On the night of Wednesday, December 5, Bulgari was the 20th brand to receive of the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award, which has previously been given out to such icons as Diana Vreeland, Missoni, Cartier and Armani. The Bulgari Group vp Nicola Bulgari accepted the award for the nearly 130-year-old luxury jewelry company. The Italian luxe jewelers also just opened its new West coast flagship store at 401 Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, closer than their former location on Wilshire to the heart of the "jewelry zone," as it's called. The new Bulgari boutique has a private VIP room, a crystal chandelier by Murano of Venice, Italy, and numerous bows to the history of the Bulgari family jewelry brand, from famous signature pieces on display to the face of Elizabeth Taylor, who wore Bulgari, on the door of the VIP room. Nicole Kidman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cameron Diaz and so many others also wear the famous jewelry.
Drew Barrymore presented the Robert Graham-designed award to Mr. Bulgari, a man of many passions and cultural interests. Aside from stones and jewels — he showed THR three new rare necklaces of diamonds and emeralds and one of all different colored cabochons — he collects vintage cars, almost entirely American ones ... and has a great love for American musical films, particularly the more obscure ones.
THR sat down with the jewelry titan to soak up his knowledge of stones, as well as a niche of American pop culture unknown to many Americans.
THR: So we understand that you have a passion for old Hollywood.
NB: Yes, I been to Los Angeles many times over the years — since 1962 when I came with my parents — and I love it. But I love to focus on Hollywood before censorship: the years 1934 to 1955. I love the films of this period. I'm truly obsessed — I own 3000 movies of that period —Busby Berkeley and more. It's a tragedy that America does not value its own jewels, and by that I mean much of its old music and film history: George Gershwin and Cole Porter, etc. This is gold, and Americans seem to discard this music and film in favor of things that are European. I suppose the grass is always greener! But trust me, I know many great jazz musicians and enthusiasts in Rome who live for American music of this period.
THR: When your parents first took you here as a child, where did you go?
NB: We stayed at the Ambassador Hotel and went to Perino's restaurant, which is where Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and all the old stars went. It was truly glamorous. Now that was style! Now it is long ago and far away. But I must say, in the last seven years, I have seen the rebound of Los Angeles, and it's most magnificent. I love what I see in Santa Monica and in the old part of Pasadena. My wife is a costume designer — she did the costumes for Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso — and we went to see the costume department of Warner Bros. Truly amazing.
THR: As a true music lover, who are your favorite American musicians?
NB: I really want to promote Michael Feinstein. He is not nearly famous enough in your country. He is keeping the American song alive. He has that as a mission — he's obsessed with it. He's reaching a new generation with the American song. And I went to see Tony Bennett at the Royal Albert Hall in London not long ago. He's 88 years old and he got a standing ovation! He is still singing beautifully in old age — not like Frank Sinatra.
THR: And you're obsessed with classic American movies, as well.
NB: I watch Turner Classic Movies as much as I can. I discover new movies every day. I shop at Amoeba when I'm in this city! I particularly love the 1947 film, It Happened in Brooklyn, and the 1952 film Meet Danny Wilson.
THR: You have a big vintage car collection. Do you happen to know Jay Leno?
NB: Know him? I'm going to see his collection tomorrow! Many of my own cars are in the new LeMay Museum in Tacoma, Washington now. They gave my automobiles their own wing!
THR: Are you excited about Bulgari receiving the Walk of Style Award?
NB: It's great for the brand. I don't really like promoting myself. I personally don't like to be recognized.
THR: So you love old music, old cars, old films — and vintage jewelry, we presume?
NB: We are actually in the process of going around the world trying to buy up pieces of archival Bulgari jewelry — or at least photograph them for our own archives. But they are hard to find. Some are in families and are not documented or accounted for through the generations. We will be hosting five exhibitions in the U.S. of Bulgari jewelry starting in San Francisco in the fall of 2013. They will culminate in New York in 2015.
THR: Did you coordinate the opening of your new store with the Walk of Style Award this week?
NB: Believe it or not — it is a coincidence! We will have a big party in Feb. 2013, the week of the Oscars, to celebrate it and our history with Elizabeth Taylor.