Bulgari is one of the few uber-luxury brands that has successfully diversified into the hospitality sector thanks to its impressive portfolio of hotels around the world.
Jean-Christophe Babin, Bulgari CEO
The latest addition to Bulgari Hotels & Resort’s offering opened its doors in Paris in December 2021 Located at the heart of the city on Avenue George V, this modern property combines sophisticated French design with Italian lifestyle. A coming together of Roman glamour with Parisian sophistication, this luxury destination is set to become the must-visit address in the City of Love. As The Bulgari Hotel Paris opens, we find out more about the future of the brand’s hospitality portfolio with CEO Jean-Christophe Babin.
Congratulations on The Bulgari Hotel Paris tell us a little about this project and its location?
We wanted this hotel to be within the Golden Triangle, but we also wanted to offer a product that’s very different to the existing hotels in this area. It has the same level of high-end hospitality but it’s more special in terms of offering a lifestyle, and the warmth of the Italian Dolce Vita. We also offer something that hasn’t been seen before in terms of space: most of our rooms are suites and they are very large, especially in Paris. We have a huge 1,000 square-metre penthouse. Clients want not only more space but to discover the interior design that perhaps has features and uses unexpected materials. We wanted to be contemporary but also in fitting with the style of the Parisian apartments. There is a chandelier for example that a few clients have already wanted to buy!
It is immersive, contemporary, and sophisticated, but at the same time, it embodies the informal, friendly Italian way of life. We want clients who want to feel at home or even better than at home, so our rooms are more like apartments than hotel suites. We have paid utmost attention to details, using very beautiful, precious materials, some of those featuring Italian or French craftsmanship, as we like the idea of blending the two cultures. So, we’ve tried to involve our craftsmen and women in this project and showcase the best of French decoration. This hotel is a piece of modern art.
What can you share with us on the hospitality portfolio at Bulgari so far?
It has been seventeen years since we opened our first hotel in Milan and we have seven properties now. On one hand, it has developed very fast but on the other, it has been slow because we have never been driven by the goal of having too many hotels. We believe that our concept is strong, and we will have a few more in the future but we want to choose our locations carefully. Our clients are nomadic people that like to travel, and they want to roam the world and stay in places they cherish, and they want to experience the best from a hotel. Therefore, as of now, we have identified 25 locations in total that could be fitting with their desire and be consistent with the style that we are after. So far, we have seven, five more properties are now under construction: Moscow and Tokyo will open at the end of 2022 or early 2023. Then in 2024, we will open Miami, and then LA in 2025 and we are actively working on developing our profile across the world.
You were one of the first luxury brands to diversify and introduce a hotel sector of the business – while others have followed in your footsteps what sets you apart and what does a client get from staying at a Bulgari hotel?
Yes, there are many other brands, but it is extremely difficult if you don’t do it properly. A hotel is a big investment, so it must be done right. I think what has made us successful is that the concept is unique. From the beginning, we positioned our hotels as uber-luxury, and we have been the most expensive hotel in each city that we opened. We have kept a very strict pricing policy and this is very important image-wise. It’s like in our jewellery stores, we want clients to feel special, exclusive, and well-treated. We want our staff to know them personally, so we always limit the number of rooms we have. This way they feel very cocooned in a very friendly way. There is no dress code, it’s a very relaxed environment and this is really the spirit of Bulgari. We want our guests to enjoy themselves in a unique atmosphere that combines the best of the best with a friendly approach.
Being a jeweller, we must maintain our excellence and one of the missions of our hotels is to further reinforce us as a brand and to get our clients even more involved in the experience of the hotels that are a very strong contributor to the image of our brand. Then there is the aspect of finding new clients who can discover Bulgari jewellery through our hotels, so it opens us up to new prospective customers. At the end of the day when you leave a hotel all you have is a memory, it’s not like when you buy a piece of high jewellery and you keep it forever, and this is the ultimate challenge for us: to ensure that memory is worth the price.
After COVID-19 the immersive experience has become very important to clients…
Yes, it’s a journey they take, they want to live life to its fullest. Fewer people are spending than before but when they do spend, they want the best and they want something extraordinary.
What are the challenges you face today in keeping this excellence across all of Bulgari’s properties?
Firstly, we are always learning and improving, and each hotel is adding a new layer of experience that we then use for the next project. We are always trying to take things to the next level with each property through the materials we use, the size of our facilities, our offerings within our food and beverage etc. We are responsible for bringing together Italian culture and the culture of the city we are in and we want to surprise our clients and exceed their expectations. That’s why we take our time.
With this hotel in Paris, we have a unique, large spa. We have a beautiful garden which for six months of the year will add a very special twist to the property. Post-COVID a hotel with a garden is something that people appreciate. And then obviously we have the penthouse, which is a unique offering in Paris, especially because of its size. It’s can also be rented for parties or events, and it has the only garden of its size in Paris with a 360 view of the city, it’s really special. And last but not least, it is a way to showcase Italian culture in Paris and it is an alternative to more traditional hospitality.
Moving onto the jewellery sector of the business, we recently had the launch of the Jannah fine jewellery collection in Dubai, tell us about the Jannah project?
When we first started working on the Jannah high jewellery collection, Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan insisted that the project should evolve into a line that is affordable so more people can discover it. So, step one was the high jewellery collection and positioning Jannah where it should be. Then step two with the fine jewellery is very precious because it continues the story.
Will you consider rolling the line out on a broader scale outside the Middle East?
We started as you know in the UAE, and we have already sold many pieces. Then we are planning to roll out across the GCC and obviously, upon success, which seems to have had a good start, we are considering having the collection in around 30 flagships worldwide. We are choosing locations where we have a combination of Arabic and local customers. We have found so far that 45 per cent of customers of the collections are not local UAE customers so we know that it’s not just appealing to our Arabic clients. People may not necessarily know the story about the mosque in Abu Dhabi, but they see them as beautifully crafted pieces and this is what they buy into. So, I think Jannah has potential and we have been caught by surprise with the fast reaction. Now we need to increase the creation and craftsmanship during a period where we have a very large demand. This is a good problem to have but it also slows down a rollout that we would also love to see happen quicker, but we need to have the manpower to make these beautiful pieces.
After the success of Jannah, are you planning to look into different markets around the world to offer localised collections?
I think Jannah is extraordinary and it’s just the beginning of the story. The first step was highly successful, the second is also a success so far. We have invented many things as a brand that others have followed and at the end of the day, there is a lot of growth potential for everyone in this industry. So, we do it in our way and for sure it’s in our DNA to dare, to explore and we are open to doing more collaborations, but not necessarily always with a royal family. We did something previously with Zaha Hadid, it could be a designer, an architect, a creative, we are very open to any kind of fresh ideas coming from the outside that can enrich our creativity in all sectors of the business.
It’s been a tough period over the past two years, what’s your direction for Bulgari for the coming year and moving forward into the future?
I think there is room to further enhance the desirability of Bulgari to really become an iconic name that is a mandatory must-have for many people. I think it comes not only from our jewellery but also by artfully playing with the hotels, the high jewellery, the watches, and the accessories and using all these aspects to our advantage. Also not only playing on the fact that we are Italian but also the fact that we are the only high jewellery brand that offers this 360-lifestyle approach with our seven categories and ensuring they complement each other. Our core is high jewellery, and we don’t want to lose the history of the brand as this has been the thread where everything started. This is something unique as I don’t think our competitors use their codes as systematically and we want to continue to share our fascinating history, as I think we are the only ones who can claim their roots started more than 2,000 years ago.
We recently saw the collaboration with MB&F at Dubai Watch Week, tell us about this and what can we expect from the watches sector in 2022?
This project was a coming together of talents and it’s very interesting to see quite a big brand working with a niche brand that’s very visionary. Maximilian Büsser, founder of MB&F is an extraordinary person and working with him allowed us to give birth to something different, something that combines innovation and creativity with the femininity of Bulgari. All the watches have been sold by the way!
Can you tell us anything about the coming year at Bulgari?
This year we had good growth compared to 2019. In 2019 we launched the Seduttori watch and therefore it was challenging to follow up on this. But next year we will initially be focused on ladies’ watches where we want to push the jewellery dimension of our watches. Then in April, during Watches and Wonders, we will have our own showroom in Geneva where we will be presenting more masculine pieces. And then we’ll be back at the end of August for the third edition of Geneva Watch Days. So, we have planned to sequence the year into three different moments so that we can pay attention to three batches of novelties. And then the high jewellery will be revealed in Paris in May and the pieces will be introduced around the world in the year.