari’s mixture of contemporary multicoloured gemstones set in old-world Greco-Roman designs caught the eye of its soon to be queen, the queen of bling, the dame of Hollywood, movie legend Elizabeth Taylor.
Who could forget the precise moment Taylor as Cleopatra emerged on the silver screen in the film of the same name, at the pinnacle of her fame in 1963, enveloped in a 24-carat gold cloth cape and matching gold cobra headdress, all purposely designed to look like the wings of the phoenix; a symbol of supremacy and power.
Bulgari Serpenti was first conceived in the 1940s and proved a perfect fit for both Taylor and the mis-en-scène of the exotic Egyptian film. Drawing inspiration from the brand’s origins in both Greek and Roman mythology, snakes symbolised strength, seduction, protection and rebirth. In the film, Cleopatra wore snake bracelets to fight off evil, and these wearable motifs are symbolic of her seduction of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Cleopatra’s notoriety and unforgettable imagery popularised snake rings and arm cuffs throughout the 1960s.
Taylor was not the only celebrity in the film industry to recognise Bulgari’s ability to trans- form a scene by not only drawing the viewer’s eye but also by defining a character. In the 1964 film The Visit, Ingrid Bergman returns to her hometown, seeking revenge on an ex-lover. She, of course, is wearing Bulgari, as an illustration of financial emancipation.
Martin Scorsese paid homage to the icon- oclastic jewellery label in his award-winning film Casino (1995). Set in the dustbowl of Las Vegas in the 1970s, Casino defined a slow-dying era of excess and decay with its grifters and blow, sex and psychedelia. Robert Deniro’s character, ‘Ace’, showers his femme fatale bride Ginger (Sharon Stone) in a surplus of furs, embroidered net gowns, and the crème de la crème – a banquet of Bulgari jewels. Sprawled on a bed littered with solid gold ribbed chokers, emerald encrusted bangles and gold hoop earrings dotted with pearls, Ginger basks in the excess and the security these treasures provide. But there is a glint of darkness and melancholy in her eye. Here, the jewels not only illustrate her thirst for money and riches but also forewarn of her sad fate.
The sexually charged decade of the 1960s, a golden era for cinema, coincided with an age of innovation for Bulgari; it was the perfect pairing. Bulgari’s pieces were showcased both by film and celebrities long before product placement had entered the psyche. Bulgari’s creations are certainly steeped in history, a reminder of an extravagant la dolce vita lifestyle, brought to fruition by its iconoclastic old-world Hollywood stars and captured through the ages in celluloid.
This article first appeared in the National Gallery of Victoria’s monthly magazine. We would like to thank Bulgari and Tony Ellwood for inviting The Riparian Times to write on this subject.
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