Bulgari’s Serpenti motif has a rich history that can be traced all the way back to the 1940s. A symbol of transformative power, the snakelike design has been reimagined every which way: Elizabeth Taylor famously wore a coiled bracelet-watch hybrid on the set of Cleopatra in 1962, and in 2019, Charlize Theron arrived at the Oscars wearing a parure of Serpenti jewels that gleamed at her wrist and neck.
The Serpenti name also extends to Bulgari’s bag collection, newly reimagined by the designer Mary Katrantzou. As part of the brand’s ongoing “Through the Eyes of…” series—which has already seen the likes of Yoon Ahn of Ambush and Nicholas Kirkwood put their own inimitable stamp on the unique accessory—Katranztou was invited to reimagine the house classic. “It felt like a great honour and a great creative challenge, because it’s such an iconic symbol for Bulgari. So, to me the first task was to see what Serpenti meant to me,” she tells British Vogue. “As a symbol of femininity, as a symbol of transformation and rebirth, I tried to anchor the whole collection in this idea of metamorphosis.”
Katrantzou first forged a relationship with the brand for spring/summer 2020: Bulgari’s heritage high jewellery was seen on the models in her runway epic staged at the awe-inspiring Temple of Poseidon in her native Athens.
It was during a visit to the expansive Bulgari archive in Rome that Katrantzou spied a certain watch—the snaking Serpenti Harlequin from the ’60s, named for its wonderfully vibrant enamel plating—which would go on to inspire the intricate, jewel-like aspects of her collection.
The bracelet of the watch has been reinterpreted as a detachable viper handle on the puffy nappa leather Serpenti Metamorphosis Handle bag, which can also be worn as a cross-body with a chain. Like the exquisitely crafted Serpenti Metamorphosis bag, it features Katrantzou’s unique snake-head clasp, adorned with pear-shaped gemstone eyes. The delicate surface detailing, decorated with butterfly beading and embroidery, takes the artisans of the Atelier Montex in Paris and the Bulgari manufacturer in Florence over 40 hours to make.
Elsewhere, the Serpenti emblem is seen in all its brilliance on the Minaudière: its shape a snake head with a hidden clasp—the first time a Bulgari watch has inspired the body of a bag. “To me it was all about amplifying the symbolic meaning of Serpenti, because it holds such a different and special meaning to every one of us,” Katrantzou says.
Mary called upon her longtime friend, supermodel Natalia Vodianova, to be the muse for the project, while photographer Hugo Comte shot the campaign. Vodianova is seen wearing custom-made Mary Katrantzou bejewelled jumpsuits, made exclusively for the editorial. “This idea of transformation and shedding skin is something very close to me,” Vodianova explains.
In turn, Bulgari pledged to donate to Vodianova’s charitable organisation, the Naked Heart Foundation, which she founded in 2004. “I wanted it to mean more than [to] be transformative in the world of aesthetics and in the world of design,” Katrantzou tells Vogue.
“Of course we want the world to see the beautiful images, but we also want the world to see the beautiful effect that this has created,” Natalia remarks. “I hope that fashion is moving in that direction and this is a great testament to that. Yes, we’re doing beautiful things that are already transformative for people. The fact that we can help those that are less fortunate should also be part of the mission, and I think that the industry is embracing that more and more.”
This article was originally published on British Vogue