COMO, Italy — Joy was promised, joy was delivered.
On a breezy Italian summer Tuesday night, Bulgari hosted a chic event at the 16th-century Villa Pizzo overlooking Lake Como to introduce Tubereuse Mystique, the brand’s latest scent for women and fifth addition to the Splendida Bulgari collection of fragrances.
“The initial purpose of Bulgari is really to share the joy of crafting the gems of nature, so our passion is to deliver joy,” said Bulgari’s chief executive officer Jean-Christophe Babin ahead of the event.
As the day turned to dusk, guests including The Attico designers Gilda Ambrosio and Giorgia Tordini, models Anna Cleveland and Lady Kitty Spencer and a range of influencers crossed the lake by boat to reach the location, which was set up with tuberoses and illuminated with blue-hued lights.
The event marked another leg of Bulgari’s annual Grand Tour around Italy, after the presentation of the Cinemagia haute joaillerie collection staged last month in Capri. This time, the Roman jewelry house left its hometown and looked north to opt for a location that could evoke the mysterious and sensual emotions the Tubereuse Mystique fragrance aims to embody.
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In particular, the scent focuses on exalting the tuberose, a nocturnal flower Bulgari harvested after dusk to get the singularity of the floral notes at their peak.
“All the Splendida collection has been designed to celebrate the finest flowers and at the same time obviously to cover different segments of olfactory expectations…We were really missing an oriental fragrance in the current family,” said Babin, listing the other “grand fleurs” already featured in the collection, including iris, rose, jasmine and magnolia.
Created by master perfumer Sophie Labbé, the scent enhances the main Twilight Tuberose Absolute accord, combining it with top notes of black currant and essence of the davana aromatic herb and warm amber tones of myrrh resin and vanilla in the dry down.
Offered in a midnight blue glass bottle, the scent will be available starting from September priced at 68 euros, 95 euros and 135 euros for the 30-ml., 50-ml. and 100-ml. formats, respectively.
Even if the Splendida collection resonates well with a mature audience, the fragrance has not been conceived to address a specific generation. “We have stopped talking about age, what we’re doing right now is really looking at how deep the connection of a client is with the industry,” explained Bulgari perfume division’s managing director Luis Miguel Gonzalez Sebastiani.
“In general, the Splendida collection is oriented to someone with a significantly higher engagement and knowledge of fragrances, as we call it, a connoisseur… Someone who truly values the quality of what’s inside the bottle,” he added.
For the company, the main purpose of the fragrance business remains the recruitment of new clients, according to Babin. “Fragrance is still quite a young business for Bulgari, it was born in 1993 and the goal then — which has not changed ever since — was really to recruit new customers, especially younger clients who do not necessarily have the resources to [purchase] straight away jewelry or watches but who however dream to enter the Bulgari community. So with fragrances we give them that first opportunity to get into the magic of Bulgari,” said the ceo.
The Splendida collection represents the medium-high-end offer of the brand, complemented by the high-end Le Gemme line of fragrances, retailing at around 300 euros. A luxurious version of the latter presented in limited-edition Murano glass bottles also debuted last year exclusively at Harrods with an average price tag of 2,000 euros.
In addition to engaging new consumers, fragrances serve as “feeding the other categories” and “at the same time to glorify the positioning of Bulgari,” explained Babin, revealing that the company is also working on introducing a new pillar line “probably in 2020 to bridge the gap between Splendida and Le Gemme.”
Elevating the brand is also a top priority on the agenda of Gonzalez Sebastiani, who revealed an aggressive, digital-oriented strategy for the future.
“We will [accelerate] in the medium-high and high-end of the portfolio, be even more qualitative on how we bring the brand to market and we are going to make important distribution reductions because we really want to make sure we are in the right environment for the right client, in a way that this fragrance experience can be of quality for a hard luxury brand as Bulgari,” said Gonzalez Sebastiani.
In particular, over the last year the company drastically reduced its wholesale network, cutting 6,000 doors down to the current 18,000. Further reductions will be made over the next two years to keep elevating the image of the brand through selective distribution.
In terms of markets, Gonzalez Sebastiani said the brand is significantly over-performing in Asia — especially China — and in the travel retail channel, mentioning double-digit growth for both. Italy is also key for Bulgari while the executive considers the Middle East still full of potential and said specific fragrances will be launched to appeal to the olfactory preferences of local consumers. The company is additionally working on a long-term plan to strengthen its position in the U.S., considered a central market opportunity not only for perfumes but for the Bulgari business overall.
Yet Gonzalez Sebastiani underscored that he prefers not to set business strategies based on markets but on clientele, pointing to the international audience populating major cities and retailers around the world. “This has been a great factor of success in terms of increasing our sellouts because we have changed assortment, promotion and launches since — based on understanding clients — we are actually making sure that we give an experience that it’s going to better engage with them,” he said.
A natural extension of this approach is targeted communication, which underwent a significant digitalization process. The company has expanded its digital communication with, for example, the debut of social network accounts dedicated to fragrances last year and partnerships with a range of influencers.
The approach is part of the personalization trend that Gonzalez Sebastiani defines as “one of the biggest and stronger game changers right now.”
“More and more people want to have the power to choose what they individually want rather than being told what to wear,” said the executive, explaining how customer-centricity will continue to influence the targeted communication strategy in the future. “The time when you worked in the same way everywhere and thought that the planet has the same olfactory experience, which is one fragrance, is over.”
Experience and sustainability are the other two game changers, according to Gonzalez Sebastiani.
As part of the former, Bulgari is focusing on strengthening its omnichannel approach to ensure customers access to a coherent brand experience both online and offline. To this end, the company will enhance its store concept leveraging on interactivity and connectivity. Restyled units include the Champs-Élysées flagship in Paris reopening this month after being damaged in the gilet jaunes protests. The same retail approach will be applied to fragrances by 2020 as the brand will renew the visual merchandising and interior design of Bulgari shop-in-shops in key department stores and specialty stores.
Changes have been implemented in the fragrance creation process, too, as Bulgari is enhancing its direct involvement in the sourcing of raw materials and is increasingly looking to minimize the environmental and social impact of its scents.
“To source the tuberose we went all the way back to India with Sophie [Labbé] herself, we saw the land, we talked to the people, we shook their hands: we were there to make sure their social and ethical work conditions were right, and we’re doing this with many partners around the world to make sure we are more responsible,” said Gonzalez Sebastiani. “We’re looking at the complete environmental impact of everything we do, whether it is packaging, fragrance creation, transportation, in order to really respond to a need that is coming not only from clients but also from our own internal philosophy of respecting the gems of nature.”
Babin also highlighted the importance of sustainability among today’s consumers, who “are willing to understand the backstage of the brand, meaning the way we source our ingredients, the way we craft our product, whether we are respectful of the environment and whether the working conditions of suppliers are totally ethical.”
“These are all elements which today eventually make a brand like Bulgari attractive, and this goes far beyond the experience itself, as consumers really want to dig deeper into what will eventually interest them and check if the community they would enter through a brand really has their own set of values,” added the ceo.
For the future, the company intends to further accelerate on these assets and be bolder in taking risks. “I think we must take advantage of this successful momentum to further challenge ourselves to build the most desirable brand in luxury and more than ever to dare in creativity. That’s because when you are a jeweler you have to manage a paradox more than any other luxury categories: you can be creative but, on the other hand, if you sell a million-euro piece you have to ensure that this piece will remain timeless over time, so it’s a subtle balance. We have to be obsessively client-centric and really be the ultimate expression of Italian [craftsmanship],” concluded Babin.