Bulgari, one of the world's leading luxury marketers, has been known for its fine jewelry since its founding in 1884. But under the leadership of its CEO, Francesco Trapani, 48, the great-grandson of founder Sotirio Bulgari, the brand has blossomed into a $1 billion luxury powerhouse that also sells watches, ties, handbags and fragrances. Add one more item to Trapani's portfolio, and it isn't something you (or even a Hollywood starlet) could wear around your neck: a five-star hotel. TIME's Dody Tsiantar recently spoke with the Bulgari chief about the company's newest and seemingly incongruent brand extension.
TIME Why would a brand known for jewelry venture into hotels?
FRANCESCO TRAPANI It's a p.r. machine for the brand. We do not expect that this will be a huge moneymaking venture. It's more an image thing. The main objective--and we hope eventually to have hotels in five to seven markets--is to develop something unique. Our first hotel in Milan, which opened last year, is in the center of the city, but it's adjacent to the botanical garden. So when you are at Bulgari in Milan, you're right in the middle of the city, but you feel like you're in a country house. It's very contemporary in design, but not minimalistic at all. You feel luxury everywhere, especially in the materials we use--like stones, marbles.
TIME Up until now at least, Bulgari hasn't exactly been known for architectural design.
TRAPANI True, but you don't need that. I want people to say about Bulgari that here is a company in Italy that has beautiful jewelry, watches, eyeglasses and perfumes, and by the way, they have a very nice hotel in Milan. We also have a second hotel under way in Bali, which is an important destination for the Japanese. It will open next spring. We are negotiating other projects in New York, Hong Kong and some other cities. But it takes time. We want unique locations. We don't need to open just another luxury hotel.
TIME Anything else in the works?
TRAPANI No. I want us to consolidate our position in the categories that we have. When I took over in 1984, we were not part of the big game. Today we are, but it's challenging because the other luxury brands, like Gucci, Hermès, Chanel, Cartier, are all very strong.
TIME Have you designed jewelry, as your great-grandfather did?
TRAPANI I do spend a lot of time developing products, but I've never designed any jewelry.