Thursday, February 22, 2024

How Bulgari Erases the Lines Between Sustainability, Luxury, and Gender

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Italian luxury jewelry brand Bulgari is turning its focus toward sustainability — from conscious collections to its first private island hotel and its first genderless perfume range.

A lot has changed in the 158 years since Italian luxury brand Bulgari first opened its doors. While the brand has expanded across the globe from its early single storefront days in Rome, its hallmark gemstones and metals have only become more difficult to source as working conditions and climate change bring scrutiny to the mining industry.

These days, the company is embracing a new ethos that marries sustainability and luxury through a three-pillar CSR (corporate social and environmental responsibility) approach.

According to Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin, the brand’s mission has always been to glorify the world’s natural beauty, turning fleeting moments into keepsakes, stamping them into permanence in a necklace or ring. And the need to save pieces of a rapidly changing planet has never been more urgent than now.

bvlgari sustainability
Courtesy of Bulgari

The company says its integrity aligns with the sustainability and equity principles of the LVMH Code of Conduct. LVMH acquired a majority stake in Bulgari in 2011. The Code spans the entire organization, which includes its namesake brands Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy, along with Dior, Tiffany & Co., Fendi, and Sephora.

The luxury jewelry brand doubled its revenue in the five years after the acquisition to approximately €2 billion. And now, it’s calculating another success metric: accountability.

Sustainable luxury

“Sustainability is one of the biggest subjects capable of mixing business with social elements, the environment and philanthropy,” Babin told WWD in 2021.

“It is the one language that unites it all. And we’re in a privileged position to do it because we can embark on this journey with our share­holders, our consumers and our suppliers,” Babin said.

“We have started working on corporate social and environmental responsibility for years, acknowledging that a responsi­ble business can unlock positive value for both our organization and, more broadly, for Society. We are not only producing and selling jewels or perfumes, we are crafting the gems, ingredients and vegetals given to us by Mother Nature — working with the very essence of Planet Earth, with elements created over millions of years.”

Image courtesy Bvlgari
Courtesy Bulgari

Babin says embracing a more responsible business approach helps Bulgari live up to its reputation of excellence. “Our clients and stakeholders fully rely on the fact that this dedication to excellence is reflected in extremely high standards of behavioral integrity and business practices at Bulgari,” he said.

To remain relevant, Babin says, brands must take a long-term approach, be respectful, and adapt ahead of time.

That’s why sustainabil­ity, innovation and stakeholder con­sideration are at the very heart of our concerns and of how we operate,” Babin says. “As a leader and pioneer in the luxury indus­try, Bulgari has embraced the challenge to foster sustainable, socially responsible and ethical practices in all the fields the Brand operates, from design to produc­tion, through the entire supply chain.”

Responsible jewelry

Bulgari has been working with The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) since 2006. It left the organization over its failure to sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine last year. But prior to that, in 2015, the brand received the RJC’s Chain of Custody Certification for its gold jewelry lines. The certification verifies responsibly sourced gold. In 2019, the brand was able to guarantee that 100 percent of its gold now comes from RJC-certified suppliers. 2019 also saw Bulgari implement 100 percent recycled gold.

Zendaya wears Bulgari diamond necklace
Zendaya for Bulgari | Courtesy

The company is prioritizing practices like recycling and upcycling. “We must realize that what can be a waste for one, can be a source for the other one,” Babin says. “I think this will be a natural evolution of the future. It is an actual and urgent topic to be addressed and on which the European Union is actively working.”

Packaging is another focus for the jeweler and perfumer. It’s moving to a fully plastic-free packaging scheme for its jewelry, using wood waste and responsibly sourced paper packaging to provide a more sustainable life cycle for its products. “In this important initiative, we will be pioneers in the world of luxury,” says Babin.

Genderless fragrance

One of its most recent efforts includes Le Gemme — the label’s first genderless fragrance collection developed by Master Perfumer Jacques Cavallier.

“In creation, I tried to express the best of the character, the best of femininity and the best of masculinity,” Cavallier said in a statement. “I introduced masculine characteristics to feminine characteristics, and femininity to masculinity. I think that as an inspiration is fantastic.”

bulgari la gemme
Bulgari has launched its first line of genderless parfum | Courtesy

According to Cavallier, fragrances sold in the 18th and 19th centuries also eschewed gender. He says that assigning gender to perfume is a marketing ploy more than anything.

The move comes as perfumers including Le Labo and Henry Rose gain popularity for their gender-free approach to fragrance.

“In my opinion, the fragrance experience is not about gender — it’s about character,” Amandine Pallez, Creative Sr. Director, Bulgari Parfums, told Forbes. “There are many genders now, so I don’t think it’s very relevant anymore.”

She says it’s not right to say you should “wear your category,” but rather, it’s “how do you want to feel?”

“How do you want to express your most intimate self because by wearing a fragrance you show yourself to others. People remember you by smelling your fragrance. It’s not like wearing a dress or carrying a bag—your olfactory signature has much more meaning than anything else. People are really looking for distinctiveness, for uniqueness, for something that makes them feel like themselves,” Pallez says.

The art of community

In 2021, Bulgari supported efforts to tackle the covid virus through the formation of The Bulgari Virus Free Fund. The program offered financial support to research institutions working to develop cures and treatments. It also launched an initiative, The Bulgari Women and Science Fellowship in COVID-19 Research, to support female scientists, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students at The Rockefeller University in New York City.

Babin says part of its CSR commitment means Bulgari is also invested in education and arts for children. It’s been a partner of Save the Children for more than 12 years, donating more than $100 million to four projects in 35 countries.

Courtesy Rockefeller University

“In 2009 we started from education, aware of the importance of helping children to lay the foundations for their future,” Babin says. “Then we implemented projects with support for the Emergency, the Fight against Poverty and finally the Youth Empowerment, which deals with helping adolescents to approach the world of work in a structured and conscious way.”

All of this syncs with the brand’s commitment to giving back. It even supports its Roman heritage by funding restoration efforts at historic sites.

By 2025, the luxury label’s first Maldives resort is set to open, building on its strategy of becoming the leader in luxury hotels. That’s built around a sustainability commitment of “innovating the present for a sustainable future” and on its social good “giving back” strategy.

“Bulgari strongly believe in the principle of giving back. To nature, to its communities and to its origin,” Babin says.

“Each of us as members of a community have an impact and an important role that we cannot ignore and we must do everything possible to become protagonists of this evolution.”

Read about how Swarovski’s prioritizing sustainability.

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