Designer and brand collaborations may seem like a dime a dozen these days. However, London-based Greek fashion designer Mary Katrantzou’s new capsule for Bvlgari’s “Serpenti Through the Eyes of” collection instantly evokes a sense of joy rooted in layered storytelling. The collection features three distinct interpretations of Bvlgari’s iconic serpent bags — a convertible cross-body, a top-handle, and a minaudière — and a selection of silk scarves within the theme of metamorphosis. Each piece boasts elevated whimsy, achieved through haute couture craftsmanship and jewelry-inspired touches. But even more, there’s a deep purpose built into the partnership, illustrated through a striking campaign shot on model and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova. A portion of the proceeds supports the Naked Heart Foundation, a charity founded by Vodianova, which, for Katrantzou, made the partnership more meaningful.
“I think you want to feel that you’re a part of a collaboration and a design that feels purposeful in many, many ways,” Katrantzou tells TZR via Zoom. “I felt a partnership with the Naked Heart Foundation gives this collaboration a different meaning, especially talking about where we are and how fashion is changing.” The designer continues, “I think collaboration is the future of fashion and for that to extend beyond the product and the creator. There was another layer we could use to collaborate to communicate more.”
This meaningful partnership between Katrantzou and Bvlgari began over coffee in London, the designer explains. “I started talking about this project that we were working on, which was my first couture show in Greece at The Temple of Poseidon. It became the beginning of a really special collaboration because [Bvlgari] lent us incredible pieces for the show from their archive and their most recent high jewelry collection. From that moment, we developed a strong synergy and a mutual appreciation.”
Growing up in Greece, Katrantzou’s love for Bvlgari’s iconic pieces started at an early age, giving her collaboration with the Roman luxury label a more personal feel. “It’s a brand I’ve grown up with — my mother used to own Bvlgari jewelry, and when I was a young girl, I remember playing dress-up with those pieces,” the designer shares. “I grew up with the codes of Bvlgari at a very young age and [developed] an appreciation for this larger-than-life aesthetic and the boldness and fearlessness in the design.”
Katrantzou and Bvlgari elected to partner on the next iteration of “Serpenti Through The Eyes Of,” where the designer reinterpreted the label’s iconic Serpenti symbol with her signature exuberance that combines bright colors, clashing prints, and intricate detailing. “I was very excited,” Katrantzou says of the partnership. “It gave me so much room to think about what Serpenti means to me because it has such strong symbolic meaning.” After visiting Bvlgari’s historical archives in Rome, Katrantzou deepened her understanding of the symbolism and ideated three main concepts in the theme of transformation with her team, which she and Bvlgari executed remotely throughout quarantine.
“It was a creative challenge that felt not too far away from my own aesthetic,” she explains of the synergy between brands. “The first idea was, how can we highlight all of the different elements that make Serpenti so iconic? So, before even thinking about my own aesthetic and juxtaposing different elements, it was about going to the core of the design signature of Serpenti in Bvlgari’s history and thinking about how we can highlight that in the world of accessories even more than they already have.”
Katrantzou’s deep study of Serpenti’s history comes through in her three bag designs, from how she translated enamelwork from a 1968 harlequin Serpenti watch into the form of a snakehead minaudière — a Bvlgari first — to the undulating feel of the removable serpent-shaped handle on the Metamorphosis bag which converts to cross-body form. “Highlighting this idea of transformation makes the bag a very functional design as well as one that highlights the Serpenti not only by looking into the iconic part, which is the snake’s head but the entire movement of the snake,” Katrantzou says of her design.
A whimsical take on Bvlgari’s Forever Bag is where Katrantzou’s signature exuberance shines brightest, quite literally. The top-handle bag visually depicts a coiled serpent’s transformation into a riot of flying butterflies, achieved through scintillating precision-engineered three-dimensional embroidery surrounding the polished snakehead closure. The intricacy is comparable to the detail you’d see on a dress or coat by the designer. “It felt really special to be able to apply onto the Serpenti Forever bag the same craftsmanship and embellishment that I would do in one of my collections,” Katrantzou says.
“It was less about working on bold colors and the juxtaposition of different elements but really honing in on this idea of Serpenti as this symbol of metamorphosis because we all felt it’s very relevant to where we are right now in this moment in time.” Adding, “We were so lucky to be able to be inspired by the archive and take the know-how and be able to open this dialogue between the watches, high jewelry, and accessories and tell a story in an interdisciplinary way.”
It’s not lost on Katrantzou that each artful bag is a specialty piece. Still, she sees her designs and the collaboration at large as an opportunity for women to express themselves and feel empowered when doing so. “It was about creating a collaboration that feels timeless,” she tells TZR. “I thought less about ‘will a woman have an event to go to now?’ and more about creating something that feels timeless that women will feel drawn to.” Adding, “Sometimes it isn’t about the occasion to wear it.” To Katrantzou, luxury is carrying a bag that you enjoy and treasure with a feeling of confidence, which she hopes her designs do through the many layers of symbolism.
This optimistic viewpoint continues with Katrantzou’s prediction of occasion dressing post-COVID, too. Rather than revert to pre-pandemic times when life’s pace often felt relentless, the designer believes people better recognize how items make them feel, applying the sensation to their style with more enthusiasm. “I think that when we’re able to be out again, there is this joy that has been missing from our lives, and it’s less about how many events we attend; it’s more about appreciating that time,” she tells TZR. “As we’re changing and coming out of this time, I think we will have that need to celebrate. Celebrate being together, celebrate design with meaning, and that goes back to timeless design and originality of design — that cannot really be measured; it just is. You feel those pieces are special, and they mean more than just a bag that’s functional.”
At the same time, function was at the forefront of every one of Katrantzou’s designs. “For me, offering women that practicality and functionality in design was equally important. It wasn’t just to create a piece that women carry as an object of art. It was also about creating a piece they can wear in their daily lives and on different kinds of occasions,” she explains.
Whether the design alone captivates you or Katrantzou’s belief in the impact of collaboration and the importance of joy through fashion, the collection is worthy of investment. “When I talk about the future of fashion being one of collaboration, I mean not feeling limited,” the designer reveals. “Every creator has their own aesthetic, but to able to have those creative marriages between brands to bring a new perspective, especially when we’re talking about brands with such long and important history, I think it makes it even more meaningful. So, I hope that’s what the future brings anyway,” she laughs.
Katrantzou’s designs for Bvlgari’s “Serpenti Through the Eyes of” collection become available in selected Bvlgari boutiques worldwide and Bulgari.com on April 15, with online pre-orders beginning Mar. 21.
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