Interview: Nicholas Kirkwood takes Bulgari's Serpenti Forever bags to the next level

Interview: Nicholas Kirkwood takes Bulgari's Serpenti Forever bags to the next level

One for the collection

Text: Andrea Sim Jolene Khor

Kirkwood talks design processes, his biggest lessons and regrets and teases plans for future collaborations

Just as we thought the classical jeweller couldn't get any edgier given their latest rock 'n' roll release, the Divas' Dream, Bulgari's update on the iconic Serpenti is a lesson to never say never. Enlisting British shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood (to which the unconventional is synonymous with his label), the collaborative rendition is one that distills age-old know how, heritage and nature, yet birthing an ultra-modern accessory. 

Empowered by his visits to Bulgari's atelier and the 'Serpenti Form' exhibition in Rome, where he witnessed the house's unparalled craft, Kirkwood found inspiration for his own interpretation of the reptile. First up, the radicalisation of the icon's elegance with studs. His dynamic fusion of pyramid, flat, matte and polished embellishments laid out in zigzag sequence transform the bag's originally pristine body; the striking update intended to evoke the calculated, powerful movements of its core ingenuity — the serpent.

We sit down with the designer in Milan to pick his brain on his first bag collection for Bulgari — the first of hopefully many to come.

Nicholas Kirkwood

This is the first time you, a shoe designer, is designing bags. How does the process of one differ from the other?
In some ways, the approach in design is very similar. You're designing a shape, you're using leather, you're using some of the elements you might use on shoes. But the construction is very different, the functions are very different. It was a big learning process for me, in terms of how long the strap should be, how thick the leather should be, all the technicalities of it. But essentially, it was a product to lend my aesthetic to, so whether that product is a table or a building or a shoe, a piece of jewellery or a bag, the approach to silhouette and design is the same.

What was something you learned from Bulgari's know-how?
They have a high level of expertise, excellence and quality. My first trip was to visit the fine jewellery atelier, which was an extraordinary experience. I got to see how these unique multi-million dollar jewellery pieces are created and they're made over years. It's almost as though the jewels themselves dictate the positions and shapes on the necklace. And then you wait two or three years to find a symmetrical stone from the ground to complete it. I'm used to designing something then have it made immediately. At Bulgari, you look at the value of a piece with a different scale.

You're known to use carefully placed embellishments to highlight different parts of the shoe. Tell us about the studs on the Bulgari bags.
From a distance, the studs might look like regular studs but they're actually multi-faceted to resemble the back of diamonds. So it's a stud but it's a nod to Bulgari's jewellery history. The rubberised effect it an unexpected touch - it looks like a diamond but it feels like rubber. This is again a nod to Bulgari's approach to design and my approach to design. Looking through their archives, I've come to realise they're know for their use of unexpected combinations of cut and colour, materials, so it hasn't just been these precious metals and stones. I found these wooden rings with emeralds in them so I thought it was very much in both our DNAs so it seemed very appropriate.

And the chevron?
The chevron motif is something I use; it's a signifier of mine which I've interpreted in many different ways but I felt that it's really suitable for this project because the end effect almost looks like snake skin.

We're all really surprised by the backpack.
The collection has a bit of a London spirit, its youthful energy. You'll see it in the crossbody, with the slightly bigger size and much longer chain - it's a tad heavier too - and the studs. The idea of the backpack was to take an iconic symbol of youth and execute it with luxury. It was an interesting thing to do and it's made people think about how this is not something Bulgari has done before. It goes back to that unexpected quality and your reaction exactly the kind of reaction we hoped for.

What other collaborations would you consider in the future?
I would love to do sunglasses, jewellery... anything that has a structural shape that I find personally interesting. I would love to design a building for instance. It might fall down so I think I might need some help with it. Essentially it's still designing a shape, whether scaled down or blow up.

The bag has sold out on several online outlets. Looking at the products now, is there anything you'd like to change?
Originally, we had about nine or ten different colour combinations for the bags, multi-coloured ones. It would have been nice to have a couple of those. They were kind of insane, they were quite intense, so I can understand why they weren't a priority at the time. But I'm really happy with the colours we went with in the end.

Available from September 2017 at the Bulgari boutique located at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, #B1-36 and #B2-35, 2 Bayfront Avenue, 018972.